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After Grimes suit, Elon Musk faces new legal action

Elon Musk was sued by a recent college grad for libel after the billionaire allegedly identified him as a neo-Nazi. | Source: Chesnot/Getty Images

A recent college graduate is suing Elon Musk after the billionaire allegedly accused him of being a neo-Nazi rioter.

READ MORE: Grimes Sues Elon Musk Over Their 3 Children

Lawyers for Benjamin Brody say Musk’s insinuations that their client was a neo-Nazi was more than just a one-off remark on X—previously known as Twitter, which Musk owns—but came in a series of posts to the social media platform that escalated over several days.

Brody’s lawyers say Musk’s alleged claims about Brody being a neo-Nazi are libelous, have damaged their client’s reputation and caused mental distress by exposing him to widespread vitriol and harassment online. Moreover, the lawsuit claims Musk’s celebrity status allowed the comments to be widely republished, amplifying Brody’s distress. 

“Musk’s accusation constitutes defamation per se because it implicates Ben Brody in unlawful acts, including disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, assault, battery, conspiracy to riot, and conspiracy to commit terrorism,” the lawsuit filed Monday in Texas alleges. 

“Being defamed by someone as famous as Musk was an utterly terrifying experience, and it has left Ben stunned, disoriented, and worried about the consequences on his future,” lead attorney Mark Bankston said in a thread on X announcing the lawsuit.

Brody is demanding more than $1 million in damages, although an exact amount has yet to be made public.

Musk’s Tweets

The accusations stem from a series of posts about a Portland street brawl between two far-right groups at a Pride event in June where one of the people was falsely identified as Brody. 

On June 25, X user Amiri King shared screenshots from video of the brawl showing two of the participants with their face coverings removed and wrote “two unmasked members of Patriot Front. These are either federal agents masquerading as racists -OR- Leftists masquerading as far right. Do you know who these people are?” 

Shortly after, X user “Dr Frensor” quote-tweeted King’s post, claiming one of the brawlers was Brody and posting Brody’s picture and bio taken from a social media profile from his Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi.

This tweet prompted Musk to engage, the suit alleges, with the tech billionaire asking in a reply tweet “who were the unmasked individuals?” User AcceptDoge replied, telling Musk one of the brawlers was Brody, to which Musk replied in a tweet “very odd.”

Source: Farrar & Ball LLP

According to the lawsuit, dozens of Twitter users told Musk he had falsely identified Brody after the tweet.

The lawsuit then alleges that Musk then went on to further amplify the claim that Brody was one of the right-wing brawlers.

The following day, on June 26, Musk replied to another X user, Matt Wallace, who had posted the video screenshot of a brawler alongside a picture of Brody, to which Musk replied “always remove their masks.”

Brody himself posted a video to Instagram the following day showing debit card receipts the day of the brawl that showed he made purchases in Riverside, California, on the day of the fight, as well as time-stamped footage showing he was in California at the time of the brawl.

Even after the video was posted, Musk went on to suggest Brody was one of the right-wing brawlers, posting, “Looks like the one is a college student (who wants to join the govt)…but nonetheless a probable false flag situation.”

Musk’s mention of joining the government is a reference to Brody, whose publicized bio mentioned he wanted to work for the U.S. government after graduating college.

Source: Farrar & Ball LLP

“The gist of Musk’s statement on June 27, 2023— ‘Looks like one is a college student (who wants to join the govt)’—was that Ben Brody was a participant in the June 24th Portland street brawl on behalf of the Rose City Nationalists,” the lawsuit says.

Brody’s attorneys did not provide further comment beyond Bankston’s public statement Monday when contacted by The Standard.

Musk’s Erratic Tweeting

Musk has often posted erratically on Twitter.

In 2018, Musk was sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission after he tweeted that he was considering taking his electric car company, Tesla, private, with the federal agency accusing Musk of securities fraud.

“Am considering taking Tesla private at $420,” he wrote. “Funding secured.” 

Musk settled the suit in October of that year without admitting wrongdoing and agreed to pay a $20 million fine and have a Tesla attorney review his tweets before they are published.

Musk and his electric car company were later found not liable for misleading investors by a jury, but a federal judge ordered him to keep having a Tesla attorney review his tweets before publishing them.

In October 2022, Musk also tweeted about the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, saying, “there is a tiny possibility there is more to this story than meets the eye” and linking a post from a site with the headline “The Awful Truth: Paul Pelosi Was Drunk Again, And In a Dispute With a Male Prostitute Early Friday Morning.”

Musk later apologized for the tweet once video of the attack was released.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com