Elon Musk on the Stand: ‘I’m Not Sure to the Degree I’m Actually Influential’

Elon Musk shrugs
Scott Olsen/Getty

The defamation trial involving Tesla CEO Elon Musk began Tuesday with Musk attempting to explain his use of Twitter to a Los Angeles jury. Musk downplayed his power on the platform, saying “I’m Not Sure to the Degree I’m Actually Influential.”

The Verge reports that Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder Elon Musk found himself on the stand today during a defamation case related to his tweets. The trial relates to British cave rescuer Vern Unsworth who Musk accused of being a pedophile. Unsworth played a major role in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand in July 2018, during the incident Unsworth criticized Musk’s plan to use a miniature submarine to save the boys labeling it a publicity stunt. In response, Musk called him a “pedo guy” on Twitter.

Judge Stephen Wilson is presiding over the case while Unsworth is being represented by the law firm of L. Lin Wood and Musk is being represented by Alex Spiro, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. The Verge describes the beginning of the case stating:

Then it was time for opening statements. Taylor Wilson, a partner at L. Lin Wood and a lawyer for the plaintiff, put up a chart I couldn’t see with a lot of dates on it. (The chart was aimed at the jury and would continue to obscure my view all day.) He then walked through the dates of the basic action around the tweets with the energy of a nervous middle schooler doing a monologue at the school play. Not only did Musk call Unsworth a “pedo guy,” Wilson pointed out, when Kevin Beaumont sarcastically called the tweet “classy,” Musk replied “bet you a signed dollar it’s true.” (The “signed dollar” tweet has also been deleted.)


After Unsworth’s lawyers made their opening remarks, it was time for Musk’s to do the same. Spiro argued that ongoing situation between Musk and Unsworth and any subsequent tweets was simply an argument between two men. He argued that Unsworth’s lawyers were changing the context of the exchanges between Musk and Unsworth. The Verge describes the rest of Spiro’s argument writing:

He set the stage on the Thailand thing differently. See, life and death hung in the balance. Naturally, the solution was hero engineers. (At this point, my notes read: “Spiro speaks better than Wilson but this defense is deeply goofy.”) Spiro rather dramatically told the courtroom “Thank God the pod was never needed.” He then pointed out that no one on the engineering team sat for an interview or took any money for their efforts.

Spiro argued that after Unsworth criticized Musk’s submarine-related rescue efforts, he had Googled Unsworth and discovered that he lived in the Chiang Rai province in Thailand. From there, Musk found an article that stated that the area is a hotspot for child sex trafficking. He then proceeded to call Unsworth a “pedo guy” based solely on the information he found on Google. Spiro called it a “fill-in-the-blank insult” and Musk’s Google searches were simply attempts to discover an effective way to insult Unsworth.  Spiro stated: “These tweets are not allegations of crimes. They are joking, taunting tweets in a fight between men.”

It was then time for Musk himself to take the stand where he would be questioned by L. Lin Wood, who the Verge describes as a “Philip Seymour Hoffman character who somehow got loose from the bounds of cinema and showed up in reality.” The Verge notes that Wood’s previous clients include Herman Cain, JonBenet Ramsey’s parents, and Richard Jewell.

The questioning began with a discussion on Musk’s use of the social media platform Twitter, which Musk uses on a regular basis. The Verge notes that once the questioning began, it became apparent that Wood had failed to properly understand ‘the Nature of Posting.” The Verge writes:

Wood attempted to establish that Musk is influential. Musk wasn’t having it. “I’m not sure to the degree I’m actually influential,” Musk said. Wood tried again: Musk is recognized as the pioneer who wants to take people to Mars. “I’m influential in the domains of climate change and rockets,” Musk admitted. “But this doesn’t mean I can change someone’s opinion in other areas.”

Wood then began to discuss the sequence of events surrounding the cave rescue in Thailand, entering an email exchange of Musk’s into evidence. Wood noted that in an email dated July 10, Musk discussed the situation in Thailand stating: “btw my gf just texted me saying the head of the Thai rescue team said the solution isn’t practical & the press is turning against me.” Wood said this was important as it showed that members of the media had referred to Musk’s rescue efforts as a PR stunt before Unsworth had.

The Verge writes that a both Musk and Wood appeared to become visibly irritated during an exchange relating to Musk’s comments on Twitter about the lawsuit in particular:

Wood then switched back to Twitter. Musk’s August 29 tweet suggesting it was weird Unsworth hadn’t filed a lawsuit is teed up again. Wood told Musk he’d sent Musk a letter about his intent to file suit unless they could work something out; Musk said he’d been told about the letter but may not have read it. Wood dug up Musk’s sworn deposition, where Musk said he’d read it. Musk then said he interpreted the letter as a “shakedown,” “extortion.” “I get these shakedown letters quite a lot.”

This visibly irritated Wood. He asked Musk where in the letter the shakedown occurs. Musk said that Wood couches it in fancy language but Musk knows what it means. “I think you’re looking for a significant payday.” Wood seemed to take this personally, and a very testy exchange between men occurs. “You don’t work for free,” Musk said to Wood. “Neither do you,” Wood said to Musk. Judge Wilson told both men in fancy language to settle down.

The trial finally turned to the root problem: was Musk’s tweet in which he called Unsworth “pedo guy” an insult or an accusation?  Musk argued that it was an insult and hadn’t clarified that at the time because he did not believe it needed clarification. Musk also argued that calling someone a “pedo guy” simply means that they’re creepy, stating: “Pedo guy is less — it’s a frivolous insult. ‘Guy’ does not add gravitas to a statement.”

During the final few minutes of the trial, Musk’s lawyer Spiro discussed the personal background of the billionaire CEO, noting that he was a father of five and that his first sone had died as an infant. He noted that Musk grew up in South Africa and that his childhood was “not good.”

Breitbart News will continue to follow the trial until its completion.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or email him at lnolan@breitbart.com


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