Elon Musk called the shelter-in-place orders in the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the US “fascist” actions that are stripping people of their freedom on a Tesla earnings call on Wednesday. Musk’s comments come after a torrent of criticism for remarks he made late Tuesday night on Twitter, in which the billionaire CEO echoed President Trump by writing in all caps, “Free America Now.”
The rant began after Musk said, “We are a bit worried about not being able to resume production in the Bay Area, and that should be identified as a serious risk.” Six Bay Area counties jointly extended the shelter-in-place orders affecting San Francisco, Fremont, and other cities through May 31st, with only some minor relaxing of restrictions.
“The expansion of shelter-in-place, or as we call it, forcibly imprisoning people in their homes, against all their constitutional rights, is, in my opinion, breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong, and not why people came to America and built this country,” Musk said. “What the fuck!”
“If somebody wants to stay in the house that’s great,” Musk continued. “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. This is not democratic. This is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom.”
Tesla’s primary factory is located in Fremont, California, and after initially attempting to fight county orders listing the car maker as non-essential, Musk ultimately did close down the facility alongside the company’s Buffalo solar panel plant. Although Musk kept the factory open for five days after the initial shelter-in-place order, Tesla defied the order once more last week by asking some Fremont factory employees to return to work. (The company’s Nevada Gigafactory remains open, despite the state’s governor ordering all non-essential businesses to close.)
Musk said on the call that Tesla would be fine after the COVID-19 crisis, but that small companies would not. “Everything people have worked for all their lives is being destroyed in real time,” he said of the state orders to close non-essential businesses. “I think the people are going to be very angry about this and are very angry.”
Musk has been an outspoken critic of some of the safety measures instituted in the US due to the coronavirus pandemic, primarily taking issue with the state-ordered shelter-in-place guidance that has shut down large swaths of the economy. But Musk’s criticism has at times extended beyond concern for the economy and job market. He has questioned basic coronavirus science and made incorrect projections about the severity of the virus, predicting there would be few US cases by the end of April. Right now, there are about 25,000 new cases confirmed daily, and that is almost certainly an undercount, since there are problems with testing capacity.
As The Verge’s Russell Brandom chronicled earlier today, Musk now has a troubled history with his public communications around COVID-19:
Since the outbreak began, he’s promoted studies that suggest doctors are inflating case numbers for financial reasons, or that the vast majority of fatalities in Italy are due to other causes. He promoted a widely discredited paper on the benefits of chloroquine, which was debunked so quickly that both Twitter and Google Docs refused to host it. In another instance, he compared the outbreak to the common cold. On March 6th, he said simply “the coronavirus panic is dumb.” On March 14th, he said the “danger of panic still far exceeds danger of corona,” as part of a larger thread promoting chloroquine as an effective treatment.
Update April 29th, 7:55PM ET: Added additional context around Musk’s comments regarding COVID-19.