- Elon Musk took the witness stand Tuesday on the first day of his defamation trial.
- The Tesla CEO is being sued by Vernon Unsworth, a British diver who took part in the 2018 rescue operation that freed 12 boys and a soccer coach who were trapped inside a cave in Thailand.
- Musk and Unsworth clashed at the height of that mission, after which the Tesla executive called Unsworth a “pedo guy” on Twitter. Lawyers for Unsworth say the remark was widely interpreted as Musk suggesting the diver was a pedophile.
- On Tuesday, Musk told the court he had been set off by an interview Unsworth gave to CNN after the rescue in which he criticised Musk for trying to get involved. Musk called Unsworth’s remarks “wrong and insulting.” He testified that his tweet about Unsworth “didn’t literally mean he was a pedophile.”
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LOS ANGELES – Tesla CEO Elon Musk made his first courtroom appearance Tuesday as a defendant in the defamation case stemming from a 2018 tweet in which he called a man “pedo guy.”
The target of Musk’s insult was Vernon Unsworth, a British diver who took part in the 2018 rescue operation that freed 12 boys on a soccer team and their coach after they became trapped inside a cave in Thailand.
Musk and Unsworth had clashed at the height of that mission. Afterward, the Tesla executive lobbed the insult at the diver on Twitter.
Lawyers for Unsworth argued that the remark was widely interpreted as Musk suggesting the diver was a pedophile. Musk has denied that assertion, saying the phrase is a common expression in South Africa, where he was born. Musk’s lawyers unsuccessfully sought to have the case thrown out before trial.
The proceedings began with jury selection on Tuesday. Several potential jurors were dismissed, with many disclosing professional connections to Musk and his various companies, including SpaceX, The Boring Company, and Neuralink. The Guardian reported that one person was sent home after saying he had a coming job interview with SpaceX and that a woman was sent away when she said she held “strong opinions about billionaires.”
After opening statements, Musk took the witness stand and offered some insight into what led to his 2018 feud with Unsworth.
The Tesla CEO told the court he was incensed by an interview Unsworth gave to CNN after the rescue, in which a minisub Musk sent to the divers went unused. Unsworth called Musk’s attempts to get involved in the mission a “PR stunt” while the rescuers were busy developing a plan to remove the boys and their coach from the Tham Luong cave in northern Thailand.
Unsworth told CNN that Musk “can stick his submarine where it hurts.” In court, Musk said Unsworth’s remarks hurt him.
“So I insulted him back,” Musk testified, adding: “I didn’t literally mean he was a pedophile.”
Lawyers challenged Musk on that assertion, pointing to a follow-up tweet in which Musk said, “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true,” in reference to his original tweet. The tweets were deleted hours after he posted them in 2018.
Musk snapped back on the witness stand, saying he would have wagered more money if he thought it was true.
During one heated exchange, Musk accused Unsworth’s attorney, L. Lin Wood, of trying to shake him down in his initial letter to Musk, calling it “extortion, essentially.”
“I get these shakedown letters quite a lot,” he said.
The Tesla exec also faced tough questions about his intent and frame of mind around the ordeal. At one point, Unsworth’s lawyers sought to determine whether Musk understood the potential legal consequences of publicly calling Unsworth a “pedo guy,” BuzzFeed News’ Ryan Mac reported, citing an August 2018 tweet Musk sent in which he wondered out loud why the diver hadn’t sued him yet.
Unsworth notched a victory in earlier proceedings when a judge ruled he was not a public figure, which lowered the threshold for proving defamation. The diver’s lawyers must now successfully prove that Musk’s actions demonstrated negligence to the extent that they harmed Unsworth.
Musk is expected back on the witness stand Wednesday.