Celebrate the Facts!
Recent riots at the United States Capitol Building were only the most recent ellipse in the Revolution – discussed in an earlier investigation – and the Revolution will continue. With the United States Justice Department now politicized and judged unreliable in its service of the people’s interests, progressive groups are using civil litigation to stifle the rise of White Supremacism and associated conspiracy theorists to great success. This the best available weapon to stomp out the brushfires of extremists who use the Internet to monetize hate.
The conspiracy theory industrial complex, led by the most prominent Internet influencer and conspiracy theorist Donald Trump, spreads implausible ideologies developed by duct-taping ‘alternative facts’ with conjecture. The Internet has provided the onramp for these personalities, who previously were unable to affect significant numbers of people, to spread disinformation and monetize their endeavors.
In a crowded arena, the most outlandish get the most attention, leading to an environment that rewards increasingly bizarre comportment, often crossing legal limits exposing these people to legal liability.
The White Supremacist movement is composed of loosely aligned fringe minority micro-groups engaged in fundamentally anti-democratic methods fomenting, and sometimes engaging, in violent acts. Historical litigation against the Ku Klux Klan and associated individuals provided a model of suppressing these entities in the absence of reasonable federal intervention, and such actions have become increasingly popular to counteract the asymmetric warfare of conspiracy theory and white supremacy.
The best example of an Internet agitator is Alex Jones. Jones runs a website called Infowars and publishes YouTube rants. Jones, a high-school educated 46-year-old man, monetizes his work by selling dietary enhancements tailored to the unique needs of his listeners including Infowars Life Super Male Vitality and Infowars Life Liver Shield.
To draw attention, Jones proposed the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, where a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 first-graders, six educators, and himself after having killed his mother, was a hoax. He has also claimed the 9/11 attacks, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the 2013 Washington Navy Yard mass murder were ‘false flag’ operations by our government or globalist forces planning to take over the world, among other insane conspiracy theories.
In March 2018, the families of eight victims of the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, plus an FBI agent who investigated the massacre, sued Jones, Infowars, and others for defamation. The parents and the FBI agent were subject to harassment and death threats following the massacre, allegedly as a result of Jones’s politicization of the matter.
Last year a Texas judge ordered Jones to pay $100,000 in legal fees and refused to dismiss that lawsuit. In related activities, a jury in Wisconsin awarded $450,000 to one of the parents in his lawsuit against conspiracy theorist writers, not including Jones, who claimed the massacre never happened.
Platforms that have sponsored Infowars’ content have backed away, including Google Play Store, LinkedIn, YouTube, Apple App Store, Twitter, and various Internet hosting services. It is difficult to argue the potential liability of civil litigation did not play a role in these decisions.
Another example of how White Supremacists have used Internet platforms to monetize hate is the 'We Build the Wall' criminal fraud case filed in the Southern District of New York Federal Court. The Southern District of New York has long been renowned as being fiercely independent and appears to have remained so despite efforts by the Trump Administration to hollow it out.
'We Build the Wall' was a crowd-funded movement to privately fund the construction of a border wall along the United States and Mexico border that harvested about $25 million in private contributions. GoFundMe, the platform used to crowdsource the funds, was concerned about the ultimate destination of the funds and decided to back away from the effort, removing access to the money by the founders.
Steve Bannon, renowned racist dog-whistler, Donald Trump cohort, and Breitbart News pot-stirrer, quickly swooped in and assisted the founders of the organization in creating a not-for-profit organization ostensibly to manage the funds.
If the criminal filings were correct, they managed a lot of those funds right into their pockets. Court filings allege Bannon illegally harvested $1 million from the nonprofit organization under his control. Brian Kolfage, the We Build the Wall founder, was accused of pocketing more than $350,000 from unsuspecting donors. Bannon and his co-defendants, Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea, all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The status of this criminal case, on the docket for May 2021, rests in the pardon pen of Donald Trump, who will almost certainly reward Bannon and his colleagues for their fealty to his favorite cause with a pardon.
In a rational political administration, hate crimes would be penalized by criminal prosecution, but the recent control of the United States Justice Department by an authoritarian President has modulated these prosecutions, further emboldening outrageous behavior. The best example of the flaccid response to hate crimes was the Charlottesville White Supremacist’s Unite the Right on August 11 and 12, 2017, attended by thousands of white supremacists. The rally included a riot and the murder of a young woman but resulted in relatively few federal criminal charges.
