Elon Musk Suffers Legal Troubles Following Thai Cave Rescue Drama

Published on October 16, 2019

Elon Musk is having a hard time after sharing his opinion of the cave diver that helped save a youth soccer team that got trapped in a cave in Thailand in 2018. Vernon Unsworth, the cave diver that played a pivotal role in the rescue of the youth soccer team, was attacked by Musk in an email published by Buzzfeed News last fall. In the email, Musk openly accuses Unsworth of pedophilia and uses profanities to explicate his feelings toward the Buzzfeed reporter. The outlet published the email in full, and Musk is now facing a defamation lawsuit from Unsworth over the accusations. Most recently, Musk admitted that accusing Unsworth of pedophilia in an email to the press was a mistake, branding himself as a “[expletive] idiot.”

What Happened – A Refresher

When a Thai youth soccer team got stuck in a cave in 2018, Musk shared his opinion on how the team could be rescued using a special submarine. A group of cave divers from around the world ended up being the ones to rescue the boys, and Musk’s claim that he could help was criticized as a PR stunt with little intent to actually get involved. Unsworth, who questioned whether or not Musk actually intended to play any sort of role in the rescue or try and garner praise for merely mentioning he would help, ended up being the target of a particularly nasty email between Musk and a Buzzfeed reporter, Ryan Mac.

In the email, which Musk requested to be kept off the record, the Tesla CEO alleged that Unsworth is a “child rapist” and urged Mac to investigate further into the situation. Instead, Mac published the email in full on Buzzfeed, a move that resulted in a defamation lawsuit against Musk on behalf of Unsworth. “I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists, you fucking asshole,” read the email from Musk to Mac, which was published in Buzzfeed last September. Musk also alleged that Unsworth only traveled to Pattaya Beach, an area just south of Bangkok, to take advantage of the flourishing sex trafficking in the area. Unsworth, expectedly, used the claims to fuel his lawsuit against the controversial Tesla CEO.

Musk’s wild accusations came during a time of controversy for his image and company, Tesla. The CEO became the subject of major controversy when he Tweeted that he was considering taking the company private, which came as a surprise to the board of the public company and to all of the shareholders for Tesla. Expectedly, stock in the company took a tumble immediately following Musk’s Tweet, and Musk was nearly ousted over the SEC violation that resulted in a charge for securities fraud.

The Lawsuit Today

Musk is now acknowledging that he regrets using such expletive terms and presenting such drastic allegations against Unsworth in an email to a reporter. “I didn’t expect BuzzFeed to publish an off the record email. My intent was to have them investigate and come to their own conclusions, not publish my email directly. Still, I’m a fucking idiot,” Musk allegedly said to his PR agent just a few days after sending the email to Mac/Buzzfeed, according to court documents that Mac published recently on Buzzfeed’s website.

In the lawsuit, Unsworth claims that Musk fabricated the allegations to spin the media’s portrayal of him as he ousted Musk for not actually helping rescue the boys in the cave. Unsworth claims that Musk is obsessed with his image and was clearly angered by Unsworth’s comments that Musk played no role at all in saving anyone. In the court documents it was revealed that Musk had no knowledge of who Unsworth was before the story hit the media, and that a quick Google search for Unsworth’s name and “Chiang Rai” led Musk to assume what he wanted about the diver’s visits to the area, though Musk claims the statements came from a private investigator that he had hired to look into Unsworth.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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