Elon Musk compared Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Adolf Hitler in a tweet that appeared to support truckers protesting vaccine mandates — and which immediately triggered a storm on Twitter.
Musk sent the tweet on Wednesday just before midnight in California, and had deleted it by midday on Thursday, without explanation. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, in late January tweeted support for the Canadian truckers, who have shut down roads and bridges, drawing international attention to their opposition to health policies pushed by Trudeau’s government.
Responding to a tweet describing how Trudeau’s government had ordered banks to help cut funding to the protesters, Musk posted a meme of a photo of Hitler, with «Stop comparing me to Justin Trudeau» written above his head and «I had a budget» below it.
Musk has 74 million followers on Twitter, making his one of its most prominent accounts. That is often seen as a marketing boon for electric car maker Tesla.
Musk is known for edgy humor and blunt assessments, but his comparison of Trudeau with the Nazi leader, who was responsible for the genocide of millions of Jews and starting World War II, went too far for many Twitter users.
«@elonmusk making a disgusting comparison of Trudeau to Hitler. Don’t do this kind of stuff. You just look dumb,» wrote @ElliotMalin. At midday on Thursday, in place of the original tweet was the notice «This Tweet was deleted by the Tweet author.»
The American Jewish Committee responded to Musk’s tweet with a call for an immediate apology.
Canadian Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne addressed Musk on Twitter, telling him his reported comments were «quite frankly shocking.»
But his tweet also had more than 35,000 likes, more than 9,000 retweets and many positive responses, including one from @maroongolf17 saying «my next car has to be a #tesla now.»
Claim of persecution
As Musk’s Hitler tweet was making the rounds, he was also accusing the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of harassing him and Tesla with an «endless» and «unrelenting» investigation of his tweets, which he said was intended to punish Musk for being an outspoken critic of the government.
The accusation came in a letter to U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan, who presided over a 2018 SEC settlement stemming from Musk’s tweet about a potential buyout of Tesla.
«Mr. Musk and Tesla respectfully seek a course correction,» wrote Alex Spiro, a lawyer for Musk and Tesla. «Enough is enough.»
The SEC declined to comment.
Thursday’s letter escalates Musk’s battle with regulators as they scrutinize his social media posts and Tesla’s treatment of workers, including accusations of discrimination.
It followed Tesla’s disclosure on Feb. 7 that it had receiving a subpoena from the SEC about its compliance with the 2018 settlement.
The SEC sued Musk in August 2018 after he tweeted he had «funding secured» to potentially take his electric car company private at $420 per share. In reality, a buyout was not close.
Tesla and Musk settled by agreeing to each pay $20 million in civil fines, and to let Tesla lawyers vet some of Musk’s communications in advance, including tweets that could affect Tesla’s stock price. Musk also gave up Tesla’s chairmanship.
The latest subpoena was issued on Nov. 16, ten days after Musk polled his Twitter followers on whether he should sell 10% of his Tesla stake, triggering a selloff.
In Thursday’s letter, Spiro accused the SEC of ignoring its commitment to distribute to shareholders the $40 million in fines, while instead «devoting its formidable resources to endless, unfounded investigations» into Musk and Tesla.
«Worst of all, the SEC seems to be targeting Mr. Musk and Tesla for unrelenting investigation largely because Mr. Musk remains an outspoken critic of the government; the SEC’s outsized efforts seem calculated to chill his exercise of First Amendment rights,» Spiro wrote.
Spiro asked Nathan to schedule a conference to find out why the SEC is «issuing subpoenas unilaterally» without court approval, and why the money isn’t being distributed.
If the SEC found that Musk violated the settlement, it could ask Nathan to throw it out and reopen the case, or pursue new charges.
The letter was filed eight days after California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Tesla over allegations by Black workers that it tolerated racial discrimination at its Fremont, California, plant.
Tesla called that lawsuit misguided. It is also trying to reduce or throw out an approximately $137 million jury award to a Black former elevator operator for subjecting him to a hostile work environment at the Fremont plant.
Separately on Thursday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a formal probe into 416,000 Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles after receiving complaints about unexpected braking tied to its Autopilot system.
Tesla has issued 10 recalls since October, including some under pressure from NHTSA.
In morning trading, Tesla shares were down 0.7% at $916.91.
The cases are SEC v Musk, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-08865; and SEC v Tesla Inc in the same court, No. 18-08947.