Elon Musk calls for end to 'fascist' coronavirus lockdown 'forcibly imprisoning people in their homes'

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Tesla CEO unleashes wild rant during earnings call with investors

World | The Independent

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk used an earnings call with investors to vent his rage about stay-at-home policies designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, calling them “fascist” and demanding that authorities “give people back their goddamn freedom”.

Tesla suspended production at its Fremont, California plant in mid-March in response to the accelerating outbreak. But while its first-quarter results were far from disastrous, with the company reporting a third consecutive quarter of profitability, Mr Musk was nonetheless livid at what he saw as the brutality of obliging Americans to practise social distancing by staying in their homes.

“I would call it ‘forcibly imprisoning people in their homes’ against all their constitutional rights, in my opinion, and breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong and not why people came to America or built this country,” said Mr Musk during Wednesday’s call, who has previously called fear of Covid-19 “dumb”.

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Later in the call, he predicted a political backlash to the public health measures. “This is the time to think about the future, and also to ask, is it right to infringe upon people’s rights, as what is happening right now? I think people are going to be very angry about this and are very angry.

“If somebody wants to stay in the house, that’s great. They should be allowed to stay in the house, and they should not be compelled to leave. But to say that they cannot leave their house and they will be arrested if they do, this is fascist.”

Also on Wednesday, Mr Musk tweeted in support of Texas’s decision to allow some restaurants, retailers and businesses to reopen under certain conditions, writing “Bravo Texas!”, as well as sharing a newspaper article that claimed lockdowns have made little difference, under the message, “Give people their freedom back!” He also fired off a Donald Trump-esque tweet, now pinned at the top of his profile, that simply read: “FREE AMERICA NOW”.

After his statements on the call received media coverage, Mr Musk retweeted a journalist quoting his comments, then shared data purporting to indicate that “Hospitals in California have been half empty this whole time”.

Another message featured a cartoon unicorn wearing an enraged expression, its mouth blacked out as if uttering an expletive, and the word “LIBERTY” flanked with American flags.

As the pandemic has unfolded, Mr Musk has expressed scepticism about the virus’s reported effects as well as about governments’ responses to it. This he has done largely via Twitter, with some missives offering specific predictions (“Based on current trends, probably close to zero new cases in US too by end of April”, on 19 March) and others featuring glib assertions about the danger posed by Covid-19 (“The coronavirus panic is dumb”, on 6 March).

At other points, he has apparently taken the risks of the virus more seriously. In late March, Mr Musk offered to distribute ventilators for hospitals treating Covid-19 patients. However, when the machines were delivered to hospitals in California and New York, doctors reported that they were not in fact ventilators but instead BPAP and CPAP machines, which are generally not used in intensive care units. CPAPs are usually used to treat people with sleep apnea. It was later reported that doctors had been able to modify some of the devices and use them to ventilate intubated patients.

Mr Musk has a history of grandiose and belligerent public statements. He was unsuccessfully sued for defamation after calling a man involved in the 2018 Thai cave rescue “pedo guy”, while an announcement on Twitter that he had secured funding to take Tesla private started a chaotic financial saga that saw him subpoenaed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and which eventually saw him resign as Tesla’s chairman.

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