Musk says the pejorative “pedo guy” is a common insult in his native South Africa.
Elon Musk is on trial for allegedly defaming a British cave diver on Twitter.
The Tesla executive appeared combative in court on Wednesday, claiming he’d only meant to insult British spelunker Vernon Unsworth. Despite Musk’s insistence, Unsworth says he felt “branded a pedophile.”
The animosity between Musk and Unsworth dates back to 2018. A group of Thai youth became trapped in seaside cave after intense rains flooded the entrance. Trapped inside and beset by rising water, Thai authorities solicited outside help. Musk, speaking over social media, offered to develop a collapsible submarine capable of traversing the cave.
However, some would-be rescuers were skeptical. Unsworth, an experienced cave diver familiar with the terrain, lambasted Musk’s offer, saying the Tesla founder was simply seeking attention. In an interview with CNN, Unsworth called the gesture a “P.R.” stunt and said Musk should “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
Musk responded by calling the diver a “pedo guy” on Twitter.
Unsworth, who is 64 years old and has a Thai girlfriend, felt the term was a direct attack on him and his relations.
“It feels very raw,” Unsworth said on Wednesday. “I feel humiliated, ashamed, dirty.
“Effectively, from day one, I was given a life sentence without parole,” Unsworth added. ‘It hurts to talk about it.”
Musk, though, told the court he had no intent of truly branding Unsworth a pervert. Instead, Musk claims that “pedo guy” is a common insult in South Africa, where he grew up.
Musk further testified that he did not, in fact, believe Unsworth to be a pedophile. Much of Musk’s argument—presented by him and his legal team—is contingent upon “pedo guy” being interpreted as a figurative insult rather than an assertion of fact.
“It was extremely rude,” Musk said, suggesting he’d tweeted in a rage. “It was an unprovoked attack on my team with false statements. It was rude an insulting so I insulted him back, regrettably, obviously.”
Among the false statements Musk referenced was Unsworth’s claim that Tesla’s collapsible submarine was a “P.R. stunt.” One of Musk’s attorneys showed the court e-mail exchanges between the CEO and Richard Stanton, another rescue diver. In the exchange, Musk asked a series of questions relating to submarine’s design and desired capabilities.
Stanton, also called in to testify, said he provided “limited input” to Musk. Outside the courthouse, Stanton told reporters he never had much faith in the executive’s submarine. And Stanton, too, repeatedly credited Unsworth with playing a key role in the rescue mission.
But in Unsworth’s eyes, the damage is already done.
“I’m not sure how many times it was repeated, but it was essentially my name being tied to being a pedophile,” he said. “I find it hard to read the word let alone talk about it.”
Reuters suggests that the case may be resolved by a jury. The trial is expected to finish later today, with neither Unsworth or Musk likely to testify.