In a Los Angeles court for criminal defamation, the Tesla billionaire took the stand.
It all boils down to what Elon Musk said when he named a “pedo man” from a British cave explorer.Mr. Musk and his legal team tried to play down the comment in a Los Angeles court on Tuesday, claiming he posted. It was on Twitter last year when the explorer, Vernon Unsworth, colorfully denied his attempts to help save a group of stranded kids in Thailand.
Nonetheless, attorneys for Mr. Unsworth argued that Mr. Musk, Tesla’s billionaire chief executive, used his influence to hurt the image of the explorer and paint him as a pedophile.
Those in Mr. Unsworth’s defamation lawsuit against Mr. Musk were among the opening volleys.
Alex Spiro, Mr. Musk’s lawyer, identified the “pedo man” in his opening statement as a generic insult and an expression from the South African youth of Mr. Musk.
“In a men’s fight, they’re joking talking tweets,” Mr. Spiro said.
In his testimony, Mr. Musk added: “‘ Pedo man ‘ is also used in many countries. In the English-speaking world, it is quite popular. If you’re looking, I’m pretty confident, and it’ll just say ‘ creepy old guy. ‘”
Mr. Unsworth’s attorney, L. Lin Wood, aiming to show that Mr. Musk, on the contrary, had implied that Mr. Unsworth was a pedophile, quoted a tweet in which Mr. Musk wrote, “Bet you a dollar that is true.”
On the stand, Mr. Musk countered, “If I do believe it was true, I will give more than a dollar.” He said he didn’t know if the assertion that Mr. Unsworth was a pedophile was “true or false,” adding: “I didn’t mean he was a pedophile either literally, I mean he was creepy.”
The case stemmed from a war of words between the two men in the summer of 2018 when they tried to rescue a youth soccer team in a cave in Thailand, surrounded by rising waters, an experience that transfixed the world.
Mr. Unsworth, who said he had been exploring the cave system for six years in court documents, was quickly Participating in the rescue effort. Soon after, Mr. Musk sent the company’s team of engineers to help as well — including Tesla, SpaceX, and the Boring Company.
At the time, Mr. Musk proposed using a small submarine, laughed off by Mr. Unsworth in a CNN interview, saying that Mr. Musk should “stop his submarine where it hurts.”
In a series of angry tweets, Mr. Musk fired back, referring to Mr. Unsworth as a “pedo man.” He later removed the tweets, stating that they were released “in frustration after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths and proposed that I participate with the mini-sub in a sexual act.”
Mr. Musk has a passion for fans and critics on Twitter, where he has 29.8 million followers. But in the past, his tweets have fired back on Mr. Musk. For example, last fall, he was replaced as Tesla board chairman as part of a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over a tweet in which he said the company had the funding to go private.
And after deleting Mr. Unsworth’s offensive tweets, Mr. Musk continued to attack him using data from a private investigator that had reached out to Mr. Musk to say that the explorer had “skeletons in his cupboard,” the lawyers of the billionaire said in a filing in a September trial.
And after deleting Mr. Unsworth’s offensive tweets, Mr. Musk continued to attack him using data from a private investigator that had reached out to Mr. Musk to say that the explorer had “skeletons in his cupboard,” the lawyers of the billionaire said in a filing in a September trial. BuzzFeed later reported that the investigator was convicted of fraud and spent 18 months in a British jail for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company he co-founded.
In a Monday court filing, Mr. Musk’s lawyers seemed to lay the groundwork for a defense of the First Amendment, arguing that the jury should be instructed to determine whether Mr. Musk’s words qualified as statements of fact or mere opinion. The lawyers have argued that Mr. Unsworth is not a person, but a public figure, a difference that would make it harder to claim libel. Last month, the judge said Mr. Unsworth is a private person.
Tesla and SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment, and Mr. Spiro refused to comment.
Mr. Musk lamented the turn of events on Tuesday’s stand. “It should have been ‘ Here’s a rescue, ‘ he testified,” and that’s great.
“I apologized, deleted the tweets, and I apologize to Mr. Unsworth again,” he added.