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Elon Musk is being sued for libel for accusing a man of having neo-Nazi links

Elon Musk is pictured in May in Paris. A California man says he was harassed after Musk amplified posts on X that falsely said he was involved in a confrontation between far-right protesters.
Michel Euler
Elon Musk is pictured in May in Paris. A California man says he was harassed after Musk amplified posts on X that falsely said he was involved in a confrontation between far-right protesters.

Elon Musk, the owner of X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, is being sued by a recent college graduate who says Musk falsely accused him of being affiliated with a neo-Nazi group.

Ben Brody, 22, is suing Musk for libel, saying Musk amplified posts on X that wrongly identified Brody as a participant in a brawl between two right-wing extremist groups during a Pride event in Portland, Ore., on June 24.

"Over the past several years, Musk has settled into a consistent pattern of making reckless false statements to the detriment of innocent third parties while fostering disinformation and denying neo-Nazi violence," the lawsuit alleges. It was filed Monday in the district court of Travis County, Texas.

A lawyer for Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

The case involves video of a street fight between two far-right groups

Back in June, members of the Proud Boys and the Rose City Nationalists were at the Portland event to "vent their bigotry and intimidate Pride Night celebrants," the complaint says.

But the groups got into a fight amongst themselves. Video of the brawl quickly went viral, and right wing social media influencers began accusing the Rose City Nationalists of being federal agents or left-wing antagonists there to influence public opinion of the groups. In the video, two Rose City Nationalists had their masks torn off.

Brody was accused of being one of the unmasked men.

An anonymous account tweeted screenshots of a man's face in the video, accompanied by a picture of Brody, taken from an Instagram post by his college fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, which refers to itself as "the world's Jewish college fraternity."

As a person with Jewish heritage, being accused of being a neo-Nazi "would be utterly profane and blasphemous if it were true," the suit says.

Musk asked in a Twitter post, "Who were the unmasked individuals?" to which another user copied the post accusing Brody of being a participant.

"Very odd," Musk responded.

Brody, who lives in Los Angeles County, Calif., posted an Instagram video trying to absolve himself, as well as debit card receipts showing he was in California the day of the Portland brawl. He also contacted one of the stores he patronized that day for video footage, the complaint says.

Many X users began telling Musk that it was not Brody in the video. Under another post sharing Brody's picture, Musk commented, "Always remove their masks."

On June 27, Musk tweeted a reply in reference to the unmasked men in the video: "Looks like one is a college student (who wants to join the govt) and another is maybe an Antifa member, but nonetheless a probable false flag situation."

"False flag" is a term used in military contexts, but it's also often used by conspiracists to refer to actions carried out to purposely pin the blame on another party.

Musk's June 27 tweet has been viewed more than 1.2 million times. Musk's tweets remain up. He has refused to retract his accusations, the lawsuit says.

Brody says Musk's tweets led to panic, fear and depression

"Musk's personal endorsement of the false accusation against Ben Brody reverberated across the internet, transforming the accusation from anonymous rumor to gospel truth for many individuals, and causing others to use Musk's endorsement to justify their desire to harass Ben Brody and his family," the lawsuit says.

"Ben spent the following days and weeks in a cycle of panic, fear, denial, disorientation, and depression," it says.

Brody also had trouble sleeping, panic attacks, headaches and fatigue that interfered with his daily life, the suit says.

"Ben was put through intense terror because of Musk's recklessness, and now Ben finds himself depressed, freaked out, and mentally distraught right at the crucial personal moment when he exits college and enters his career path," the complaint adds.

Brody worries about the availability of job opportunities in the future and being confronted by conspiracy theorists.

He's seeking damages of at least $1 million, a jury trial and a judgment clearing his name, the lawsuit says.

"The reality is that too many powerful people with enormous audiences are being reckless with their accusations against private people," the complaint says. "The damage they cause is not easily repaired by apologies or counter-speech, no matter how persuasive."

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Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]