Very very busy CEO Photo: Mark Brake (Getty)
When you're immersed in the toxic sideshow that is the ongoing debate between Tesla's bears and bulls, it's common to feel like whatever's happening with the automaker — production problems, the CEO baselessly calling someone a pedophile — can't get any stupider. But we may have just hit the apex of stupid.
This week, CEO Elon Musk took time off from his purportedly "busy" schedule to personally call the employer of a Tesla bearish critic who writes about the company under a pseudonym, and threatened to sue him if he didn't stop writing about the company. Here's the icing on the cake: the critic might work for an oil investor. Fun.
Sometime last week, a (presumed) Tesla fan revealed the identity of Montana Sceptic, the pen and Twitter name of a Tesla critic who blogs at the investing website Seeking Alpha. Sceptic has long been up front about the fact that he's a Tesla short — meaning he's betting the company's stock will nosedive at some point. (It's unclear what, if any effect, Sceptic's commentary has had on Tesla's stock price.)
But when he was revealed to be an employee of a firm that apparently has invested in oil companies, naturally, this raised the suspicions of Tesla crusaders. (In the little research I've done, it looks like his employer has loaned money for a couple projects with oil-related firms. At first blush, it doesn't look like a primary facet of the business.)
Anyway, I digress. The reason I'm talking about any of this is because, on Monday, Sceptic abruptly deleted his Twitter account, leaving many of his followers and shorts-in-arms to wonder what happened.
An acquaintance, Chris Irons, a Tesla critic himself who runs a research firm, soon after said that he heard from Sceptic himself, who disclosed that he voluntarily deleted his account after Elon Musk personally called his boss to complain. Really.
Guys - I'm beside myself & before you ask, this is NOT a joke - I just got off the phone with Montana Skeptic. He told me that he voluntarily deleted his Twitter account after Elon Musk personally called his boss to complain. I asked for Montana's permission to Tweet this. $TSLA
— Quoth the Raven (@QTRResearch) July 23, 2018
Reached by phone Monday, Sceptic declined to comment. (Jalopnik isn't naming Sceptic, as he started out writing about Tesla under a pseudonym and has not been accused of any crimes or wrongdoing that would, in our eyes, justify doxxing him as well.)
But then Sceptic followed up with a statement of his own on Tuesday about what purportedly happened. And according to his account, Musk threatened to sue him if he didn't stand down from blogging about the automaker.
Yesterday afternoon, the principal of the family office in which I am employed received a communication from someone purporting to be Elon Musk. Doubtful that Elon Musk could actually be attempting to contact him, my employer asked one of my colleagues to investigate and respond.
My colleague then spoke by phone with Elon Musk (it was indeed him). Mr. Musk complained to my colleague about my writing at Seeking Alpha and on Twitter. Mr. Musk said if I continued to write, he would engage counsel and sue me.
To avoid litigation, Sceptic wrote, he offered to "immediately cease writing at Seeking Alpha and to deactivate my Twitter account."
Musk himself has toyed with the fact that other automakers or Big Oil must have some sort of ongoing conspiracy against Tesla, so Sceptic's role is surely going to feed the fire. I personally don't think it lends credence one way or the other; it's actually within reason that someone who works for an oil investor can also find Tesla — which has acknowledged its business hasn't been, uh, running smoothly for the better part of a year now — a troubling corporation for investors to sink money into.
But the chaotic Tesla part of the automotive world has no grey area. Tesla bulls regularly lose their minds over very straightforward reporting, just as it's become equally commonplace for Tesla shorts to baselessly accuse journalists of being shills for the automaker because they happened to write something about the company that has nuance. It means nothing to either side, but I'll scream it into the void anyway because it is, in fact, possible to have mixed feelings about Tesla.
It sucks, but in an environment where neither side on the Tesla debate really has any interest in engaging with one another, Sceptic getting outed seems like it was inevitable. I mean, it's the Internet. In 2018. It's shitty out there. Of course someone would track down the identity of a fierce Tesla critic who operates under a pen name.
But the larger point that stands out to me is Musk's actions here. Think about it. Musk right now is facing the wrath of Wall Street investors who want to know why he's always Logged On, spouting off with Twiter tirades about whatever the hell, while also raising their ire because — at age 47 — he's doing obnoxious shit like calling a child-rescuing hero a pedophile. He claims to be super busy, but he has time to call up his critics' bosses to complain about them? What other CEO would do shit like that? Who knows, maybe Musk actually thinks this represents some sort of Big Oil conspiracy and is in fact losing sleep over it.
And where did Musk get Sceptic's identity? The only logical explanation is that he relied upon the sleuthing of a Tesla fanatic who outed Sceptic. The fact he relied upon that so he could then apparently take a break from sleeping on the floor of Tesla's factory to call Sceptic's employer and threaten to sue him is even more absurd.
I just wish I knew why. Is it because he actually believes Sceptic is part of some grand oil conspiracy against electric vehicles? Or is just trying to protect his stock price? If it's that, then why Montana Sceptic? There's a sea of Tesla critics, and Musk knows they all exist. And yet he, apparently, decided to single this one guy out. It's bizarre!
Tesla wouldn't shed any light on the situation and if Musk regularly takes time to call his critic's employers. Nor would it comment on whether Musk took the reasonable step of threatening to sue Sceptic.
"We'll decline to comment," a Tesla spokesperson said, "thanks."
Updated: It should be noted Montana Sceptic was among the chorus of people who criticised Wall Street Journal writer Dan Neil over a Tesla Model 3 story over the weekend, leading Neil to delete Twitter.