Tesla CEO Elon Musk Doubles Down on ‘Child Rapist’ Claims, Curses Out Reporter in Email
Musk. Can’t. Stop.
Embattled Tesla CEO Elon Musk brought his campaign against a British rescue worker and cave diver to explosive new heights on Tuesday, accusing a man who helped save a youth soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand of being a "child rapist," alleging without evidence that he married a 12-year-old "child bride," and calling a reporter a "f***ing a**hole" in a bizarre email exchange posted on Buzzfeed News.
Musk's obsession with 63-year-old Vernon Unsworth began in July after the last member of the soccer team had finally been plucked from the cave, ending a nearly three-week ordeal that captivated the world. Musk had inserted himself into the drama by promising to build a miniature submarine that rescuers could use to float the kids out one by one, then showed up at the cave complex in Thailand with a working prototype in tow—but in the end, authorities reportedly deemed it "not practical" and opted for more conventional means to get the team to safety.
Unsworth, who Buzzfeed News confirmed was heavily involved on the logistical side of the rescue, was less kind in a CNN interview after the fact. He told a reporter that Musk could "stick his submarine where it hurts," adding the whole thing was a "publicity stunt" with "absolutely no chance of working." This prompted Musk to hop on Twitter and issue a series of rebuttals—one of which famously referred to Unsworth as a "pedo guy" for reasons unclear.
The outcry that followed from critics and supporters alike prompted Musk to issue a rare-if-grudging apology and delete the offending tweets. Musk's emotional interview with the New York Times last month suggested his erratic behavior stemmed from a supremely stressful year. Everyone moved on to obsess over Model 3 build quality reports and his head-spinning call to take the company private. Then last week, Musk tweeted again.
"You don't think it's strange he hasn't sued me? He was offered free legal services," Musk replied to someone calling out his baseless "pedo" charge. In another response, he demanded to know why his critics hadn't investigated Unsworth on their own. Buzzfeed News reporter Ryan Mac then obtained and published a letter Unsworth's lawyer sent to Musk's house at the beginning of August stating their intent to sue him for libel. Mac reached out to Musk for comment on the story, and received the following two emails in response:
And the follow-up:
Yes, that is the CEO of the second most valuable automaker in America calling a reporter a f***ing a**hole, accusing him of "defending child rapists," and going into oddly specific yet entirely circumstantial detail about why he believes Unsworth is actually a pedophile. Though Musk prefaced both emails with "off the record" and "on background," these conditions have to be agreed upon between a journalist and a source before information is exchanged.
"I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what's actually going on and stop defending child rapists, you f**king a**hole. He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been traveling to or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years, mostly Pattaya Beach, until moving to Chiang Rai for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time," Musk wrote. "There's only one reason people go to Pattaya Beach. It isn't where you'd go for caves, but it is where you'd go for something else. Chiang Rai is renowned for child sex trafficking."
Buzzfeed News tracked down Unsworth's girlfriend of seven years, a 40-year-old Thai woman named Woranan Ratrawiphukkun who has several years worth of photos with Unsworth on her Facebook page. She said that Unsworth splits his time between England and Thailand but declined to comment on Musk's attacks, citing the developing legal case.
Buzzfeed also went through the rest of Musk's allegations—that Unsworth wasn't welcome on the dive rescue team, that the threat of a lawsuit magically materialized last week, and that the real reason the mini submarine wasn't used was because too much water had already been drained from the cave—and refuted them point by point with testimony from dive team members, Unsworth's lawyer L. Lin Wood, and other confidential sources.
Wisely, Unsworth himself has elected to let Wood do all the talking for him—and to let Musk keep packing the evidence folder. "It's all being dealt with, that's all I can say," Unsworth said when reached for comment by Sky News last week. The other party that hasn't weighed in is Tesla, whose spokesperson referred Buzzfeed News to an August 24 statement from Tesla's board saying it "fully support[s]" Musk's continued tenure as CEO.
How much longer that support can last is anyone's guess. Even at a time where this kind of unprofessional, unbalanced conduct has been wholly normalized, Musk's unrelenting and highly public grudge match with a private citizen stands out as truly troubling and deeply weird. He's done a lot of impressive things at Tesla's helm, but there comes a point where his erratic behavior crosses the line from the eccentric to inexcusable. It's also a true liability for the company, whose shares dropped 5 percent on Tuesday before this latest report came out in the afternoon. Wednesday will be interesting.
It must be said again: it is not normal for the CEO of a publicly-traded company worth $50 billion to baselessly accuse a complete stranger of pedophilia. It is not normal for the rollout of a new model to be overshadowed by this kind of totally off-the-wall drama. It is not normal for report after report to detail the hellish working conditions exacerbated by these problems. None of this stuff is the cost of doing business.
The Drive's Alex Roy recently hypothesized that whether it's sleep deprivation, drug use, or just plain stubbornness driving Musk these days, it really doesn't matter because he believes so singularly in his own vision for electric cars. Hundreds of thousands of people still believe in it too as they watch the tale of Tesla unfold. Giving Musk the axe can only lead to a Steve Jobs-style comeback and a new chapter in the company's story, Roy writes. His actions, crazy as they seem, are designed to shape the narrative somehow.
Musk signed off his first email to Buzzfeed by saying that he "f***ing hope[s]" Unsworth sues him. He may get his wish yet—and that's when we'll find out if it's a true plot twist, or all part of the plan.