Conspiracy theorists have gone viral with a claim the Israeli government knew in advance that Hamas was going to launch a coordinated terrorist attack on October 7. And some are even claiming, without evidence, that Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a so-called “stand-down” order for the Israeli military. But there’s nothing to show the Israeli government knew of the surprise attack, which killed over 1,300 people.
Users on TikTok, Facebook and X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, have gone viral since Saturday with the claim Israel knew about the attack in advance, many with the hashtag #BibiKnew, a reference to Netanyahu.
The origin of this conspiracy theory appears to be Charlie Kirk, a far-right influencer and strong supporter of former president Donald Trump. The 29-year-old Kirk, who leads a national college-focused Republican group called Turning Point USA, appeared on the PBD Podcast on Thursday and insisted he wasn’t spreading a conspiracy theory before immediately helping spread an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory.
“I’m not willing to say, to go so far to say that Netanyahu knew or there was intelligence here, but I think some questions need to be asked. Was there a stand down order? Was there a stand down order?” Kirk said, repeating the rhetorical question for emphasis.
Kirk’s wild speculation doesn’t appear to have any basis in fact but instead hinges on the fact that he’s “been to Israel many times” and “the whole country is a fortress.”
Kirk suggested that Netanyahu’s supposed “stand down” order was a bid to garner support due to the Israeli leader’s domestic political problems around controversial judicial reforms. Kirk insisted of the attack, “When I first heard this story, I still have the same gut instinct that I did initially: I find this very hard to believe.”
The clip first went viral on TikTok before migrating to places like X, where the hashtag #BibiKnew gained steam on Monday. But, again, there’s no evidence Netanyahu knew of the attack in advance, though many Israelis are understandably upset over the intelligence failure that saw so many people slaughtered.
Kirk first gained national attention in 2017 when his organization staged an event on the campus of Kent State University where adults dressed up in diapers, an apparent protest of “safe spaces,” that itself was widely ridiculed for being extremely weird.
But Kirk’s influence within the conservative movement has grown considerably over recent years, with a recent report from the Associated Press noting the MAGA Republican has since become a millionaire as CEO of Turning Point. Kirk’s salary went from $27,000 in 2016 to $407,000 by 2021, according to tax filings reviewed by the Associated Press. Kirk has purchased three high-end properties in Arizona and Florida, all north of $1 million, according to the news wire service.
Some fellow conservatives denounced Kirk over the weekend, including Ben Domenech, a writer married to Meghan McCain, the daughter of late Republican senator John McCain of Arizona.
“If Charlie Kirk remains the head of TPUSA, the right has an anti-Semite problem that will follow them into the coming elections,” Domenech tweeted on Sunday in a message that’s been viewed over 3 million times.
But other Trump-supporting media figures on the right defended Kirk, including Candace Owens, who called Domenech’s comments, “legitimately comical.”
“If you want to measure just how disingenuous neo-cons are being in their effort to demand war, look no further than Charlie Kirk being labeled an antisemite. Charlie has endured YEARS of being confronted on college campuses from protesters accusing him of being a ‘Zionist shill,’” Owens tweeted on Sunday.
“[Kirk] is known to be radically pro-Israel and minted countless pro-Israel initiatives across college campuses. There are hours upon hours of footage available on the internet or Charlie Kirk defending Israel—even from within its borders,” Owens continued.
Kirk didn’t immediately respond to questions emailed Monday afternoon. I’ll update this article if I hear back.