The trolling of Elon Musk: how US conservatives are attacking green techElectric-car evangelist is the target of concerted negative online campaign linked to influential rightwing network
By Jamie Doward
Dec 3 2016
He is the charismatic Silicon Valley entrepreneur who believes his many companies – including the electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors, solar power firm Solar City, and SpaceX, which makes reusable space rockets – can help resist man-made climate change.
South African-born Elon Musk is a billionaire green evangelist, a bete noire of the fossil fuels industry who talks about colonising Mars and believes it may be possible that we’re living in a computer simulation.
But having been feted by the Obama administration, he now faces an extraordinary barrage of attacks from rightwing thinktanks, lobbyists, websites and commentators. The character of the assault says much about which way the political wind is blowing in Washington – something that will have consequences that stretch far beyond the US.
One of Musk’s most trenchant critics has been the journalist Shepard Stewart, who writes for a clutch of conservative online news sites. In several articles in September, not long after a SpaceX rocket exploded, Stewart attacked Musk for receiving billions in government subsidies “to make rockets that immediately self destruct” and branded him “a national disgrace”. As Musk fought back on Twitter, it became apparent that Stewart was an invention. Even his photo byline had been doctored from a LinkedIn profile of a tech entrepreneur. “Definitely a fake,” Gavin Wax, editor-in-chief of the Liberty Conservative, one of the websites that published Stewart, admitted to Bloomberg.
The revelation triggered several theories: that Stewart was created by speculators shorting shares in Musk’s companies, or that he was invented by rival rocket companies keen to bring SpaceX down to earth. But Musk may be reassured to learn that Stewart’s attacks on him weren’t that personal. Rather, they appear to be part of a wider agenda against big government, the environmental lobby and liberals in general – an agenda reinvigorated by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. In recent months, Stewart has twice attacked Oregon’s former governor, John Kitzhaber, a supporter of ObamaCare and solar energy who was forced to resign from office, saying his appearance at a healthcare conference was like “having Bernie Madoff heading an upcoming conference on retirement savings”.
He has also taken aim at Louisiana senator Bill Cassidy for introducing an act that compels online contact lens sellers to seek approval from optometrists before selling their products. And he has lambasted the Obama administration for “banning payday loans despite the fact that there is an overwhelming need and positive reception for them”.