Elon Musk, the tech billionaire and far-right sympathizer, has been hit with a defamation lawsuit after he falsely accused a recent college graduate of being a federal agent involved with a neo-Nazi group.
Ben Brody, a 22-year-old Jewish man from California, filed the lawsuit against Musk on Monday after he said he and his family were forced to flee their home after continued harassment and threats after Musk promoted a dangerous conspiracy against Brody.
“In yet another example of Elon Musk’s serial pattern of slander, he falsely told the world that Ben Brody participated in a violent street brawl on behalf of a neo-Nazi extremist group,” the lawsuit, obtained by HuffPost, alleges.
The lawsuit centers around a fight between neo-Nazi group Rose City Nationalists (RCN) and neo-fascist group the Proud Boys that took place in Oregon earlier this year. In video footage that went viral, a member of RCN had his face mask pulled off, and internet sleuths went to work hoping to identify him.
But others dismissed the reality of far-right violence by falsely claiming members of the neo-Nazi group were actually federal agents. That included Musk, who amplified the false conspiracy that Brody was the man in the mask, then later suggested Brody was part of a “false flag situation,” in a post on X ― previously called Twitter ― that remains up today.
“Musk made these ridiculously false and damaging accusations based on a tweet he had seen from an anonymous far-right extremist Twitter account,” the lawsuit alleges. “After amplifying the claim for two days, Musk personally leveled these accusations against Ben Brody, and it has led to severe personal harassment and permanent damage to his reputation.”
Brody is being represented by attorney Mark Bankston of the Texas law firm Farrar & Ball. Bankston previously represented two Sandy Hook parents who won $45 million in damages against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones after Jones spent years falsely claiming the 2012 school shooting that left 20 kids and six adults dead never happened. Jones currently owes more than $1 billion to several Sandy Hook families for his lies.
Brody is seeking more than $1 million in damages against Musk. You can read the full lawsuit here.
“Musk’s defamatory statements have and will continue to cause harm to Ben Brody,” the lawsuit says. “Due to Musk’s conduct, Ben Brody has suffered and continues to suffer substantial damages in an amount to be proven at trial.”
An attorney for Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement to HuffPost, Bankston said his client plans to hold Musk accountable.
“I’m not going to let this young man be known for this neo-Nazi smear,” Bankston said. “Instead, I’m going to make sure he’s known as the person who stood up to Elon Musk.”
From A ‘Shitposting’ Account To Elon Musk
On June 24, members of the Portland Proud Boys went to Oregon City’s first-ever Pride Night Fest to disrupt the event and spew anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.
Along for the homophobic protest were members of RCN, a neo-Nazi group that had recently been involved in an online dispute with members of the local Proud Boys chapter, Vice News reported at the time.
The protest quickly devolved into violence, with members of the Proud Boys striking RCN members with American flagpoles and telling them to “be gone, bitch!”
One still-unidentified member of RCN is seen on video being propped up by his fellow neo-Nazis after he had been bowled over by the Proud Boys. Moments later, his mask is ripped off, revealing his face. The black-haired man, bleeding from his head, looks bewildered in the video as he goes to cover his face with his hands.
After video of the incident was posted the next day on what was then called Twitter, right-wing accounts, along with politicians, amplified the conspiracy that the white supremacist group were actually federal agents bent on making the right look bad.
One of those accounts went by the name “Dr Frensor” and was the first to falsely link the neo-Nazi to Brody.
“‘Dr Frensor’ is an extreme rightwing ‘shitposting’ account affiliated with the bizarre ‘Groyper’ subculture,” the lawsuit explains.
“Dr Frensor” posted a photo of Brody with his personal information that was found on his college fraternity’s social media page. The caption on the photo read, “After graduation he plans to work for the government,” which “Dr Frensor” used as supposed proof that Brody was a federal agent.
As the lawsuit states, the account “features extreme rightwing memes, neo-Nazi apologia/nostalgia, juvenile and cringe-worthy attempts at bigoted humor, low effort bait tweets, delusional panics over lazy hoaxes, and a cavalcade of absurdly false information. The account is the social media equivalent of gutter sludge.”
Within a matter of hours, that “gutter sludge” had made its way to Musk, who responded to the post with “very odd.”
Brody’s image and personal details soon spread across the internet. Matt Wallace, described in the lawsuit as “a notoriously unreliable cryptocurrency YouTube influencer who frequently vies for Musk’s attention,” also posted Brody’s image alongside screenshots from the Oregon video to X, which remains up.
This prompted another response from Musk: “Always remove their masks.”
“Dr Frensor,” meanwhile, appeared to revel in the attention they’d gotten from the billionaire.
“Me famous,” the account posted. “My memes best memes.”
‘My Life Is Over’
On June 26, Brody woke up still at the center of a dangerous right-wing conspiracy. At the urging of his friends, he made a video and posted it to Instagram attempting to clear his name. He also posted debit card receipts that showed he was in California the day of the Oregon fight.
“My family and I are just being harassed completely, and I would be more than happy to clear up any confusion if necessary,” Brody says in the video. “This is just so ridiculous and I just really can’t believe this is happening to me right now.”
As Brody’s image and personal details spread on Musk’s website, other users responded directly to the Tesla CEO urging him to stop amplifying disinformation.
“It is not Benjamin Brody!” an account responded to Musk. “This is defamation!”
