Los Angeles – Tesla co-founder Elon Musk said on Tuesday
he did not literally call a British caver a paedophile during their infamous
spat on Twitter, telling a Los Angeles federal court that he had simply
defended himself from unprovoked insults.
The tech billionaire told the defamation trial jury
he had been “upset” when he described British diver Vernon Unsworth –
who helped rescue youth soccer players trapped in a cave in Thailand – as
“pedo guy” in a tweet. During the July 2018 row, Unsworth had described
the 48-year-old entrepreneur’s proposal to build a mini-submarine to rescue the
boys as a “PR stunt”.
“It was an unprovoked attack on a good-natured
attempt to rescue the kids,” Musk, dressed in a black suit and dark tie,
told the courtroom on Tuesday. “I was upset.”
“It was wrong and insulting and so I insulted
him back,” he said.
Musk was questioned by Unsworth’s attorney Lin Wood
about comments made by the caver, who had said the custom-built device would
never have fit in the cave and suggested that Musk could “stick his
submarine where it hurts”.
“It’s idiomatic, just as I was not literally
meaning he was a paedophile,” replied Musk.
Meant no harm
Asked why he failed to specifically say that
Unsworth was not a paedophile in his apology, Musk said it seemed obvious to
him that this was his intent.
“For me, that did not require any
clarification … (which) would have been worse,” he said.
“I apologised and I say again ‘I apologise Mr.
Unsworth’,” he added, as the British caver looked on across the courtroom,
visibly uncomfortable under the media spotlight.
Musk’s testimony was to continue on Wednesday.
His attorney Alex Spiro earlier on Tuesday told the
jury of six women and two men that his client meant no harm when he hit out at
Unsworth and that his words were spoken in anger.
“The tweets are not allegations of crimes.
They are joking, taunting tweets in a fight between two men,” Spiro told
He also repeated his clients’ claim that “pedo
guy” was a common insult in South Africa, where Musk grew up.
“Pedo guy (means) creepy old guy” in
South Africa, Spiro said.
Unsworth’s attorneys have challenged Musk’s defence,
presenting as evidence another tweet he wrote in response to a question about
whether he thought the British caver was a paedophile.
“Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true,” Musk
tweeted at the time.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO also said in court filings
that following his spat with Unsworth, one of his aides had hired a private
investigator to dig up dirt on the 64-year-old caver.
He also suggested in emails to the website BuzzFeed
News that Unsworth was a “child rapist”.
Wood has dismissed Musk’s unsubstantiated claims as
“disgusting” and an attempt to smear his client’s reputation.
He said he looks forward to seeing “how a jury
reacts to (Musk’s) defence strategy” under oath.
Unsworth, who lives in Britain and Thailand, is
expected to give his version of events when he testifies in the trial set to
last through Friday.
He is seeking unspecified damages for pain,
suffering and emotional distress.
Musk had sought to have the case dismissed, but a
judge in October rejected the request.
The judge also rejected a bid to classify Unsworth
as a public figure, which would have made defamation harder to prove.