Skip to main content

The Return of Twitter’s Exiled Extremists Is a New Headache for Republicans

Jared Taylor would like to get back on Twitter. “I would be happy,” he told Semafor, “to get back the 40,000 followers I lost on December 18, 2017.”

On that day, Twitter announced new rules to “reduce hateful conflict and abusive behavior,” which meant a crackdown on people like Taylor. He’d founded the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance, called himself a “race realist,” and unsuccessfully sued Twitter on behalf of far-right figures removed after the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, where a Nazi sympathizer killed anti-racist protestor Heather Heyer.

Since then, Elon Musk has purchased Twitter, and endorsed an “amnesty” for banned accounts, “provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” Activists, academics, and ex-Twitter employees fear a “hellmouth” opening up, re-platforming thousands of bigoted or conspiracy-minded accounts that nobody in mainstream politics wanted to deal with.

The age of de-platforming might be over, making way for Musk’s version of free speech. But it also comes at a moment when the Republican Party is more worried about the political consequences of its ties to extremism than almost any time since 2016. Donald Trump’s dinner with three men banned or suspended from Twitter under the old rules — rapper Ye, white supremacist podcaster Nick Fuentes, and Milo Yiannopoulos — reminds people of what Musk’s predecessors kept a lid on.


No conservative that Semafor talked to was opposed to Musk changing the old Twitter consensus. By the time Musk bought the company, the highest-profile suspensions opposed by the more mainstream right were for users who’d violated Twitter rules against “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.”

This policy ensnared accounts like The Babylon Bee, an Onion-like conservative publication that named top Biden health official Rachel Levine, a transgender woman, “Man of the Year.” Those rules have been relaxed; the idea that Twitter will no longer enforce progressive or left-wing norms has thrilled critics who saw them as destructive.


Crucially, the bans shrunk the boundaries of political speech on the social network that most reliably drives media coverage. De-platforming took far-right figures out of the place where news outlets were most likely to see them and where hostile interactions with reporters, celebrities, and politicians could generate headlines. {snip}


“We’re obviously looking at Elon Musk unleashing a whole new era on Twitter where far right extremists and white supremacists are empowered,” said Dan Schwerin, the co-founder of Evergreen Strategy Group.

In 2016, as Hillary Clinton’s director of speechwriting, Schwerin worked on an address about the far right, highlighting Trump’s retweets of antisemitic and white nationalist accounts — covered, at the time, like a strange distraction from Trump’s effective attacks on her campaign.


After Clinton’s 2016 “alt right” speech drew attention to Taylor’s role in popularizing online hate, he went on a media tour, telling audiences that “the races are not equal and equivalent.” Asked this week what might have happened had Twitter not banned people like him, Taylor suggested that “race differences in average IQ and crime rates would be better understood and more sanely debated.”