What’s Behind The Twisted Tesla Short Seller Psyche?

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Originally posted on EVANNEX.
By Charles Morris

We’re running out of headlines to describe the antics of the Tesla short sellers and haters. They’ve already launched a “media crusade,” suffered a “tsunami of hurt,” and “gone off the deep end.” However, a recent article in the Los Angeles Times reveals new depths of bizarre behavior by TSLA shorts and their allies.

The Times article documents what might best be called a “movement” dedicated to destroying Tesla. It isn’t formally organized (thus, it can’t be called a “conspiracy”), but its members are highly motivated and resourceful, and possess a variety of skills and expertise, which they use to generate credible-sounding anti-Tesla news items.

The Teslaphobes connect on Twitter through a platform called $TSLAQ (the Q is stock exchange notation for a company in bankruptcy). According to the Times, “contributors divide up research duties according to personal interest and ability, with no one in charge. Some use commercial databases to track Tesla-loaded ships from San Francisco to Europe and China. Some are experts at automotive leasing or convertible bonds. Some repost customer complaints about Tesla quality and service.”

One of the more colorful of these characters is a pilot who goes by the handle Machine Planet. He and others fly over Tesla facilities in small planes, or take pictures with drones, looking for evidence that the company’s delivery figures don’t add up. Machine Planet claims that Tesla has some 52 parking lots all around the US, filled with unsold vehicles. This modern-day barnstormer has inspired a legion of imitators, intrepid pilots who call themselves the Shorty Air Force, or SAF for short, and proudly wear a shoulder patch featuring an SAF logo based on a World War II design. (The lots, or some of them, do exist — Tesla has said that they are simply staging areas for final delivery.)

As the Times reports, $TSLAQ may have no leader, but its hero is Lawrence Fossi, a money manager who posted a steady stream of anti-Tesla articles on Seeking Alpha under the handle Montana Skeptic until Elon Musk outfoxed him. After Fossi’s identity was revealed on Twitter last July, Musk personally called the investment company he works for and (so Fossi claims) threatened to sue Fossi for defamation. Montana Skeptic disappeared from Seeking Alpha and Twitter. Musk “won the first round,” Fossi told the Times, but the incident generated more publicity for $TSLAQ. The anti-Tesla narrative “is getting a lot more coverage than it would have gotten if Musk had kept his big mouth shut, which is apparently beyond his capacity,” said Fossi.

A tongue-in-cheek look at some of the forces that could be out to cause trouble for Tesla and Elon Musk (YouTube: American AF) 

Other anti-Tesla crusaders have gone beyond online trolling and taken their grudge into the real world, with potentially dangerous results. As The Verge reported, California resident Randeep Hothi, believed to be the human behind the Tesla-bashing Twitter account @skabooshka, has been issued a temporary restraining order after allegedly trying to cause an accident during a Model 3 test drive that demonstrated the Navigate on Autopilot feature.

Tesla says this wasn’t the gadfly’s first physical confrontation with company employees. As Tesla wrote in its request for a restraining order:

In an incident in February 2019, Respondent hit Tesla’s security employee Tyler James with his car as Mr. James approached Respondent to ask him to leave Tesla’s private property. Mr. Tyler suffered minor injuries. The Respondent did not stop and fled the scene. The Fremont Police Department were called and arrived on the scene. The Department later attempted to issue Respondent a warning notice of trespass, but was unsuccessful because Respondent has avoided and been uncooperative in meeting with Fremont police officers.

More recently, on April 16, 2019, Respondent stalked, harassed, and endangered [three Tesla employees] who were driving on the highway in a Tesla-owned Model 3 vehicle bearing manufacturer plates and mounted with camera equipment. In particular, Respondent pursued these employees on the public highway for about 35 minutes, variously driving ahead of, beside, and behind them, and swerving dangerously close to the vehicle. Respondent swerved so close to the side of the Tesla that the vehicle’s side-collision (crash) avoidance safety feature was triggered to engage an emergency maneuver to avoid the collision.

Engadget explains, “Randeep and his brother Gagan (who works for VW) allegedly also run a Twitter account that frequently blasts Musk and Tesla, proclaiming the company’s doom. Previously, users also linked the Hothi brothers to Reddit accounts that moderated a Tesla stock subreddit.” The LinkedIn profile of Randeep’s brother, Gagan, states that he works for the rival automaker as a senior design technologist. Elon Musk, after discovering this, tweeted, “This is extremely messed up. @VW, what’s going on?”

Simon Alvarez, writing in Teslarati, notes that the real-world activities described in Tesla’s restraining order request appear to have been inspired by an earlier discussion in the $TSLAQ online community. When @skabooshka posted images of the Model 3 test car, some of his followers suggested disrupting the test drive by braking in front of the vehicle and intentionally swerving into its lane — some also joked that it would be funny if the vehicle crashed.

Restraining order or no, Hothi (or whoever @skabooshka is) is undeterred. “I will not rest,” he or it tweeted following the test drive incident. “Tesla is a zero. @elonmusk will go to prison.”

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