“Cannot overstate how much this isn’t the same guy and how evil this whole fascist denial is,” another account said.
“ELONG STOP BEING AN IDIOT PLEASE” an all-caps post read.
Brian Krassenstein, an influencer and Musk “reply guy,” posted Brody’s video on his page with the caption: “This needs to stop before things get out of hand...Please share before this guy’s life is ruined.”
On June 27, conspiracy website Zero Hedge published a blog that was posted on X titled “Patriot Front ‘White Supremacist’ Unmasked As Suspected Fed.”
Zero Hedge is perhaps best known for helping Alex Jones spread the lie that the Sandy Hook school shooting never happened, and that the parents of dead children were actors. U.S. intelligence officials have also accused Zero Hedge of publishing Kremlin propaganda.
Musk wasted no time replying to the account.
“Looks like one is a college student (who wants to join the govt) and another is maybe an Antifa member, but nonetheless a probable false flag situation,” Musk wrote that morning. He then tagged Community Notes, a section of the website dedicated to correcting misinformation.
Though the Zero Hedge post was later deleted, Musk’s response remains up, and has been viewed more than 1 million times by logged-in users, according to X’s metrics.
Again, a wave of accounts rushed to defend Brody and inform Musk that he was wrong.
“i hope you and zerohedge get sued like infowars and alex jones did. you spread lies and disinformation that affects real people. you are a monster,” one user posted in response to Musk.
“Incoming defamation suit in 3, 2…” another user posted.
“you are going to super hell for this,” another said.
The lawsuit lists 91 accounts that all responded to Musk telling him he was wrong. All were apparently ignored by the billionaire, who is described in the lawsuit as having an “ever-growing addiction to posting on Twitter.”
In a July interview with Vice News, Brody described how he and his family had to leave their home after his phone number and family’s address had been posted online.
“In the car, I was freaking out and very nervous, very anxious, like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened. You know, my life is over,’” Brody told the publication. “Everything that I tried to work for and all this is just completely gone. And I genuinely felt very anxious, very nervous.”
In August, Musk was informed through his attorneys about Brody’s claim for defamation, according to the lawsuit.
“In response, Musk has refused to retract his accusation or even delete his tweets,” the lawsuit reads. “In fact, Musk’s attorney indicated that Musk would seek fee shifting if Ben attempts to hold Musk accountable in court. In other words, if this 22-year-old victim tries to seek redress in court for what happened to him, he must risk having the richest man on the planet seek to collect fees against him.”
A ‘Pattern Of Reckless False Statements’
Of the 60-page lawsuit, 17 pages are devoted to what the lawsuit describes as “reckless false statements, promotion of disinformation, and denial of neo-Nazi violence” by Musk.
In 2018, for instance, Musk accused a British diver who helped rescue children trapped in a cave in Thailand of being a pedophile after the man criticized Musk’s idea to rescue the boys via a kid-sized submarine.
“Never saw this British expat guy who lives in Thailand (sus) at any point when we were in the caves,” Musk tweeted at the time, later adding: “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”
After buying Twitter for $44 billion in 2022, Musk used the platform to engage with far-right accounts and boost harmful conspiracy theories. In October, after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) husband, Paul Pelosi, was brutally assaulted at their San Francisco home, Musk promoted the false conspiracy that the attacker was Paul Pelosi’s lover.
“There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” Musk tweeted, attaching a link to an article with the false claim.
There was no “tiny possibility” and Musk eventually deleted the tweet.
Musk’s falsities have also negatively impacted his businesses. In 2018, the Securities Exchange Commission brought charges against Musk after he tweeted that he was considering taking his electric car company, Tesla, private at $420 and had secured funding. Musk and Tesla paid up $20 million each to financial regulators in the ensuing settlement.
“It’s difficult to say the stock price is linked to [a] tweet,” Musk told jurors during his testimony at the time. “Just because I tweet about something doesn’t mean people believe it or will act accordingly.”
The lawsuit also makes mention of Musk’s continued relationship with far-right extremists. As Media Matters points out, Musk has cozied up to accounts that spread disinformation, attack the LGBTQ+ community, believe in QAnon and spread anti-immigration rhetoric.
As Musk battles what he calls the “woke mind virus,” he has blamed the Anti-Defamation League for his loss of advertisers on X, and in May claimed that a neo-Nazi gunman who killed eight people at a shopping mall in Allen, Texas may have been a “psyop.”
“I’m saying that I thought ascribing it to white supremacy was bullshit,” Musk said during a CNBC interview at the time.
It wasn’t “bullshit.” The shooter had neo-Nazi tattoos including a swastika and the SS lightning bolt logo of Adolf Hitler’s paramilitary forces.
“The resurgence of neo-Nazism, which Musk has been so eager to deny in his public statements, has all the while been incubating on his own platform, along with every other form of political extremism, not to mention every flavor of apolitical opportunism and paranoid delusion,” the lawsuit alleges.
Later this week, Linda Yaccarino, the new CEO of X, will meet with seven banks that all lent the social media company money. It will be a chance for Yaccarino to convince the lenders that X is on solid ground, despite bleeding advertisers and users. She may also have to defend her boss, who has consistently shown he has no plans to stop spreading falsehoods.
Musk said so himself in a May interview with CNBC’s David Faber.
“I’ll say what I want to say,” he said. “And if the consequence of that is losing money, so be it.”