It is well known that Elon Musk is not a discreet guy. With him does not go that profile that other world-famous billionaires maintain. We are not just talking about the attention and headlines that you receive for the innovations of the companies that you created and lead such as Tesla, SpaceX or the HyperLoop project. The businessman, born in South Africa but of American and Canadian nationality, has once again shown his most controversial face during the coronavirus crisis.
For more than two months, he has been puzzling staff from his Twitter account with strong exits, indecipherable responses and belligerent protests against the containment measures. He has ended up becoming the leader of a “pseudo-rebellion” against confinement in the US, measures that he called “fascists” and questioned from the beginning.
The latest account of this rosary of eccentricities and controversies has led Lilly Wachowski, the well-known filmmaker, to send Elon Musk and Ivanka Trump, daughter of the president and who many believe can take the political witness of her father, on a walk, for say it finely. All because Musk used a ‘Matrix’ reference last Sunday when tweeting ‘Take the red pill’. Remember that in the 1999 film starring Keanu Reeves the character he gave life to had to choose between a blue pill – “to wake up in his bed and believe what he wants to believe” – or this colour, to continue in the computer simulation.
The ‘red pill’: a conservative wink?
The problem is that “the red pill” has become in this last decade a symbol of adherence to conservative and anti-feminist groups in the North American country. Various media reported at the time how communities under this motto had been formed on Reddit. In recent times, as ‘Esquire‘ relates, the last one to twist this term has been a youtuber named James Red Pills America, who dedicates his channel to denying information against Donald Trump and has become the ideal breeding ground for theories of the conspiracy. The red pill would represent that ‘awakening’ that conservative policies imply.
Although the publication has not been proven to go that way, Ivanka Trump’s response is in the eyes of many a sign of a rapprochement between the creator of Tesla and the current White House tenant who is risking its continuity next fall. This would be a change from the initial position of the magnate, who had supported the Democrat Andrew Yang in the party primaries that have been resolved with the nomination of Joe Biden.
And it is Donald Trump that has become an ally in the battle he has had with the authorities of Alameda County (California) following the reopening of the plant that Tesla has in Fremont, where it employs 10,000 people.
A hammer against confinement
The story is that it was not being considered essential, the restrictions, no matter how automated its assembly line was, did not allow the company to continue its activity and ended, not without resistance, by stopping the activity in March and spending several weeks only with orders related to inventory or telecommuting. The problem has arisen when the ‘de-escalation’ has not gone as fast as Musk would like. Despite the fact that the Governor of California recently gave the green light to the revival of certain industrial activities in that territory, the leader also gave local administrations wide sleeves to set his own pace. This has led to a head-on collision between the electric car maker and local authorities, who chose to slow down the return to normal.
Although from Alameda County they claimed to be preparing a common plan, Musk decided to ‘blow up’ these bridges. He filed a lawsuit in the courts against this decision – he understands that what they dictate from the state government was contradicted – and he threatened to open the factory on May 11, without authorization. He let off steam again on Twitter. Among other things, he called the person responsible for managing health resources against the pandemic “ignorant” and threatened to take the plant to Texas or Nevada. “This is the drop that has filled the glass,” he said.
Finally, on Monday last week, he summoned the staff and, aware that the sanctions include fines or even arrest, he assured that if there had to be any detainee, it had to be just him. That was the moment when Trump published a ‘tweet’ supporting the magnate, something that seems to have tipped the scales. Although the local authorities closed the facility, they were finally allowed yesterday to raise the blind again. Of course, the county police have imposed controls on the entrances to ensure that security measures are maintained.
And Musk has always been very skeptical about the measures that were being taken against COVID-19. Especially with confinement and economic slowdown. In the call that he held to present the Tesla results with analysts and the media, he launched a furious criticism against the mandatory nature of this closure. “The extension of what should be called forced imprisonment of the population in their homes goes against all their constitutional rights and horribly breaks the liberties of people,” he said.
“But to say that they cannot leave their homes and that they will be arrested if they do, that is fascist,” he added. The night before, he had tweeted proclamations calling for the freedom of America, among other complaints against confinement. What is surprising, in both cases, it is not the complaint but the virulence with which it is used.
In March he already resisted stopping production. When the authorities had already decreed the closure of everything that was not essential, he sent an email to the employees of Tesla and also of SpaceX in which they were invited to continue working and if they felt bad, take a few days off. The controversy increased in tone when Buzzfeed revealed one of the emails sent in which he came to say that there was more chance of dying in the car going to work than of COVID-19. An analogy that has been widely used by those who have wanted to ‘underestimate’ the threat posed by the coronavirus.
Hoaxes and information not verified
When Musk invited ‘the orchestra to continue playing’, in China the virus had already killed more than 3,000 lives (according to official figures) and was already beginning to spread throughout the West. The Gigafactory 3 that the company has in Shanghai had to come to a standstill, although in the end the break was only ten days. Shortly before transcending this communication, on March 6, Musk had sentenced on Twitter saying that the panic to the coronavirus was “silly”. Five days later, the World Health Organization declared the pandemic.
It was not until March 23 that the factory stopped. This is a week after the Alameda sheriff said it was not an essential service. The unexpected came on March 31, the businessman announces that Tesla will be involved in the manufacture of respirators, in a significant turn of events after the public stance to minimize the problem posed by this health emergency.
These machines are actually dedicated freediving devices fitted to alleviate fan shortages. A few years later, it announced the first centres to receive this aid, including the IFEMA hospital and the Burgos hospital.
That donation is probably one of the few things that have generated widespread consensus around his figure during the coronavirus crisis, where his publications have brought him to the centre of controversy on several occasions. Following in Donald Trump’s wake, he touted chloroquine as an ideal treatment, despite the lack of solid scientific evidence. He also predicted in separate tweets that the level of zero contagion would be reached in the US in April and assured that the children were “essentially immune.” Considering that he manages a parish of followers of more than 34 million people, one can get an idea of the speed at which his claims expand and the impact they have.
A difficult marriage with Twitter
Musk’s relationship with Twitter is atypical of a great businessman. Not only for the examples presented so far and the manifestations related to COVID. A recent example is how the founder of Tesla caused the company to lose 10% of its market value in one day. “The value of Tesla’s shares is too high, IMHO,” he wrote on May 1. It was not the only publication that escaped its followers. Prior to that entry, he announced that he had sold his physical properties, “that he did not want to own a home,” and had posted several snippets of the American anthem. In reality, going for rent was just a strategy to collect your last big bonus.
But it is not the only recklessness. The United States opened a criminal investigation against him in 2018 because he had come to say on his account that he was considering taking the company out of the stock market and making it private when it had no plans for it, as he himself acknowledged. He was fined by the SEC and left the chair of the board of directors to avoid a lawsuit. That same course had already caused a 5% drop following a bad taste joke about the company’s bankruptcy. The thing about Twitter and Musk is not an exception, it seems to be the norm.