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US congressman shares neo-Nazi’s quote wrongly attributed to Voltaire

February 1, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: French philosopher Voltaire said: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Enlightenment-era writer Voltaire did not say this. The quote, which was paraphrased, comes from a 1993 radio broadcast by Kevin Alfred Strom, who has been identified as a neo-Nazi by organizations that monitor hate groups.

THE FACTS: U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, shared the incorrectly attributed quote in a tweet Sunday to his more than 320,000 followers, with a caption criticizing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

The tweet contained a cartoon image along with the phrase: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize - Voltaire.” Massie, who has been critical of pandemic mask and vaccine mandates, said in the caption of the post: “You mustn’t question Fauci, for he is science.”

Many social media users quickly pointed out that the quote was wrongly attributed to Voltaire. Still, it was shared more than 7,000 times, including by many believing the attribution was correct.

As of Monday, Massie’s tweet remained online and the congressman had not publicly commented on the error. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The original quote from Strom, a self-proclaimed American white nationalist and Holocaust denier, has been used previously online and paraphrased in a variety of ways.

In a 1993 radio broadcast, Strom said: “To determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?” according to an internet archive containing his full remarks.

Despite the quote originating more than a hundred years after Voltaire’s death in 1778, it has been repurposed and incorrectly attributed to him dozens of times. In 2019, actor John Cusack tweeted the quote before deleting the post and apologizing.

Strom again took credit for the quote in a 2017 blog post in which he wrote: “My statement has become the stuff of Internet memes, quote collections, graphics, and motivational posters. … Trouble is, the quote is almost always attributed to the 18th-century French writer Voltaire, and not to me. … I came up with the quote — and Voltaire never did.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.