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Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy January 31, 2022

Neo-Nazi, not Voltaire, originated quote about 'who rules over you'

If Your Time is short

  • In an attack on Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tweeted a one-liner that he wrongly claimed was a quote from Voltaire, an influential Enlightenment-era philosopher. 

  • The quote was not Voltaire’s. It’s been traced to Kevin Alfred Strom, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi who said something similar during an anti-Semitic radio broadcast in 1993.

  • The quote has been commonly misattributed to Voltaire in recent years.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., attempted to take a swipe at Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, with a quote appearing to come from a deep thinker. 

"To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize," said the quote, which was credited to Voltaire, the French writer and philosopher, in the image Massie shared. 

"You mustn’t question Fauci, for he is science," Massie wrote above the quote.

The same quote and citation are also circulating on Facebook. But Voltaire didn’t say this.

The original speaker is Kevin Alfred Strom, a white nationalist and Holocaust denier who founded the neo-Nazi group National Vanguard in 2005, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He pleaded guilty in 2008 to possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 23 months in prison.

The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

The quote does not appear in Voltaire’s writings or correspondence, but it is widely passed off as something he said. An Australian politician misattributed the line to the Enlightenment-era thinker in 2015. Actor John Cusack made the same error four years later.

Strom’s original quote was worded slightly differently. He was specifically talking about Jewish people when he said it during a 1993 broadcast on an alt-right radio program. 

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"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?" Strom said.

Etymologist Barry Popik noticed the misattribution to Voltaire happening in 2012 and traced the quote back to Strom. Strom lamented in a 2009 blog post that what he said was commonly misquoted. Strom claimed credit for the quote in 2017, noting that the one-liner was "almost always attributed" to Voltaire but was actually his.

Strom said he found it "kind of flattering" for his thoughts to be attached to Voltaire’s name. 

Massie’s tweet was shared thousands of times, including by Fox News contributor Sara A. Carter. The post was panned by many others, who pointed out the quote’s origin.

"This quote is from neo-Nazi, Holocaust-denier, and convicted pedophile Kevin Alfred Strom, not Voltaire," tweeted the American Jewish Committee, a Jewish advocacy group. "We expect better of our representatives in Congress."

The University of Western Australia's Paul Gibbard, a leading expert on Voltaire, told the Guardian in 2015 that the quote from Strom was "not un-Voltarian" in its "spirit" because it captured his resistance to authority. But Gibbard added: "There are lots of quotations that are attributed to Voltaire that aren’t actually by him, and that’s one of them." 

The University of Oxford’s Voltaire Foundation has said the same. Still, the misattributed quote has required debunking by various fact-checkers, again and again.

Massie’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

We rate his tweet False.

Our Sources

Thomas Massie on Twitter (archived), Jan. 30, 2022

Facebook post, Jan. 24, 2022

Southern Poverty Law Center, "Kevin Strom," accessed Jan. 31, 2022

Online Library of Liberty, "The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version, in 21 vols.," accessed Jan. 31, 2022

University of Southern California Libraries, accessed Jan. 31, 2022

American Jewish Committee on Twitter, Jan. 31, 2022

USA Today, "Fact check: Quote falsely attributed to French writer and philosopher Voltaire," May 30, 2021

AFP Fact Check, "Quote about censorship falsely attributed to Voltaire," May 28, 2021

Check Your Fact, "Fact Check: Did Voltaire Say, ‘To Learn Who Rules Over You, Simply Find Out Who You Are Not Allowed to Criticize," Oct. 2, 2019

The Associated Press, "John Cusack apologizes for anti-Semitic tweet," Jan. 18, 2019

Oxford University Press' Academic Insights for the Thinking World, "Voltaire and the one-liner," March 10, 2017

National Vanguard, "Voltaire Didn’t Say It," Jan. 19, 2017

BuzzFeed News, "This Senator Accidentally Quoted A Child-Porn Possessing Neo-Nazi," Nov. 27, 2015

The Guardian, "Cory Bernardi mistakenly 'quotes' Voltaire on Twitter with neo-Nazi's line," Nov. 27, 2015

Barry Popik, "Entry from August 16, 2012," Aug. 16, 2012

Kevin Alfred Strom, "I'm Often Misquoted," Jan. 22, 2009

National Vanguard, "All America Must Know the Terror That is Upon Us," Aug. 14, 1993

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Neo-Nazi, not Voltaire, originated quote about 'who rules over you'

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