Elon Musk arrives outside the Russel Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Sept. 13, 2023.

What was Elon Musk’s strategy for Twitter?

On the day that public records revealed that Elon Musk had become Twitter’s biggest shareholder, an unknown sender texted the billionaire and recommended an article imploring him to acquire the social network outright.

Musk’s purchase of Twitter, the 3,000-word anonymous article said, would amount to a “declaration of war against the Globalist American Empire.” The sender of the texts was offering the Tesla and SpaceX CEO a playbook for the takeover and transformation of Twitter. As the anniversary of Musk’s purchase of the platform approaches, the identity of the sender remains unknown.

The three texts were sent on April 4, 2022. In the nearly 18 months since, many of the decisions made by Musk after buying Twitter appear to have closely followed that roadmap, up to and including his ongoing attacks against the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organization founded by Jewish Americans to counter discrimination. 

The text messages described a series of actions Musk should take after gaining full control of the social media platform: “Step 1: Blame the platform for its users; Step 2: Coordinated pressure campaign; Step 3: Exodus of the Bluechecks; Step 4: Deplatforming.”

The messages from the unknown sender were revealed in a court filing last year, as evidence in a lawsuit Twitter brought against Musk after he tried to back out of buying the company. The redacted documents were first unearthed by The Chancery Daily, an independent legal publication covering proceedings before the Delaware Court of Chancery. 

The wording of the texts matches the subtitles of the article “The Battle of the Century: Here’s What Happens if Elon Musk Buys Twitter,” which had been published three days earlier on the right-wing website revolver.news.

That article was published with no byline, a common practice on the site where writers’ also appear to use pseudonyms, such as “Moxie Russo.”

The site is run by far-right blogger Darren Beattie, a former Trump White House speechwriter who was fired in 2018 for speaking on a panel alongside white nationalists. After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, Beattie promoted the baseless claim that the FBI had planted agents in the crowd who incited them to storm the building. 

When the text messages to Musk were revealed in the court filing last spring, observers suggested on Twitter that Beattie himself may have sent them. Asked by NBC News if he knew who sent the texts and who wrote the article, Beattie declined to comment and instead suggested that the ADL should be investigated, without giving specifics.

“I think I’m familiar with it, but I’m not in a position to comment on that,” Beattie said, regarding the text messages. “I wish I could give you something else, but you should look into the ADL.”

Musk did not respond to repeated requests for comment via email and on Twitter. Twitter’s CEO Linda Yaccarino, a former executive from NBC News’ parent company NBC Universal, also did not respond to requests for comment. Alex Spiro, Musk’s lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment on if Musk still plans to file suit against the ADL.

Following the article’s publication on April 1, 2022, Beattie spent weeks urging Musk to buy Twitter outright and pushing his transformation plan on right-wing podcasts and television shows, including on Steve Bannon’s War Room and Tucker Carlson’s since-canceled Fox News show.

“I really hope that Elon will go ahead with it, that he’s not just another rich guy, that he’s someone who wants to be a great man,” Beattie said on Carlson’s show on April 12, 2022. “There are a variety of mechanisms but it all cashes out to this: A declaration of war on the regime.”

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Roughly four weeks after the article from Beattie’s site appeared online and two weeks after Beatty’s interview on Carlson’s show, Musk purchased Twitter outright for $44 billion on April 25, 2022, and took the company private, per the article’s suggestion. He has since renamed the company to “X,” but refers to the company as X/Twitter in posts on the network. Several of the steps that Musk has taken resemble those described in the revolver.news article.

A roadmap

The article on Beattie’s site begins with a baseless claim that censorship on Twitter had cost Trump the 2020 election. “Free speech online is what enabled the Trump revolution in 2016,” the anonymous author wrote. “If the Internet had been as free in 2020 as it was four years before, Trump would have cruised to reelection.”

The author the said that “Step 1” after a Musk takeover would be to “Blame the platform for its users.“ They predicted that “Twitter would be blamed for every so-called act of ‘racism’ ‘sexism’ and ‘transphobia’ occurring on its platform.”

After Musk’s purchase of Twitter was finalized in October 2022, he allowed previously suspended accounts to return to Twitter. Among these, he restored the account of former President Donald Trump, whom Twitter had banned after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, as well as the personal accounts of far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and the founder of a neo-Nazi website, Andrew Anglin.

The article predicted that “Step 2” would involve a “Coordinated pressure campaign” by the ADL and other nonprofit groups to get Musk to reinstate the bans. “A vast constellation of activists and non-profits” will lurch into action to “put more and more pressure on the company to change its ways,” the article reads.

