Bay Area entrepreneur and devout Twitter addict Elon Musk has made his libertarian leanings clear in the last two weeks, ranting about "fascist" local government health orders that have kept businesses like his closed for the past two months. Over the weekend he escalated things regarding the Tesla manufacturing plant in Fremont, threatening to move the company out of state if it wasn't given an exception to current rules by Alameda County. And on Monday he announced — via Twitter, naturally — that he's reopening the plant in defiance of the county.
As of last Friday, some manufacturing operations around the state were given the green light to reopen by Governor Gavin Newsom, but the fact that the Fremont plant still falls under stricter orders issued by six Bay Area counties seems to really be pissing Musk off. Now he says he'll be suing the county for being in violation federal and state guidelines, saying that the auto plant qualifies as "critical infrastructure."
He says the manufacturing line reopened on Monday, and he's working alongside others there. "If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me," Musk tweeted.
Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2020
The Alameda County Public Health Department has yet to respond to Musk's move on Twitter or otherwise, and it remains to be seen what, if any, legal action the county may take. An Alameda County supervisor who represents Fremont, Shawn Wilson, told CNBC that it will be up to the Fremont Police Department to enforce the public health order.
As CNN reports, Musk has the support of the Trump administration, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin already commented today to CNBC that California needs to prioritize businesses like Musk's.
"He's one of the biggest employers and manufacturers in California, and California should prioritize doing whatever they need to do to solve those health issues so that he can open quickly or or they're going to find, as he's threatened, he's moving his production to a different state," Mnuchin said.
Tesla was likely going to be allowed to reopen next week along with a host of other kinds of businesses around the Bay Area, but apparently Musk has waited long enough and would prefer to lead with contrarian defiance.
It should be noted that since mid-March, Musk had been expressing doubt on Twitter about the severity of the pandemic threat and the death counts that had been reported up to that point, though he didn't ramp up his rhetoric, calling government orders "fascist," until late April.
Governor Gavin Newsom seemed to be taken by surprise by Musk's announcement during his daily press briefing. Per CNBC, Newsom said, "As it was just mentioned, I need the details of that. My understanding is when I walked up to the podium today that wasn’t the case. I’m trying to monitor hundreds of thousands of businesses all throughout the state of California."
So, it seems clear that Musk — much like the President! — is declaring policy on Twitter before doing the usual negotiations and back-channel work that most sober leaders tend to do before making brash moves.
But it certainly wouldn't be the first time that Musk's Twitter use got him in trouble. He's already well known at the Securities and Exchange Commission for making statements via tweet that have material impact on his company's stock price — and he's been fined $40 million for that already. Also, last fall, he was slapped by a judge for making statements on Twitter that could be construed as meddling in a union organizing effort.
Ten days ago, Musk did it again by declaring on Twitter that Tesla's stock was "too high imo," which sent the company's stock price tanking. In the days since, the stock price has rebounded to the levels it was at when he made that statement, at around $811 per share.
Photo: Vlad Tchompalov