Tesla CEO Elon Musk lashed out and called one of the rescuers of the boys soccer team trapped in a Thai cave “pedo guy” because he felt insulted by the man. That was what Musk and his lawyer argued Tuesday, as Musk testified in a defamation suit brought by the rescuer.
On July 15, 2018, Musk tweeted “pedo guy” in reference to Vernon Unsworth, one of the people involved in the Thai cave rescue that saved 12 boys and their soccer coach that same month. Musk took the stand for about four hours in a Los Angeles courtroom on Tuesday and argued that he did not intend for the words “pedo guy” to be a statement of fact but rather as an insult after Unsworth provoked him
Unsworth sued Musk in September 2018 for defamation, seeking punitive and compensatory damages. In his legal team’s opening statement, attorney Taylor Wilson said, “Unsworth brought this lawsuit against Musk for accusing him of being a pedophile in what should have been one of the proudest moments of his life.” Instead, Musk brought the British man who helped in the cave rescue “shame,” Wilson said.
But Musk and his legal team cast the billionaire as the victim. Musk’s tweet on July 15 came after CNN published a video interview with Unsworth in which he said, “He can stick his submarine where it hurts,” when asked about Musk’s effort to save the trapped boys with a mini submarine he created.
When asked about the CNN interview in a cross examination by Unsworth’s attorney L. Lin Wood, Musk said, “It was wrong and insulting, so I insulted him back.”
Wood went after Musk for not retracting his statement despite the number of opportunities he had. News articles suggested “pedo” meant “pedophile” but Musk did not correct the record, Wood said.
“No, just like [Unsworth] didn’t clarify he wanted to sodomize me with a submarine. I didn’t think it required clarification,” Musk said. “I think that would have been worse. If you called someone a motherf’er I don’t think you would have to clarify you don’t actually commit incest. It would sound disingenuous.”
Following Unsworth’s lawsuit, Musk filed a declaration that “pedo guy” is a common insult in South Africa used to insult demeanor and appearances. In court on Tuesday, Musk elaborated by saying, “It’s quite common in the English speaking world. Calling someone a ‘pedo guy’ means creepy. If you did a search or asked someone what it means it would be a creepy.”
Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro, in his opening statement, referred to Musk’s tweet as a “JDART.” Spiro said, “It was a joking, deleted, apologized for, responsive tweet. A JDART.”
Musk tried to downplay his influence during Wood’s cross examination. Musk had more than 22 million Twitter followers at the time of the “pedo guy” tweets and now has surpassed 29 million. He is the CEO of multiple companies and is ranked as one of the wealthiest people in the world.
“I’m not sure to the degree I’m influential. I try to get people to take climate change seriously and that hasn’t worked,” Musk said. “Among those people who believe in climate change I think I have influence.”
The defamation case is focused on the July 2018 tweets. Yet Unsworth’s lawyer also used an email exchange between BuzzFeed News reporter Ryan Mac and Musk as evidence of “establishing Musk’s state of mind at the time of the alleged defamation,” as the judge ruled last week.
Wood read aloud that exchange, including, “You said, ‘I hope he fucking sues me.'” Musk replied, “Yeah, I guess be careful what you wish for.”
Musk was the first witness of the trial, which the judge said should last all week. Musk’s lawyer Spiro will continue his examination Wednesday and the court will hear testimonies from Unsworth and other witnesses.