‘To Learn Who Rules Over You’: Viral Voltaire Quote Probably Originated with White Supremacist
The following meme has been making the rounds of the internet for couple years now, but has gone extra-viral in the days since the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris:
— Sam Sussex (@SamSussex) January 8, 2015
The meme pops up after any sort of outrage over a statement that pokes at perceived cultural pieties, be it Gary Oldman spitting on Hollywood or any questioning of the Federal Reserve or the Obama rodeo clown. It’s a common trope of comment sections, but occasionally surfaces in more mainstream discourse; Pat Buchanan used it just last week.
The quote is unanimously attributed to the French polymath Voltaire — who, in fairness, was an aphorism-spouting machine. The problem: there’s no record of Voltaire ever having said it. A Google search of the quote turns up absolutely nothing before 2012. (Smarter minds note the misattribution.) Twitter seems to have discovered it in May of that year.
The closest source to have been located is a 1993 text by white supremacist Kevin Alfred Strom entitled All America Must Know the Terror That is Upon Us. Strom was a co-founder of the West Virginia-based white supremacist organization National Vanguard; he later pled guilty to charges of possession of child pornography and served two years in prison.
Here’s the likely culprit from Strom’s book:
Even the sourcing on this is watery. Wikipedia lists the quote as misattributed to Voltaire and gives it to Strom. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Storm’s affiliations, one of the other sources is a Stormfront message board. There’s a Reddit thread to same effect; ditto a Yahoo! Answers thread. None, obviously, should be taken as authoritative.
Sure enough, the meme does have an anti-Semitic variation that popped up last summer during Israel’s military campaign in Gaza:
To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.
— Persia (ر) (@persiatx) August 13, 2014
As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Never trust quotes you find on the internet.”
[Image via screengrab]
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