(Bloomberg) -- Elon Musk was hit with a defamation suit accusing him of promoting a conspiracy theory falsely identifying a California man as a federal agent posing as a neo-Nazi street brawler for a “false flag” government operation.
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Ben Brody, 22, sued Musk Monday in Texas state court over the billionaire’s endorsement of social media posts that compared an Instagram profile of Brody to a photo of a Portland, Oregon, White supremacist who violently clashed with the Proud Boys while both groups were protesting a June 24 Pride event in the city.
Internet personalities cited the profile, which identified Brody as a University of California, Riverside, political science major who planned to work for the government, in claiming that the street brawl was engineered by the authorities to discredit right-wing groups. Similar “false flag” claims have been propagated about the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot as well as a number of mass shootings.
In a June 27 post, Musk re-tweeted and commented on a blog post making the allegations against Brody. “Looks like one is a college student (who wants to join the govt),” Musk wrote, adding that it was a “probable false flag situation.”
Brody, who recently graduated, is seeking at least $1 million in damages. He’s being represented by Mark Bankston, a Texas lawyer who previously won a $49 million defamation verdict against right-wing host Alex Jones for claiming the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and that the grieving parents were actors.
‘Pedo Guy’ Suit
Musk couldn’t be reached for comment through the press office for his social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. A lawyer who frequently represents Musk didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
It’s hardly the first time Musk’s comments have landed him in court. He was previously sued for defamation by British cave diver Vernon Unsworth, whom he called a “pedo guy” after Unsworth criticized Musk’s attempts to assist in the 2018 rescue of Thai schoolchildren stranded in an underwater cave. A jury in December 2019 found Musk had not defamed Unsworth.
But Monday’s suit is among the first defamation suits since Musk bought Twitter and began flirting with right-wing conspiracy theories. Brody cited many of those instances in his complaint, including Musk’s initial promotion of a claim that an attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had resulted from a dispute with a male lover. Musk later apologized for his comments.
“Musk’s reckless attitude, his unpunished pattern of false statements, and his flirtation with the most unreliable and extreme elements of his social media platform made it inevitable that he would falsely attack another innocent private citizen, turning their world upside-down,” Brody said.
Brody, who is Jewish, said he was particularly “disturbed that he was used by someone as influential as Musk to deny the reality of an event involving neo-Nazism, which is something Musk has done multiple times in the past few months.”
Musk has been accused of fomenting antisemitism by reinstating previously banned accounts on X and by engaging in a war of words with the Anti-Defamation League, which he claims has been responsible for slumping ad sales on the platform.
Brody said he and his family suffered a wave of harassment by “belligerent strangers” apparently motivated by Musk’s statements. He said he also feared long-term career consequences. Potential employers may decide “it’s simply not worth it to hire an employee in a public-facing position who is connected to a bizarre controversy involving a neo-Nazi group,” he said.
“He fears he will always worry whether his life might have taken a more productive path without the reckless interference of Elon Musk,” Brody’s lawyers said in his suit.
The case is Brody v. Musk, D-1-GN-23-006883, Texas District Court, Travis County (Austin).
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