Elon Musk has famously devoted fans. They can be found buying Tesla cars, watching SpaceX launches, and praising Musk on Twitter. To his fan base, Musk is a visionary, an idol, even a climate superhero. Some of that reputation stems from Musk’s transformation from nerdy internet millionaire to suave manufacturing billionaire.
According to Musk mythology, he’s even the inspiration for an actual superhero, Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of the charmingly brilliant Tony Stark in the 2008 Iron Man film. In the past 15 years since, Musk’s profile has risen, growing ever Starkian, as if prophesied. Meanwhile, his admirers have become only more notorious.
A few months ago, it would have been nearly impossible to imagine Musk’s world-saving sheen wearing off in the eyes of his fans. But that was before the coronavirus pandemic. In the past few months, Musk has downplayed the dangers of the virus, offered unfounded predictions about how many Americans it will infect, and falsely claimed that children are “essentially immune” to COVID-19.
He has called, over and over again, for rolling back the widespread measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus, a move that public-health officials believe could be lethal.
Musk defied local stay-at-home orders and reopened his Tesla assembly plant in California, bringing thousands of employees into work. “I will be on the line with everyone else,” he tweeted last week, as operations restarted. “If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.” (Tesla and SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment.)