I was shocked and horrified when Elon Musk called a young brave Thai cave rescuer “pedo guy” for no apparent reason. Why would someone who’d volunteered to fly from his comfortable and safe British home to risk his own life to save Thai teenagers be subject to any kind of criticism?
Elon Musk, the book, sheds some light on this topic. First, Musk was goaded into helping and then told to continue working on a mini-sub:
“I suspect that the Thai govt has this under control, but I’m happy to help if there is a way to do so,” Musk tweeted. Then his action-hero impulse kicked in. Working with engineers at SpaceX and The Boring Company, he began building a pod-like mini-submarine that, he thought, could be sent into the flooded cave to rescue the boys. Sam Teller got a friend to let them use a school swimming pool for testing that weekend, and Musk began tweeting pictures of the device. The saga became a global news story, some criticizing Musk for grandstanding. Early on Sunday morning, July 8, he checked with a leader of the rescue team in Thailand to make sure that what he was building might be useful. “I have one of the world’s best engineering teams who usually design spaceships and spacesuits working on this thing 24 hours a day,” he emailed. “If it isn’t needed or won’t help, that would be great to know.” The rescue team leader replied, “It is absolutely worth continuing.”
Of course, the mini-sub wasn’t needed after all.
There the story would have ended, except that a sixty-three-year-old English cave explorer named Vernon Unsworth, who had advised Thai rescuers on the scene, gave an interview to CNN dissing Musk’s efforts as “just a PR stunt” that “had absolutely no chance of working.” Unsworth suggested, with a giggle, that “he can stick his submarine where it hurts.” Trolls and detractors fling insults at Musk every hour, and occasionally one sends him into orbit. He responded with a barrage of tweets attacking Unsworth, concluding one of them with “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.” When another user asked Musk if he was calling Unsworth a pedophile, he responded, “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”
Musk sent an “off-the-record” email that BuzzFeed made public:
“I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists, you fucking asshole,” Musk began. “He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been traveling to or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years, mostly Pattaya Beach, until moving to Chiang Rai for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time. There’s only one reason people go to Pattaya Beach. It isn’t where you’d go for caves, but it is where you’d go for something else. Chiang Rai is renowned for child sex-trafficking.”
My impressions from following the headlines were, of course, wrong. The guy with whom Musk had traded insults was not one of the actual cave rescuers who’d left a comfortable English home. He was an old British guy living in Thailand who had a lot of experience exploring the cave, but his main role in the rescue was providing phone numbers for British cave rescue experts. Unsworth did not bring out any teenagers himself. Musk was simply guessing that Unsworth was a sexpat rather than merely an expat who loved Thai culture. The guess was not supported by tabloid investigation. Daily Mail found the 63-year-old Unsworth living with a 40-year-old girlfriend:
- Wikipedia on Pedophilia: a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children
- “Thai cave rescue: Duangphet Phromthep killed himself at school in UK” (BBC): The captain of the Thai football team trapped in a cave for several days in 2018, took his own life [in February 2023] while at school in the UK, a coroner has ruled.