JTA — Elon Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League for up to $22 billion on Monday as he joined a growing number of white supremacists and trolls in posting invective about the US group.
The legal threat of indeterminate seriousness — Musk frequently does not follow through on his stated intentions, although he sometimes does — came after Musk joined a white supremacist’s anti-ADL campaign on X, the platform Musk owns and renamed from Twitter.
Over the last several days, Musk tweeted at least 25 posts about the ADL or related topics. Several times, he blamed the Jewish anti-bigotry group for a 60-percent drop in advertising revenue on the platform and said he would seek redress in court.
At one point, apparently understanding that some viewed his tirade as siding with white supremacists, Musk explicitly said that he did not support antisemitism, writing: “To be super clear, I’m pro free speech, but against anti-Semitism of any kind.” He also said he would only ban the ADL if “they break the law.”
Last fall, shortly after Musk bought the platform for $44 billion, the ADL called for a temporary ad boycott due to reports of spiking bigotry on the site. The ADL has continued to protest Musk’s approach to hate speech but has itself resumed buying ads on X.
Musk disputed that he’s been responsible for a rise in antisemitism on X and suggested that the company would file a defamation suit against the ADL. “Since the acquisition, The @ADL has been trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me of being anti-Semitic,” he wrote in one post.
“To clear our platform’s name on the matter of anti-Semitism, it looks like we have no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League … oh the irony!” he wrote in another post on Monday evening. “In our case, they would potentially be on the hook for destroying half the value of the company, so roughly $22 billion.”
In another post on Monday, he gave a lower figure: “Based on what we’ve heard from advertisers, ADL seems to be responsible for most of our revenue loss. Giving them maximum benefit of the doubt, I don’t see any scenario where they’re responsible for less than 10% of the value destruction, so ~$4 billion.”
The ADL joined with the NAACP, the Black civil rights group, in making the original call for an ad boycott. While many nonprofits and companies suspended advertising at that time, many others have stopped advertising on X since for unrelated reasons, including the company putting their paid posts on the feeds of extremist accounts.
To clear our platform’s name on the matter of anti-Semitism, it looks like we have no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League … oh the irony!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 4, 2023
Musk and the ADL have been at odds for nearly a year, since he purchased the company and removed some of its guardrails against hate speech. Aside from calling for the ad boycott, the ADL has also criticized Musk for echoing antisemitic stereotypes in posts he wrote about the liberal Jewish megadonor George Soros; has criticized his reinstatement of accounts that traffic in hate speech; and, recently, acceded to his demand that the group condemn a South African apartheid-era protest song calling for the killing of white farmers.
The most recent episode in the feud began last week when Musk liked a tweet by an Irish white supremacist calling on the platform to “#BanTheADL,” a hashtag that then trended on X. Musk has since asked users whether he should put such a ban to a poll, and has engaged directly with the white supremacist in question. In response to a post by Chaya Raichik, the Orthodox Jewish woman who runs the anti-LGBTQ social media presence Libs of TikTok, Musk endorsed the idea that he should publish the platform’s entire correspondence with the ADL. He has also tweeted out articles about criticism of the ADL, and on Monday night, the phrase “The ADL” was trending on X.
The ADL and its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, do not appear to have commented publicly on Musk’s latest stream of statements, including on X, where the organization maintains paid accounts to ensure that its posts are seen.
But some accounts that aim to combat antisemitism or advocate for Israel have pushed back on his comments, and even some Jewish users that have been critical of the ADL expressed alarm at the sustained campaign against the Jewish group. The ADL frequently draws sharp criticism from both the left and the right.
“Et tu @elonmusk?” wrote David Draiman, the Jewish frontman of the heavy metal band Disturbed. “Pushing the #BanTheADL campaign? I don’t always agree with their modern day partisan stances, but they still do a world of good? Don’t you realize the ramifications of supporting such a campaign? Devastating, truly.”