Ben Brody was leading a stable life. Fresh out of college and on the brink of entering law school, he avoided trouble. However, his tranquility was abruptly shattered when Elon Musk, leveraging his substantial social media influence, amplified baseless accusations from an online mob. They wrongfully labeled the 22-year-old Californian as an undercover agent in a neo-Nazi group.
Speaking to CNN, Brody dismissed the claim as bizarre and unfounded. Yet, his faint resemblance to an alleged member of the group, his Jewish background, and a college fraternity profile expressing a future interest in government work was sufficient for internet trolls to fabricate a narrative. They falsely asserted that Brody was a covert government operative (“Fed”) planted within the neo-Nazi group to tarnish its image.
The repercussions for Brody were swift. Overnight, he found himself at the center of a narrative spun by individuals seeking to downplay the actions of hate groups in the United States. Musk, engaging with the lies and taunts on social media, exacerbated the situation, turning Brody’s life upside down. At one point, Brody and his mother had to flee their home due to fears of physical attacks.
Now, Brody is taking legal action. He filed a defamation lawsuit against Musk, the owner of X (formerly Twitter), seeking damages exceeding $1 million. Brody desires an apology and a retraction of the false claims from the billionaire.
The lawyer representing Brody, the same attorney who successfully sued Alex Jones over false statements regarding the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, hopes the lawsuit will compel Musk to confront the consequences of his reckless online behavior.
“This case strikes at the heart of something that I think is going wrong in this country,” remarked Brody’s attorney, Mark Bankston, in an interview with CNN. “How powerful, very influential people are being far too reckless about what they say about private people, people just trying to go about their lives who’ve done nothing to cause this attention.”
In response to the lawsuit, Musk’s attorney told CNN, “We expect this case to be dismissed.” Musk’s legal team has until January 5, 2024, to file their response in court.
On the night of Saturday, June 24, 2023, Ben Brody was in Riverside, California. Meanwhile, about 1,000 miles away near Portland, Oregon, a gay pride event became a battleground for rival far-right groups and neo-Nazis. As video footage of the skirmish circulated on social media, online conspiracy theorists, refusing to acknowledge the responsibility of violent far-right groups, seized on the opportunity to label the incident a “false flag” event. Enter Ben Brody.
‘You’re being accused of being a neo-Nazi…’
The day after the Pride event, Brody began getting text messages from his friends telling him to check out social media.
“You’re being accused of being a neo-Nazi fed,” he recalled some of his friends telling him.
Somehow, someone on social media had found a photo of Brody online and decided he looked like one of the people involved in the clash.
Anonymous people online, self-appointed internet detectives, began digging and found out Brody was Jewish and had been a political science major at the University of California, Riverside. On his college fraternity’s webpage, he had once stated he wanted to work for the government.
“I put that I wanted to work for the government. And that’s just because I didn’t know specifically what part of the government I wanted to work for. You know, I was like, I could be a lawyer,” Brody recalled in an interview with CNN.
His being Jewish was relevant to them because conspiracy theories are often steeped in antisemitism – suggesting there’s a Jewish plan to control the world.
Brody’s social media inboxes filled up with messages, such as “Fed,” “Nazi,” and “We got you.” He and his mom were forced to leave their family home after their address was posted online, he said.
‘Looks like one is a college student (who wants to join the govt).’
Despite efforts from some of Brody’s friends to set the record straight online, clarifying the case of mistaken identity, Brody himself took to Instagram, posting a video in a desperate attempt to prove his innocence. He went to great lengths, presenting time-stamped video surveillance footage from a restaurant in Riverside, California, during the Oregon brawl, demonstrating that he could not have been at the rally.
However, these efforts proved futile. The unfounded conspiracy theory continued to increase on the internet, including on X. What made matters worse was that it wasn’t solely anonymous trolls perpetuating the falsehood. Musk, the platform owner, joined in, amplifying the lie to his millions of followers.
Video footage from the Oregon event revealed the unmasking of at least one protester during the clash between far-right groups. On X, Musk queried on June 25, “Who were the unmasked individuals?” Another user on X linked to a tweet alleging Brody’s involvement as one of the unmasked individuals. The tweet highlighted a line from Brody’s fraternity profile about his post-graduation government aspirations.
The tweet claimed Brody, identified as an alleged member of the far-right group, was a “political science student at a liberal school on a career path towards the feds.” Musk responded, “Very odd,” and further interactions followed where Musk engaged with conspiracy theories about the situation.
By June 27, Musk alleged that the Oregon skirmish was a false flag, tweeting, “Looks like one is a college student (who wants to join the govt) and another is maybe an Antifa member, but a probable false flag situation.”
Brody, realizing the gravity of Musk’s involvement, remarked, “I knew that this was snowballing, but once Elon Musk commented, I was like, ‘boom, that’s the final nail in the coffin.’”
Musk, with approximately 150 million followers on X at the end of June, held a substantial influence. According to X’s data, his tweet about the Oregon fight garnered over 1.2 million views, according to records from the Internet Archive.
Fearing long-lasting repercussions, Brody worried that his name would forever be linked with neo-Nazism, potentially jeopardizing his future job prospects. Despite completing college, he hadn’t graduated yet, and some accounts threatening to contact his university added to his distress. Feeling that his life was in ruins, he gave an interview to Vice.com, catching the attention of Mark Bankston.
The man who took down Alex Jones
Bankston gained prominence as the attorney who successfully prosecuted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, representing parents who lost their children in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.
According to Bankston, Brody’s case serves not only as an opportunity to vindicate the young man but also as a chance to initiate a crucial dialogue about the toxic nature of online discourse.
The lawsuit, filed last month in Travis County, Texas (the same jurisdiction where Bankston previously prevailed against Jones), contends that Musk’s statements about Brody are part of a “serial pattern of slander” by the billionaire.
The suit asserts that Musk, being “perhaps the most influential of all influencers,” played a pivotal role in endorsing the accusations against Ben, motivating other social media influencers and users to perpetrate attacks, harassment, and enduring online charges against Brody.
Despite Musk’s proclamation in 2022 that Twitter should become the most accurate source of information, the suit argues that he has consistently used the platform to disseminate false statements while amplifying the most objectionable elements of conspiracy-laden Twitter.
The lawsuit details Musk’s interactions with accounts promoting racism and antisemitism, highlighting instances where he publicly shared or engaged with conspiracy theories, including false claims about an attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in October of the previous year.
The suit alleges that in August after Musk was notified by his lawyers about Brody’s defamation case, he refused to delete his tweets.
Both Bankston and his client emphasize that the lawsuit goes beyond monetary considerations.
“I just want to make things right,” Brody told CNN. “It’s not about vengeance. I’m not angry. It’s not resentment. I just want to make things right, to get an apology, so that this doesn’t happen again to anyone else.”