Elon Musk at the Viva Tech fair in Paris on June 16, 2023.

Elon Musk sued for libel by man falsely identified in neo-Nazi brawl

A man falsely accused of having been involved in a brawl between the Proud Boys and a rival extremistgroup in Oregon in June sued Elon Musk on Monday, accusing Musk of libel by amplifying social media posts that had mistakenly identified the man.

The lawsuit accuses Musk of a pattern of making “reckless” false statements with impunity, and that his posts triggered a wave of harassment and threats. The lawsuit was first reported by HuffPost and Vice News, and a copy of the filing was shared by HuffPost.

The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages and a jury trial in Travis County, Texas, where the lawsuit was filed and where Musk has a residence.

The fight broke out at Pride Night in Portland on June 24, and video of the incident went viral online the next day, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit said that Ben Brody, 22, was first accused of being a member of the Rose City Nationalists, who were incorrectly identified as the white supremacist group Patriot Front by a social media account known for “s—posting,” internet slang for deliberately posting to social media with the intention of provoking or upsetting people

The Rose City Nationalists are an Oregon-based group associated with the Northwest Nationalist Network, a white supremacist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The network of hate groups coordinated to disrupt numerous Pride events in June throughout the region, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported in August.

Brody was made aware of the post on X, the social platform previously known as Twitter, after it was used to respond to a question from Musk about whether individuals in the fight had been identified. But many users noted that it was not Brody, including one person who replied to Musk stating that “this is defamation,” according to the lawsuit.

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Musk responded on June 26 to another user’s post falsely identifying Brody with “always remove their masks,” after users pointed out that Brody was not the man in the viral video, according to the suit and the post.

“Musk’s personal endorsement of the false accusation against Ben Brody reverberated across the internet, transforming the accusation from anonymous rumor to gospel truth for many individuals, and causing others to use Musk’s endorsement to justify their desire to harass Ben Brody and his family,” Brody’s lawsuit said.

At the advice of friends, Brody made a video on June 26 denouncing the posts and providing receipts that he said proved he was in California at the time of the fight. His video was then posted on X, where Musk was tagged multiple times by users asking him to clear Brody’s name.

The following day, another account posted to X accused Brody of being a federal agent involved in the brawl, to which Musk replied: “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.”

The original post appears to have been deleted by the user, but Musk’s reply remains on the platform. Brody and his family were subjected to harassment and threats from strangers, and their personal information was posted online in a practice called doxxing, according to the lawsuit.

“Two weeks after Musk’s statements, it was apparent to Ben that his reputation had been catastrophically damaged and that a huge number of people believed he was either a neo-Nazi or a provocateur involved in a deceptive ‘psyop’ to commit political terrorism,” the suit said.

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According to the lawsuit, Musk never retracted or deleted his statements. The suit alleges that when Brody’s defamation allegations were brought to Musk’s attorneys in August, Musk refused to apologize for the posts.

An attorney for Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment to NBC News.

Brody’s attorney, Mark Bankston, successfully sued Alex Jones for defamation on behalf of the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims. Bankston referred NBC News to his thread on X when asked for comment on Brody’s case.

“Ben’s lawsuit discusses the aftermath of this incident, but in short, Ben and his family were doxed and suffered an enormous wave of harassment and threats from belligerent strangers,” Bankston wrote. “Being defamed by someone as famous as Musk was an utterly terrifying experience, and it has left Ben stunned, disoriented, and worried about the consequences on his future.”

Doha Madani

Doha Madani is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News. Pronouns: she/her.