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Elon Musk vs Randeep Hothi: Who is Indian-American Student Suing Tesla for Defamation and Winning?

Elon Musk fails to stop defamation lawsuit by Randeep Hothi | Credit: Reuters/Twitter

Elon Musk fails to stop defamation lawsuit by Randeep Hothi | Credit: Reuters/Twitter

Elon Musk and Indian-American graduate student Randeep Hothi have been involved in a legal battle since 2019 after the latter complained the millionaire spurred a hate campaign against him.

In a case that will go down in history as a first, an Indian-American student has Randeep Hothi managed to win round one of his legal battles with millionaire Elon Musk.

The Tesla CEO was recently unable to stay a defamation lawsuit filed by Hothi, an ardent critic of Tesla, against Musk after a California judge dismissed his pleas that the case was baseless and an attempt to silence the millionaire’s free speech, Bloomberg reported.

Who is Randeep Hothi?

Randeep Hothi is a former student of the University of California in Berkeley and currently a doctoral candidate in Asian languages at the University of Michigan. Hothi is also a vocal critic of Tesla. The graduate student who tweets under the Twitter handle of ‘skabooshka’, describes himself as “Investigating/Reporting on corporate fraud," in his Twitter bio. He also says that he is “Currently focusing on Tesla". Hothi is known to be part of a global anonymous group of Tesla critics who are collectively called ‘$TSLAQ’. The group consists of former Tesla employees and graduate students like Hothi, many of whom often take to social media and other platforms to criticise Tesla and Musk. His parents live in Fremont, the city where Tesla’s auto plant is located. Though other $TSLAQ members post under anonymous pseudonyms, Hothi and his brother’s identity was revealed to the world by another anon Twitter handle that has since remained inactive. Hothi’s brother worked at Volkswagon but has since stopped working with the Tesla rival.

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When did Elon Musk notice Hothi?

Though a critic of Tesla for years, Hothi’s struggles with Elon Musk at a personal level began two years ago when he tried to visit Tesla’s Fremont sales centre in California in February 2019 and was stopped by the security guard. Hothi claimed he had come to do research and was sent away by security guards.

In April the same year, Hothi uploaded a photo of a Tesla car on social media and claimed that he was being followed by the electronic vehicle company. The incidents drew the attention (read ire) of Musk who then went on to call Hothi a “liar" and accused him of nearly killing Tesla employees while he was driving away from the Fremont facility in February.

Why did Hothi file a defamation lawsuit against Musk?

In August, Hothi filed a case of defamation against Musk in Alameda County Superior Court. In his lawsuit, Hothi has contended that Musk was instrumental in spurring an online hate campaign against him. After the revelation of Hothi and his brother’s identity in 2018, Musk posted a tweet in 2019 in which he tagged Volkswagen, asking about Hothi’s connections to the company. Following the tweet, Hothi was on the receiving end of a viral hate campaign and racial abuse online, which culminated in Hothi taking to Twitter and stating, “This is my promise. Tesla is a zero. Elon Musk will go to prison". He filed the lawsuit in August.

How did Hothi win first round of the battle?

In her verdict, California state judge Julia Spain of Alameda County Superior Court stated that Hothi’s lawsuit had merit and even said that he could win. The judge dismissed Musk’s claims that the lawsuit was baseless or an attempt to throttle his free speech, deeming that the case was not worthy of the Anti-SLAPP statute in US that allows for speedy dismissals of defamation lawsuits in cases where it is seen to impinge upon the right to free speech.

Is Hothi’s the only lawsuit against Tesla?

No. According to reports, there are more than 1,000 lawsuits against Musk and Tesla, many of which are defamation lawsuits. One of them is a case in which Musk referred to one of his critics - a rescue diver - a “pedo" and “child rapist" in an email to a news editor without substantiating the claim with any evidence. Tesla also faces a defamation suit from former employee Cristina Balan who claims she was fired and called a criminal after she raised objections about certain practices at the organization.

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