It’s somehow always the ones you most expect: According to a report published this week, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk allegedly exposed himself to and propositioned a SpaceX flight attendant in late 2016. He reportedly then paid her $250,000 for her silence in 2018, via a severance agreement with “restrictive non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses.” The agreement was signed shortly before California, where SpaceX is based, enacted a law to bar NDAs for sexual harassment cases.
For a few hours shortly after the report dropped on Thursday, Musk was uncharacteristically silent on Twitter—only to resurface in the early hours of Friday morning to predictably offer denials and make light of the situation.
“Finally, we get to use Elongate as scandal name. It’s kinda perfect,” the 50-year-old man tweeted. He added, in another tweet: “The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens – this is their standard (despicable) playbook – but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech.”
Per Insider’s Thursday report, the flight attendant was allegedly giving Musk a massage in a private cabin of his corporate jet, when he exposed his erect penis to her, rubbed her leg without her consent, and offered to buy her a horse in exchange for an “erotic massage” and sexual acts. Prior to the incident, the flight attendant had been encouraged by SpaceX to get training and a license as a masseuse on her own dime (which sounds suspect enough on its own). According to her friend who spoke to Insider, the company “implied that she would get to fly more often if she were to do this because she’d be able to give Elon proper massages,” since “Elon likes massages.”
When the flight attendant declined Musk’s advances, Insider reports she “started to feel as if she was receiving some sort of retaliation where her shifts were cut back, and she was starting to feel really stressed.” She then hired a California employment lawyer and sent a complaint to the company. The complaint was promptly resolved after she, Musk, and SpaceX agreed to a settlement that gave her $250,000 in exchange for her promise to not sue—and her agreement to its non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses.
Musk’s response to the allegations was simply that there is “a lot more to this story” and offered a truly bonkers theory via email for why these claims can’t be true: “If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light.” This, of course, sounds a lot like, “If I did do it, there would be a lot more victims,” which… is not the iron-clad defense Musk thinks it is.
Insider notably reached out to Musk on Wednesday morning for comment, and informed him when the report would be published. Around this same time on Wednesday, Musk suddenly tweeted that he was switching parties to become a Republican (as if any of us were shocked) and that we should soon expect an onslaught of political attacks and hit pieces on him—solely because of this… and not, say, his actions from nearly six years ago.
As for Musk’s determination to “fight for your right to free speech”—cool! Since we’re all on the same page that everyone should be able to speak freely, how about you release the unnamed flight attendant from her NDA, Elon?
The close friend of the flight attendant who spoke to Insider, and also wrote a legal declaration corroborating her allegations in 2018, told the outlet, “If there were a way for [her] to come forward without putting herself at risk, without jeopardizing her life in any way, I believe she would.” The friend identified as anonymous in the piece out of “fear for her personal safety.”
This is all, of course, emblematic of what utter bullshit Musk’s insidious, right-wing virtue-signaling on “free speech” has always been. Musk, like many rich white men who are called out for harming others, purports to be the victim. He does so while the woman he settled with has to conceal her identity out of fear for her life. Free speech, to Musk, clearly means fostering cultures of endemic harassment and misogyny that go unchallenged, because victims are denied any kind of protections to speak up. Free speech means silencing women and victims, either through forcing them to sign NDAs, or riling up his hordes of his fans to inevitably harass or even threaten the lives of anyone who publicly speaks out against him.
When Musk takes to Twitter to wax poetic about his love for free speech in gender and identity-neutral terms, these are the realities he’s purposefully ignoring: how speech—and who can and can’t speak freely without risk to their safety—is about power. His conception of free speech, notably celebrated by white nationalists who want to repeal the 19th amendment, is entirely about maintaining the power dynamics that silence women.
All of this is why the flight attendant’s friend says she talked to Insider in the first place. “[Musk] is the richest man in the world. Someone with that level of power causing that kind of harm and then throwing some money at the situation, that’s not accountability,” she said. “There are predators all over the world. But when someone is particularly wealthy and powerful, they literally have systems that are like a machine working for them, to set them up to be able to do whatever they want.”