- Tesla CEO Elon Musk was back in court Wednesday for a second round of questioning in a defamation trial stemming from his tweets about a British diver in 2018.
- Musk testified about his state of mind when he called Vernon Unsworth a “pedo guy” on Twitter and how he behaved toward the diver in the months that followed.
- He also riffed on his personal wealth and some advice from his mother.
- Unsworth took part in the 2018 rescue operation that freed 12 boys and a soccer coach who were trapped inside a cave in Thailand.
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LOS ANGELES – Tesla CEO Elon Musk was in court Wednesday for another round of questioning in his defamation trial.
Musk said an insult he lobbed at a British diver on social media in 2018 “was very much an off-the-cuff response” to what he perceived to be a slight against him.
That diver is Vernon Unsworth, who is suing Musk for calling him a “pedo guy” on Twitter after Unsworth took part in the 2018 rescue operation that freed 12 boys and a soccer coach who were trapped inside a cave in Thailand.
“It’s an insult, like saying mother-effer doesn’t actually mean someone having sex with their mother,” Musk told jurors, at one point recounting some parental advice: “As my mum said, ‘If somebody insults you, just let it go.'”
Musk had delivered his insult to Unsworth when the diver criticised him days after the successful rescue operation ended. Unsworth called Musk’s “minisub” that he had sent to the rescue operation a “PR stunt” and said Musk “can stick his submarine where it hurts.”
On the witness stand a day earlier, Musk argued he “didn’t literally mean he was a pedophile.” But at the height of his feud with Unsworth, Musk pushed the assertion in follow-up postings, paid a private investigator $US52,000 to find evidence of sexual misconduct involving Unsworth, and months later wondered aloud on the social-media platform why Unsworth had not sued him yet.
Unsworth said the sting of the ordeal remained with him.
“Feels very raw,” he said in his first day of testimony. “Feel humiliated, ashamed, dirtied.”
“I feel very vulnerable,” he added. “It hurts to talk about it.”
The case puts front and centre the potential consequences of public musings from an outsize figure like Musk and the effects those statements can have on a private citizen who happened to cross him. Unsworth’s lawyers have argued that their client did not seek to capitalise on his quarrel with the Tesla CEO.
Musk offered other insights about his life, including his personal wealth, which he said totaled about $US20 billion, a large portion of it locked up in nonliquid assets. “People think I have a lot of cash. I actually don’t,” Musk said, adding: “I have stock in SpaceX and Tesla, and debt against that.”
The subject of his wealth will be pertinent when jurors begin deliberations.
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.