A formative group for progressive litigation against white supremacists is Integrity First for America (IFA), a progressive organization founded in the wake of the Charlottesville carnage. They represent themselves as being a nonpartisan group advocating against anti-democratic and racist groups.
IFA filed a case called Sines vs. Kessler in Federal Court in Charlottesville, Virginia, in September of 2019, against the Ku Klux Klan, Richard Spencer (a prominent United States Neo-Nazi who planned the Unite the Right rally), the Fraternal Order of AltKnights (also known as the Proud Boys), and several other defendants, asking for damages as a result of their role in fomenting and performing violent acts at the Unite the Right rally.
The defendants' motion to dismiss was denied and the case is proceeding. On November 30, 2020, the court found one of the defendants, neo-Nazi leader Elliott Kline guilty of civil contempt, jailed him, and ordered him to pay thousands in monetary sanctions.
While the outcome is unknown, the costs of defense of a federal case are immense, and the example will likely moderate the actions of white supremacists.
The recent riots at the United States Capitol Building further emphasize the politicization of the United States Justice Department and perhaps the entire Federal policing apparatus. The violence, telegraphed by Donald Trump, coordinated by participants on Internet platforms such as Parler, proceeded unencumbered by federal security. It is too early to comment on whether mobilization of the National Guard was inhibited by federal action or inaction.
A recent lawsuit in which the NAACP sued Donald Trump as an individual and the Republican National Committee (RNC). The complaint alleges the campaign and RNC violated the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act’s prohibition against ‘preventing by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from legally giving his support or advocacy, toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for President or Vice President’ in its actions to limit votes in majority African American areas.
While Donald Trump is certainly not averse to litigation, a civil judgment against him of sufficient magnitude would be enforceable against his assets and would get his attention, and serve as a warning of potential liability to those who might engage in similar behavior.
Trump enabler and attorney Sidney Powell, a 65-year-old Texas attorney, claimed a polling support company called Dominion Voting Systems was established with communist money in Venezuela and assisted in rigging the election in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Powell’s main claim to fame was representing executives in the Enron scandal. Later in her life, she devolved into conspiracy theory – insinuating a conspiracy involving the Clinton Foundation, George Soros, and the ‘deep state’ along with Dominion were involved in illegally throwing the election. Powell monetized her efforts by establishing Defending the Republic and the Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic, organizations to collect donations to support her election-related litigation.
Dominion has sued Powell in federal court for $1.3 billion alleging her allegations were false and they impugned the value of the company. Her representations were demonstrably false no doubt and the litigation will crush her financially regardless of the outcome, likely to result in a monetary judgment against her, good warning for similar conspiracy theorists.
The civil litigation process is raising the awareness of potential monetary liability to platform service providers and is the main avenue to suppressing conspiracy theory and white supremacy. Twitter’s recent cancellation of Donald Trump alienated him from his 83 million Twitter followers. Donald Trump then moved to the smaller platform Parler, but AWS, the Internet arm of Amazon, informed Parler it was declining service as of early morning January 11, 2020, due to liability concerns. Donald Trump then swiftly moved to Telegram. The fate of that platform is yet to be determined as of this publication date.
Interesting conclusions from this investigation:
Information on Alex Jones can be obtained at https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/alex-jones. Information on the We Build the Wall case was obtained at https://www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/2020/08/31/trial-date-set-for-steve-bannon-and-we-build-the-wall-leaders-in-sdny-criminal-fraud-case/. Information on federal charges resulting from Charlottesville was provided by https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-arrests-made-connection-violent-charlottesville-rallies-n915851. Information on James Fields was presented at https://www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/ct-charlottesville-attacker-james-fields-hate-crimes-20190327-story.html. Additional information on Charlottesville can be obtained at https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/white-supremacists-plead-guilty-to-rioting-in-charlottesville. The website for Integrity First for America can be found at https://www.integrityfirstforamerica.org/our-work/case/charlottesville-case. The federal court filing against Trump and the RNC can be found at https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.dcd.224322/gov.uscourts.dcd.224322.8.0.pdf. Information on the Dominion Systems legal action can be found at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/dominion-sues-pro-trump-lawyer-sidney-powell-seeking-more-than-13-billion/2021/01/08/ebe5dbe0-5106-11eb-b96e-0e54447b23a1_story.html.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.