Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been accused of triggering an online harassment campaign against one of his critics after accusing him of “almost killing” employees of the electric car manufacturer in two separate incidents.
The defamation lawsuit was filed this week by Randeep Hothi, a University of Michigan graduate student, who is known for fact-checking Musk’s public claims about Tesla and reporting his sceptical observations on Twitter.
After Musk accused Hothi of endangering the lives of Tesla employees in an email to a website editor, he faced “an onslaught of hateful Twitter response, accusing [him] of being a liar, a murderer, a terrorist, and a deranged maniac” the court complaint said.
The lawsuit deals with two encounters that Hothi had with Tesla operations in 2019, Courthouse News reported. In February that year, he was confronted by a Tesla security guard after entering the company’s Fremont sales center — an incident which happened, he believes, because Tesla’s security system flagged his license plate following his previous efforts to observe production at the company.
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The second incident took place in April, when Hothi saw a Tesla vehicle with roof-mounted cameras. The suit says Hothi followed and observed the vehicle and then posted photos to Twitter, but adds that “at no point did Hothi either drive recklessly or endanger the safety of the occupants.”
Days after that encounter, Tesla filed for a restraining order against Hothi, accusing him of trespassing and harassing its employees. The company also claimed that in February he had hit the security guard with his car and that in April he drove recklessly while following the Tesla automobile. However after the judge asked Tesla to provide video evidence of the accusations, it dropped the case instead.
Nevertheless, Musk repeated the same allegations against Hothi in an email, which he sent to an editor of a litigation website. The email said Hothi “almost killed Tesla employees” in the incidents.
“What was a sideswipe when Hothi hit one of our people could easily have been a death with 6 inches of difference,” Musk wrote. The editor published the email on his Twitter account, and Hothi was subsequently targeted by Musk’s angry fans.
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Musk has already developed a reputation for not keeping his cool when talking about people critical of him or his work.
In a more extreme example from 2018, he infamously called British diver Vernon Unsworth a “pedo guy” after the man made dismissive remarks about Musk’s contribution to an operation to rescue 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave. The billionaire managed to fend off a defamation suit filed by Unsworth, arguing in court that the phrase was common in his home country of South Africa and didn’t imply that the diver was actually a child molester.
Hothi’s long-time scepticism about Musk’s promises regarding Tesla’s future automation capabilities and production efficiency have made him a thorn in the side of the company and its CEO.
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