Georgia: Election agents sue conspiratorial website for ‘campaign of lies’
Two Georgian election agents who have become the target of conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election are suing The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website that published false information about them as part of a broad-based effort to sow the seeds doubt about the integrity of the vote.
Election officers Ruby Freeman, a retired 911 call center employee, and her daughter, Shaye Moss, allege in the lawsuit that Jim and Joe Hoft, twin brothers who operate and write for The Gateway Pundit, have conducted ” a campaign of lies “which” caused a deluge of intimidation, harassment and threats that forced them to change their phone numbers, delete their online accounts and fear for their physical safety. “
Freeman and his daughter have become central figures in some of the many conspiracy theories that circulated among Conservatives in the months following the election. Other subjects of similar theories – including companies that make voting machines – have also launched lawsuits against media companies that disseminate claims that are misleading or outright without evidence about their role in the election.
Articles from The Gateway Pundit that named Freeman triggered a feedback loop of accusations that included President Donald Trump and other conservative media.
The Hofts did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A month after articles appeared on The Gateway Pundit website accusing Freeman of “counting illegal ballots in a suitcase hidden under a table,” Former President Donald Trump referred to her by name during his phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger on January 2. (Trump is not named in the lawsuit.)
At the height of the harassment, Freeman said strangers made two attempts to enter her home to “effect a citizen arrest,” according to the lawsuit. Freeman was ultimately forced to shut down her business and flee her home for two months on the recommendation of the FBI, according to the lawsuit.
âPeople have said the most vile, violent and racist things about me and my family, on the phone, on my social media accounts, by email and in person. Things you wouldn’t believe, âFreeman, who is black, said in a statement.
âThe toll of all this on your life, day after day, weighs on you. I go to church and I know God is my keeper, so I keep my head up. But the impact is still there. For example, when I’m in public and hear someone calling me, I jump. Just hearing my name scares me.
Gateway Pundit articles began when they identified Freeman in surveillance video from a polling center in Georgia first presented by Trump campaign lawyer Jacki Pick in the Georgia State Senate on December 3. Pick claimed that someone who “had the name Ruby somewhere on his shirt” found a “suitcase” full of ballots “under a table.”
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The allegations were quickly dismissed by the Georgian Secretary of State and his investigative office, who said there was no suitcase. Election officers, who had previously been told to stop counting the ballots and packing for the night, were told to restart the ballot counting, and Freeman was just getting on with his job.
But the conspiracy theory persisted on pro-Trump websites and with QAnon’s influencers on social media, ultimately leading Hoft to post Freeman’s name. On December 22, President Trump tweeted a segment of the conservative cable news channel OANN featuring the writings of Gateway Pundit, which the site called an “investigation.” The tweet, which just featured Trump’s uncomplicated video, received hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets.
The Gateway Pundit stories continued to accuse Freeman and Moss of voter fraud throughout the spring and summer.
Freeman and Moss are represented by the nonprofit Protect Democracy, as well as the law firms DuBose Miller, Dowd Bennett and Kastorf Law, and the Freedom of the Media and Information Clinic of Yale Law School. They seek compensatory and punitive damages, as well as the removal of articles and statements stating that Freeman and Moss’s coverage by The Gateway Pundit was false.
Freeman said in a statement that she “cannot imagine ever returning to election work.”
âThe times I decided to work for the county, I did it because I thought I could help and because I knew I could do the job well,â she said. “What I didn’t know was that it would turn out like this.”
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