Skip to content Skip to footer

“Free Speech Absolutist” Elon Musk Wants to Deport Protesters Who Remove US Flag

Hours after making the proposal, Musk said he would reinstate the account of white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

Elon Musk attends the 2024 Breakthrough Prize Ceremony at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on April 13, 2024, in Los Angeles, California.

On Thursday, self-described free speech absolutist Elon Musk proffered a new rule for nonviolent protesters: if they remove the flag of the United States and replace it with another country’s emblem, they should be required to be deported to that other country.

The description of the removal of the U.S. flag alluded to protests by students at colleges and universities across the country against the genocidal actions of Israel toward Palestinians in Gaza, where, so far, nearly 35,000 individuals (more than 40 percent of them children) have been killed. Some students at these protests have removed the U.S. flag and replaced it with the Palestinian one, in a show of support for Gazans who remain under siege.

This nonviolent act of civil disobedience could arguably be viewed as a form of speech. But to Musk, according to his recent posts, it warrants the complete removal of a person from the country.

“Proposed law: if someone tears down the American flag and puts up another flag in its place, that person should get a free (but mandatory) one-way trip to that flag’s country,” Musk said in his post, putting it before users in the form of a polling question.

“I’m not saying they can’t come back, but they have to experience that country for some period of time before returning,” Musk said in a subsequent post.

The X/Twitter owner’s post was subsequently mocked by users of the site critical of his suggestion, particularly those who noted its hypocrisy.

“Where Elon Musk sits on free speech today: 1. Be an actual Nazi? Welcome aboard! 2. Hoist a flag that isn’t the Stars and Stripes? You need to be shipped to that country ASAP!” wrote Justin Baragona, senior media reporter for The Daily Beast.

The Nation’s Elie Mystal similarly questioned the proposed policy, asking who would get punished more under a hypothetical situation.

“My neighbor has an American flag. If I tear it down and put up an Italian one, do I get to go to Italy, or does he?” Mystal wrote. “Does it matter that he’s Italian and would likely leave it up longer than if I put up a Greek one, thus deepening my violation of Musk’s anti-speech law?”

Musk’s claim to be a free speech absolutist has been questioned ever since he took ownership of the site in the fall of 2022. Users on X, including journalists, have seen their content and accounts blocked merely for being critical of the site or bringing attention to some of Musk’s blunders. The site also blocked comedians using their accounts in clearly parodying ways, a recognized form of free speech, shortly after Musk took over the platform.

Meanwhile, X has been complicit in blocking accounts not only critical of Musk and the site, but also of suppressive government leaders — for example, blocking accounts of Indian users who have been critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the runup to parliamentary elections in that country.

Musk also attempted to sue the Center for Countering Digital Hate after the organization issued reports on how X failed to respond to hateful posts, including from accounts spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories and from users glorifying violence against Muslims and Palestinians. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in late March.

Musk’s bias in protecting certain kinds of speech, preferring to take the “absolutist” approach only when it serves his interests or the interests of far right extremists, is all the more evident in an announcement he made on the site just a couple of hours after his “flag” proposal. In that post, Musk decreed that white nationalist Nick Fuentes would see his account restored to X, after being blocked from using the platform for spreading errant and hateful content.

Following a user’s direct demand that Musk restore Fuentes’s account, Musk responded by saying, “Very well, he will be reinstated, provided he does not violate the law.”

That standard seems to be one that Musk may have created on the spot. Indeed, such a rule doesn’t seem to apply to any of the January 6 Capitol riot instigators, many of whom broke the law but have since seen their accounts restored as well. The move also provides additional evidence that Musk is happy to oblige the demands of far right bigots, in a supposed defense of free speech on the site, while not holding the same standards for accounts critical of him or supportive of progressive policies.