Truth is the foundation of a healthy democracy. Disinformation threatens that foundation, especially when it targets election officials.
Two women who served as election workers in Fulton County, Georgia during the 2020 election today filed a landmark defamation lawsuit against The Gateway Pundit, a website based in St. Louis which the complaint calls “among the leading purveyors of false information in the United States.” The lawsuit, filed in circuit court in St. Louis, charges The Gateway Pundit, along with its founding editor Jim Hoft and contributor Joe Hoft, with knowingly fabricating and disseminating blatantly false stories about the election night conduct of Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss. Protect Democracy, through its Law for Truth project, represents Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss, in partnership with the law firms DuBose Miller LLC, Dowd Bennett LLP, and Kastorf Law, LLC and the Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic.
“Lies like those that The Gateway Pundit knowingly told about Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss cannot be divorced from the devastation they leave behind—both for the targeted individuals and for our democracy itself,” said Brittany Williams, Counsel at Protect Democracy. “These kinds of lies, told with impunity, now pollute the information ecosystem in America and threaten the foundations of our system of government. And they are especially pernicious when they aim to intimidate the nonpartisan election officials who are essential to conducting free and fair elections. Those who purposely promote these lies must be, and will be, held accountable.”
As a result of The Gateway Pundit’s defamation, Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss have been and continue to be subjected to online and in-person harassment and abuse. They have received numerous death threats, and they live in fear of violent attacks. In addition, their professional reputations have suffered, as has Ms. Freeman’s business. They seek compensatory and punitive damages from the defendants for the harms they have suffered.
“Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss should be celebrated as heroes — the kind of heroes who show up early in the morning on election day to make sure our elections run smoothly, so that voters may play their rightful role in selecting our leaders and holding them accountable,” said Von DuBose of DuBose Miller. “Instead, they have been subject to horrific abuse, which hearkens back to the darkest parts of Georgia’s history. They are bravely stepping forward to file this lawsuit in order to help prevent future attacks on the people who help make our democracy function.”
The defendants repeatedly published unverified and uncorroborated information claiming that Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss were involved in a conspiracy to commit election fraud. They continued to publish these untruths long after they were proven to be false. Further, by identifying Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss by name and by publishing pictures of them online, Gateway Pundit caused, and was directly responsible for, the abuse and harassment Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss suffered.
“I worked for Fulton County police and emergency services for 20 years. So Fulton County has a spot in my heart and when the 2020 election was coming up, I was thinking, let’s see if I can help. I couldn’t have imagined the lies that The Gateway Pundit would tell about me, pushing people to harass me and my family and to threaten us with violence,” said Plaintiff Ruby Freeman. “I want the defendants to know that my daughter and I are real people who deserve justice, and I never want them to do this to anyone else.”
The defendants accused Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss of conspiring to remove observers from the room where ballots were being counted, introducing illegal ballots into the count, and running the same ballots through tabulator machines multiple times, among other things. Each of these claims was refuted in real time by Georgia’s statewide election officials, many of whom are elected Republicans. Nonetheless, The Gateway Pundit has not retracted or corrected any of its false statements, and has continued to repeat them throughout 2021. Its numerous articles boasting that it was the first publication to name Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss as committing ballot fraud remain online. The defendants took no action in response to a recent letter on behalf of Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss detailing the untrue allegations and requesting a retraction.
“This is the sort of lawsuit libel law was created to permit,” said noted First Amendment advocate Floyd Abrams. “The complaint depicts terribly wronged plaintiffs suing to restore their grievously harmed reputations from statements made with knowledge of their falsity. Not only does the First Amendment provide no protection for such statements, but this is precisely the situation in which libel litigation is most needed.”
“When lies flood cable news and the internet, it’s no surprise that the average citizen is left wondering what to believe. Which makes it all the more important to stand up for the truth,” said Rachel Goodman, Counsel at Protect Democracy. “At this scale, disinformation poisons democracy. With Law for Truth, we will fight back and give truth its day in court.” Law for Truth, a project of Protect Democracy, works to stop those who intentionally and recklessly spread false information that undermines our democracy through strategic litigation, issue-focused advocacy, and public education.
More information is available at: www.law4truth.org.