A 22-year-old Jewish man from California has sued Elon Musk for defamation after the controversial businessman and CEO of X (formerly Twitter) falsely suggested that the recent college graduate was involved in a street brawl between neo-Nazi extremist groups. The man, Ben Brody is petitioning for more than $1 million in damages.
Brody's attorney, Mark Banston, shared the full lawsuit on X Tuesday afternoon.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Brody’s behalf by attorney Mark Bankston, alleges a pattern of defamation by Musk, citing several previous incidents in which the tech CEO shared conspiracy theories that were later discredited.
The lawsuit also claims that Musk has a “troubling history with online extremism,” alleging that Musk has allowed hate groups to flourish on X, while at the same time denying their significance on the platform.
Mistaken identity, shared and not removed
On June 24, 2023, a fight broke out at Portland, Oregon’s "Pride Night" event between the Proud Boys, a right-wing group noted for its involvement in the events of January 6, 2021, and a neo-Nazi group called the Rose City Nationalists, who came to the event wearing masks.
During the fight, several Rose City Nationalists members had their masks removed, and their faces were clearly visible in a recording of the brawl which went viral online the next day.
As the video was being widely distributed, several users of X suggested that the fight was a ‘false flag’ operation, and that the people depicted in the video were not actually members of extremist groups, but rather government actors in disguise.
Users found Brody’s social media profiles and, based on a resemblance between Brody and a man in the video, suggested that he was the one shown in the recording. Musk shared a post by one of those users, and added a caption— “Always remove their masks”— that seemed to endorse at least some component of the conspiracy theory.
The following morning, Brody posted a video on Instagram clarifying that he was not the person shown in the viral video. The lawsuit details tweets throughout the day that were directed at Musk, attempting to alert him to Brody’s Instagram post.
The following day— June 27— Musk wrote on his own Twitter account that it “looks like one [of the people in the video] is a college student (who wants to join the govt),” in seeming reference to the claims about Brody.
The lawsuit claims that “Ben was put through intense terror because of Musk’s recklessness,” asserting “severe emotional harm and enormous damage to his reputation and public image.”
The lawsuit also notes that “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.”
This controversy comes when Musk is already under hot water for alleged antisemitism. In September, Musk held a meeting with Jewish leaders including Natan Sharansky, Alan Dershowitz, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Abraham Cooper.
The meeting was prompted by a series of posts, which are also mentioned in Brody's lawsuit, threatening to sue the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and sharing the hashtag #BanTheADL. Musk also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, although sources close to Musk say that this meeting was planned prior to the ADL controversy.
A lawyer versed in defamation suits
Mark Bankston, Brody’s lawyer, comes to this case with a background in the area of conspiracy theories. Bankston represented two bereaved parents whose children were killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Branston won his clients $45 million.