The next step, the Revolver article predicted, would be the “Exodus of the bluechecks.” The term “bluechecks” refers to a former identity verification system on Twitter that confirmed the authenticity of the accounts of celebrities, public figures and journalists. 

Musk experimented with and ultimately eliminated Twitter’s verification system of “bluechecks.” As the article predicted, the removal resulted in a public backlash and an exponential drop in advertisers and revenues. Other developments, including Musk drastically reducing the number of staffers who monitor tweets and a rise in hate speech, also contributed to the dynamic.

The Revolver article predicted that a final step, “Step 4,” would be the “deplatforming” of Twitter itself. He said that a Musk-owned Twitter would face the same fate as Parler, a platform that presented itself as a “free speech” home for the right. After numerous calls for violence on Jan. 6 were posted on Parler, Google and Apple removed it from their App store on the grounds that it had allowed too many posts that promoted violence, crime and misinformation. 

The anonymous story published by Beattie, who describes himself as a “Proud Jew” in his X handle, also repeatedly attacks the Anti-Defamation League.

It called the nonprofit a “danger” to Musk’s ownership and said that the ADL was one of several “powerful left-wing activist groups” that had “besieged” Twitter prior to Musk’s purchase. It claimed that the ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt “brought Twitter to heel” by telling the platform, “Play ball, or be ready to be put in league with Nazis.”

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The article then expressed sympathy for the Russian-government-controlled news outlets Russia Today and Sputnik, saying that they had been unfairly “canceled” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this year, Musk ended the use of “state-sponsored media” labels on Twitter, dropping it from Russia Today, Sputnik and many other state-owned organizations. The change reportedly prompted RT editor Margarita Simonyan to send Musk a note of appreciation.

Beattie’s presentation of ideas that appeared to be adopted by Musk continued after his website published the anonymous April 2022 article. The day after Musk’s official October 2022 takeover of Twitter, Beattie appeared on the podcast of former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and called for Musk to make internal emails from Twitter management public. 

One month later, Musk released the “Twitter Files” — a partial release of internal emails by Twitter employees curated by Musk-friendly writers.

Targeting the ADL

Beattie’s political career appeared to be over when he was fired from his White House role as speechwriter for President Trump in 2018. His removal came after CNN revealed that he spoke on a panel alongside Peter Brimelow, the founder of the white nationalist website VDare.

During his tenure, Beattie worked for White House head of speechwriting Vince Haley and Trump adviser Stephen Miller. In 2019, Beattie was hired as a speechwriter by Florida Republican Matt Gaetz. And Beattie was rehired by the Trump administration shortly after Trump lost the 2020 election, appointed to a commission that preserved Holocaust memorials abroad. 

The hiring drew the ire of the ADL and Greenblatt, who urged the administration to rescind his appointment. Beattie was forced to resign from the commission by the Biden administration in January 2022. Beattie tweeted that the firing was “better than a Pulitzer.”

Beattie has continued to run revolver.news since then and has appeared on various right-wing programs accusing the FBI of inciting the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. Musk, meanwhile, has continued to blame the ADL for X’s declining revenues.

On Sept. 4, Musk threatened to sue the ADL claiming, without providing evidence, that U.S. ad revenues are “down 60%, primarily due to pressure on advertisers by @ADL.” The post came the same week the hashtag #BanTheADL, pushed in part by white nationalists, trended on Twitter, and Musk tweeted that the “ADL has tried very hard to strangle X/Twitter.”

On that same day, Musk blamed the nonprofit organization for causing antisemitism. “The ADL, because they are so aggressive in their demands to ban social media accounts for even minor infractions, are ironically the biggest generators of anti-Semitism on this platform!”

Four days later, Musk posted a meme with the caption, “Drop the Anti. Just Defamation League. It’s cleaner.” 

The April 2022 text to Musk that included Beattie’s article concludes with some final suggestions: Let “the boss himself,” presumably a reference to letting Donald Trump, back on Twitter. (Musk eventually allowed Trump back on the platform, but the former president has rarely tweeted since his reinstatement.) Then, the text reads, hire a “savvy/cultural” executive to work on “enforcement.”

“It will be a delicate game of letting right wingers back on Twitter and how to navigate that,” the author wrote, adding that Musk should hire someone who “has a savvy cultural/political view” to be “the VP of actual enforcement. A Blake Masters type.”

Ben Collins

Ben Collins covers disinformation, extremism and the internet for NBC News.