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College student sues Musk for falsely calling him a “psyop” in neo-Nazi brawl

College student sues Musk for falsely calling him a “psyop” in neo-Nazi brawl

On Wednesday, a Los Angeles-based 22-year-old college graduate, Ben Brody, sued Elon Musk for more than $1 million. Brody’s lawsuit alleged that over a series of social media posts, the X (formerly Twitter) owner falsely identified Brody—described as a “shy young man”—as a participant “in a violent street brawl on behalf of a neo-Nazi extremist group” near Portland, Oregon, this summer.

Perhaps even worse, according to Brody’s complaint, one of Musk’s X posts also allegedly amplified conspiracy theories that “Ben Brody’s alleged participation in the extremist brawl meant the incident was probably a ‘false flag’ operation to deceive the American public.”

The lawsuit defined a “false flag” as a term that’s been “popularized among conspiracy theory media figures to mean a hostile or harmful action (typically an attack or other act of violence) that is designed to look like it was perpetrated by someone other than the person or group responsible for it.” It also noted that a “false flag” is a “type of ‘psyop’ or ‘psychological operation,'” which the lawsuit alleged is “a concept which Musk has fixated on for several months.”

“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 said. “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.”

Over 60 pages, the complaint dedicated substantial time to documenting Musk’s recent history of allegedly spreading misinformation and slandering people since buying X. The lawsuit alleged that these cases and Brody’s experience reveal a pattern showing that Musk’s spiral toward seemingly embracing right-wing conspiracies appears “to be fueled” not just by financial greed but also “by his ever-growing addiction” to X.

“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,” the lawsuit said.

The complaint alleged that Musk is financially motivated to promote accounts “publishing hateful content and dangerous conspiracies,” which the lawsuit described as “the monetization of low-effort garbage masquerading as information.”

The lawsuit cited a report published by the Center for Countering Digital Hate—a group of hate researchers that Musk sued—which noted that Musk’s decision to reinstate just 10 previously banned Twitter accounts peddling conspiracies and hate would “generate up to $19 million a year in advertising revenue for Twitter.”

Brody has demanded a jury trial where the court will assess actual damages, but Brody will likely seek more than $1 million, the lawsuit said. Musk could end up owing more, the lawsuit said, partly “because Musk failed to make a timely and sufficient correction, clarification, or retraction.”

“Utterly profane and blasphemous”

Since Musk’s posts, Brody’s complaint said that he has suffered emotional distress, “including difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, headaches, and fatigue which disrupted his daily life and severely impacted his sense of wellbeing.” He also alleged that he and his family have been “repeatedly doxed and suffered an enormous wave of harassment from belligerent strangers.” For Brody, gaining a false reputation for “donning neo-Nazi regalia” at the brawl is especially horrifying, “given his Jewish heritage,” his lawsuit said, because, to him, it would be “an act that would be utterly profane and blasphemous if it were true.”

Today, X users “continue their attacks and harassment, as well as post accusations against Ben that will remain online forever,” the lawsuit said. On top of fearing that these posts may one day escalate into a real-world confrontation, Brody’s complaint alleged that he is “mentally distraught right at the crucial personal moment when he exits college and enters his career path.” He’s most worried about “what jobs he might lose to other candidates due to the controversy or a misunderstanding.” The lawsuit explained:

Ben is fearful about the future consequences of forever having this event tied to his name and photograph on the Internet. Ben worries that future employers may decide that it’s simply not worth it to hire an employee in a public-facing position who is connected to a bizarre controversy involving a neo-Nazi group. Ben fears his applications for top-tier positions may get passed over in favor of applicants with unblemished personal histories. He fears he will always worry whether his life might have taken a more productive path without the reckless interference of Elon Musk.

X did not respond to Ars’ request to comment.

Mark Bankston—a lawyer representing Brody, who is likely most famous for representing the parents of children killed in Sandy Hook who successfully sued Alex Jones—told Vice that he is “honored to be assisting this brave young man in standing up against yet another one of Elon Musk’s reckless smears.”

“We look forward to restoring Ben’s good name and sending a message that Musk’s conduct is unacceptable,” Bankston told Vice.

Bankston told Ars that he has no additional comments at this time.

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