Elon Musk did not intend to accuse a British rescue diver of being a paedophile and instead meant to suggest he was a “creepy old man,” a court has heard.
Vernon Unsworth is suing the co-founder of Tesla for defamation after the billionaire said in a since-deleted tweeted that he was a “pedo” following the 2018 Thai cave rescue.
The row started when Mr Unsworth, who helped with the perilous underwater mission, dismissed Mr Musk’s offer of aid as a publicity stunt.
A defamation trial began in Los Angeles on Tuesday, bringing Mr Musk and Mr Unsworth face-to-face inside a federal court.
Mr Musk repeated the defence he first used in court papers lodged in September, insisting the phrase “pedo guy” was commonly used in his native South Africa and meant “creepy old guy”, rather than being an allegation of paedophilia.
Asked by Lin Wood, representing Mr Unsworth if, following his tweet, there were news articles online stating he had accused Mr Unsworth of paedophilia, he replied: “I think there was some articles to that effect, but there are articles that accuse me of all sorts of things that aren’t true.”
Again characterising “pedo guy” as an insult rather than an accusation, Mr Musk cited Mr Unsworth’s response to his offer of help in the cave rescue, where he said “he can stick his submarine where it hurts”.
Mr Musk said this too was clearly an insult, rather than a threat to “physically sodomise me with a submarine”.
The court was then shown Mr Musk’s tweeted apology to the British diver. The billionaire, dressed in a dark suit, again offered an apology.
Mr Wood then moved on to Mr Musk’s defence, first offered in September, arguing the phrase “pedo guy” was common in South Africa and widely believed to mean “creepy old man”.
Mr Wood asked why Mr Musk did not offer this defence earlier.
“I think it would have been worse. It’s like if I called someone a mothereffer,” Mr Musk said, adding it would seem “sarcastic” to say “I did not mean they committed incest”.
Pressed further why he did not make it clear he was not accusing Mr Unsworth of paedophilia, Mr Musk added: “I think that would be worse. It would seem disingenuous as an apology.”
“Calling someone a ‘pedo guy’ just means creepy.”
An internet search or a survey of people on the street would prove his point, Mr Musk added.
Mr Musk was then asked about the his statement, “I f***ing hope he sues me”.
To laughter inside the courtroom, Mr Musk replied: “Be careful what you wish for.”
Under cross examination from his solicitor, Alex Spiro, Mr Musk was asked why he got involved in the rescue. Mr Musk said it first appeared authorities had the situation under control, before news of an incoming monsoon made him fearful for the trapped children’s safety.
He said: “When one of the Thai navy seals died that seemed, ‘Wow, this is pretty hardcore’.”
Speaking about the monsoon, Mr Musk explained his fears, adding: “If it arrives before the boys are out they would drown for sure.”
The court was then shown a clip of Mr Unsworth’s interview with CNN, in which he dismissed the tech billionaire’s offer of help as a publicity stunt.
Asked by Mr Spiro if this was a lie from Mr Unsworth, Mr Musk replied: “Yes.”
The case continues.