(JTA) – A Jewish man who recently graduated college has sued billionaire Elon Musk for insinuating on his social media network, X, that the man was a member of a white supremacist group.
Ben Brody, 22, is suing Musk for libel after the tech mogul reacted repeatedly to a photo of him this summer on X, formerly known as Twitter. In a post accompanying the photo, a user on the platform speculated that Brody was (or was posing as) a member of the Rose City Nationalists, an extremist group in Portland, Oregon, with ties to white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
The photo of Brody, who graduated from the University of California, Riverside, earlier this year, was actually taken at his Jewish college fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi.
“Given his Jewish heritage, Ben was understandably horrified at being accused by Musk of donning neo-Nazi regalia, an act that would be utterly profane and blasphemous if it were true,” reads the complaint in Brody’s lawsuit, filed Monday in a district court in Austin, Texas, in the county where Musk lives. The complaint continues, “Ben has suffered severe emotional harm and enormous damage to his reputation and public image.”
The lawsuit is the latest antisemitism-related controversy on X, formerly known as Twitter, since Musk’s takeover of the platform last fall. In recent months, Musk has launched a series of attacks on the Anti-Defamation League by engaging with posts by white supremacists and claiming that an advertiser boycott spearheaded by the Jewish civil rights group has been responsible for depleting the company’s value.
In recent livestreamed meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a group of largely conservative-leaning Jews, Musk defended his record of combatting antisemitism on X while saying he was adhering to free-speech principles.
Musk frequently reacts to posts espousing conspiracy theories on his platform, and his engagement with the tweets about Brody followed a similar pattern. Following a physical altercation in Portland in June between the Rose City Nationalists and the Proud Boys, a rival right-wing extremist group, Musk asked his millions of followers to verify the identities of the group’s members caught on video.
“Who were the unmasked individuals?” he wrote on June 25. One account dug up Brody’s AEPi photo and claimed he was one of the “unmasked” members, posting the image next to a screenshot from a video of the brawl. Musk replied, “very odd” to the image.
In another instance, he replied “Always remove their masks,” to the same set of images.
After Brody posted a video seeking to clear his name and shared debit card receipts to demonstrate he was in California at the time of the incident, multiple users tried to tell Musk he had the wrong man.
“All these accusations are kind of just crazy and incorrect,” Brody said in the video, posted on June 26. “My family and I are just being harassed completely and I would be more than happy to clear up any confusion if necessary. This is just so ridiculous and I really just can’t believe this is happening to me right now.”
But Musk continued to promote the theory, writing in a follow-up post on June 27, “Looks like one is a college student (who wants to join the govt),” echoing language from a biography of Brody from his fraternity. Musk added, “a probable false flag situation,” seemingly suggesting the warring extremists were government plants.
These tweets were tantamount to libel, Brody’s suit alleges. Musk’s statements “convey a defamatory meaning” and “exposed him to public hatred, contempt and ridicule,” the suit reads. Brody seeks damages of at least $1 million and a jury trial.
The legal battle will be difficult, as Musk has already beaten one libel charge involving his tweets. In 2019 a federal jury rejected a claim brought by a British cave explorer whom Musk called a “pedo guy,” short for pedophile, after the two feuded over the best course of action for the previous year’s high-profile cave rescue of a youth soccer team in Thailand.