Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Elon Musk spent four hours on the stand in federal court Tuesday defending one of his bad tweets.
The Tesla CEO is getting sued for defamation by cave diver Vernon Unsworth, whom Musk called a “pedo guy” in a tweet in July of last year. And Musk tried to explain, to a judge and jury, why he did that bad tweet. But in the process, lawyers revealed that the billionaire acted like, in his own words, a “fucking idiot.”
The “fight between men,” as Musk’s lawyer put it Tuesday, started when Musk, unsolicited, designed a kid-sized submarine to rescue 12 Thai boys trapped in an underwater cave. He tested the device in a swimming pool before flying it off to Thailand, but the sub was never deployed to the cave.
That’s where the Unsworth came in: He organized a team of divers who descended into the cave and pulled the boys out.
To Unsworth, Musk’s elaborate plan to dispatch a submarine to rescue the boys looked more like a PR stunt than an actual rescue operation. At the time, the diver said on CNN that Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.” And Musk testified Tuesday that he took that to mean up his butt.
Musk then took to Google, according to his lawyer, and found out Unsworth lived in a part of Thailand that’s known to be home to child sex traffickers. That’s where the inspiration for the “pedo guy” tweet came from.
“There are a lot of things I say, and not all of them have the same quality of thought,” Musk said in his own defense. (Once, while on Ambien, Musk tweeted about his seven-step facial regimen that keeps him looking great at age 500.)
Although the crux of Musk’s defense is that he didn’t actually think Unsworth was a pedophile, Musk went so far as to hire a private investigator, who turned out to be a con man, to figure out whether he was a pedophile. (Musk’s lawyer said Musk hired the guy to better defend himself in Unsworth’s lawsuit.)
A few highlights from the Tuesday trial:
The worst acronym
Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, argued that his client took all the necessary steps someone should take after they do a bad tweet — which he succinctly described as “JDART.” First, you’re Joking in the tweet. Then, when the joke is poorly received, you Delete it, and Apologize for it. Then you do some Responsive Tweets. JDART.
“These are joking talking tweets in a fight between men,” Spiro said.
Musk did indeed delete the tweets, and he apologized both on Twitter and on the witness stand Tuesday. He’s insisted that he never meant “pedo guy” literally but that it’s a common South African insult meaning “some random creepy guy.”
“I didn’t think it required clarification”
If Musk didn’t actually mean to imply that Unsworth was a pedophile, why didn’t he immediately clarify that? That’s what Unsworth’s lawyer wanted to know.
But Musk apparently didn’t think that was necessary.
“Just like he didn’t clarify he wanted to sodomize me with a submarine, I didn’t think it required clarification,” he said at the trial, according to CNN. “If you called someone a motherf’er, I don’t think you would have to clarify you don’t actually commit incest.”
Musk hasn’t solved climate change, so he must not be that important
“I try to get people to take climate change seriously, and that hasn’t worked,” Musk said, in response to the prosecution’s questions about the degree to which, as a public figure, he can influence public discourse. “I’m not sure to the degree I’m influential.”
Musk has some 30 million Twitter followers, many of whom readily come to his defense whenever he’s criticized in the media.
“Be careful what you wish for”
An email chain where Musk told BuzzFeed News reporter Ryan Mac that he hoped “Unsworth fucking sues” him was introduced as evidence on Tuesday.
“I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists, you fucking asshole,” Musk wrote to Mac in the email, which BuzzFeed published before the trial. Musk also claimed that Unsworth moved to Thailand to be with a “child bride.”
(“I’m a fucking idiot,” Musk said of himself in a later email to a PR consultant. Emailing Mac, Musk said, “was still one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.”)
“You said, ‘I hope he fucking sues me,’” Unsworth’s lawyer, L. Lin Wood, said at trial on Tuesday, according to CNN.
“Yeah, I guess be careful what you wish for,” Musk responded on the stand.
Cover image: Tesla CEO Elon Musk, second from right, arrives at U.S. District Court Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, in Los Angeles. Musk is going on trial for his troublesome tweets in a case pitting the billionaire against a British diver he allegedly dubbed a pedophile. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)