This Week In Libelslander!

It’s a big week for defamation cases — and threats!

In the wake of Dominion settling its incredibly valid defamation lawsuit against Fox News for $787 million, it’s important to remember that most defamation cases are stupid bullshit that waste the time of our courts and taxpayer money, all in an effort to stop other people from criticizing the rich and powerful.

Why Did Fox News Settle And Why Didn’t They Do It Two Years Ago?

But remember we shall, thanks to three Republicans who couldn’t help but make fools of themselves in order to aid us all in our continuing civic education. In Texas, secessionists have filed a defamation lawsuit arguing that it’s illegal to call seceding from the union “seditious treason.” In Florida, a state legislator is threatening to sue her constituents for defamation for stating true facts to her face. And in Utah and/or DC, Senator Mike Lee continues to make us all wonder if he did, in fact, actually go to law school. (Maybe he attended with George Santos?)

So let’s dig in!

Let’s start in Texas

Jeff Leach is a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives. He’s, well, pretty terrible on most issues. He doesn’t think women are full citizens and supports total abortion bans. He opposes gun regulation, wants a constitutional amendment to ban state income tax, and supported SB 1, a voter disenfranchisement bill Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed last year.

However, unlike many other members of his party, Representative Leach does not actually support sedition and treason against the United States.

Texas always has some crazies talking about seceding from the union. And for extra special fun, those crazies include several Republican members of the state Legislature! Last month, these anti-America enthusiasts introduced HB 3596, which they call the “TEXIT Referendum Act.” In effect, the TEXIT bill would trigger a statewide vote on whether or not Texans want to engage in Civil War 2.0. (And not for nothing, the author of HB 3596 was none other than Representative Bryan Slaton, whose other key issues include calling drag queens groomers and taking rights away from women … and who has recently been credibly accused of sexual misconduct for preying on a young Capitol intern who is “under the age of 21.” In fact, he’s been so credibly accused that last night he resigned!)[Due to an editing mistake by me, the Editrix, we incorrectly said Slaton had resigned. In fact, that was an entirely different Tennessee Republican member of the House who resigned after serial grotesque sexual harassment of House interns. You can understand our mistake. No apologies to Bryan Slaton.]

To his credit, Leach was … not a fan of the TEXIT proposal.

(More good Leach tweets here on Texas secession here, here, and here.)

So far, Leach has been right and the TEXIT bill has not moved since being assigned to committee.

But now, we get to the good part.

Wednesday, while he was chairing a House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee hearing, Leach was served with a truly ridiculous defamation lawsuit about … his tweets.

The person suing Leach is Morgan McComb, a constituent with a very sane Twitter feed who fancies herself a “Republican activist.” She describes herself in her bio as “A TRUE Conservative TX Grassroots Leader, Mom & Patriot Community RE-Organizer. Rescues horses. God Guns Guts and Glory!” so you just know she’s on the level. McComb is also currently under felony indictment for violating Texas’s online impersonation statute. In 2020, she allegedly used “the name and photo of a rival Republican campaign operative in Frisco” and “used the account to publish the other campaigner’s records from family court, psychological and counseling records, and a criminal court record.” She seems nice!

So McComb is, umm, an interesting character. But when you come across a case this bad, you also have to consider the lawyer. McComb’s lawyer in this truly ridiculous case is Frisco-based Paul Davis. Davis is a supergenius who posted a video of himself outside the Capitol at the January 6 insurrection and still thinks he did nothing wrong. Since losing his old lawyer job for, you know, participating in a coup attempt, McComb has decided to make a name for himself by filing the worst lawsuits he can think of and branding himself a “lawyer for patriots.” He also has the dubious achievement of filing perhaps the most bogus of all the anti-democracy suits after the 2020 election, arguing the entire 117th Congress was “illegitimately elected.” (Here’s that complaint. It’s a doozy.)

The suit is being funded by the “Texas Nationalist Movement,” a group of people who are exactly who you think they are. TNM has apparently been excitedly hoping for an opportunity to file exactly this ridiculous lawsuit for a while now, with a blog on its site from July 2022 titled “Should TEXIT Supporters Sue Opposers Who Accuse Us of Treason?”

The suit against Leach for all the libelslander is pretty much what you would expect from all of these brilliant minds.

To the Complaint!

Although McComb whines about several of Leach’s tweets in the complaint, there is only one where he addresses her directly.

According to McComb, this defames both her and … the Texas secessionist movement?

“In fact, one obstacle to the movement for Texas independence is that many people mistakenly believe that it literally is sedition or treason to advocate for Texas independence.”


According to the complaint, Leach’s tweet is defamation per se, because “Neither McComb’s support for the TEXIT Bill nor a belief that “Texas should secede from the United States” fit the definition of treason or sedition under the United States Code or any other applicable law.”


Adorably, taking a close look at the complaint itself shows just how meritless it is. The case the suit cites for support is Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity v. Dickinson, where the Texas Supreme Court just ruled … that it was not defamatory for a forced birth proponent to call abortion rights activists “murderers.”

We hold that the challenged statements are protected opinion about abortion law made in pursuit of changing that law, placing them at the heart of protected speech under the United States and Texas Constitutions. Such opinions are constitutionally protected even when the speaker applies them to specific advocacy groups that support abortion rights. In our state and nation, an advocate is free “to speak, write or publish his opinions on any subject,” perhaps most especially on controversial subjects like legalized abortion.

To most people with a modicum of logical reasoning, it would be pretty obvious that this case does not, in fact, support a finding of defamation here. But, according to the complaint,

Leach’s statements can be distinguished from
the statements at issue in the Dickson case because a reasonably
intelligent member of the public is not equipped with the same general
understanding and awareness that supporting Texas independence is not
sedition or treason as compared to the general understanding that
abortion is not legally defined to be murder.

In fact, one obstacle to the movement for Texas independence is that many people mistakenly believe that it literally is sedition or treason to advocate for Texas independence. Thus, the holding the Texas Supreme Court reversing the Dallas Court of Appeals holding in Dickson does not apply to the facts of this case. Therefore, under the reasoning of the Dickson precedent, Leach’s statement is actionable defamation.

No, I don’t have any ungodly idea what that is supposed to mean. And at no other point does the complaint attempt to explain why it’s constitutionally protected speech to call someone a murderer but not a traitor. Or, for that matter, how McComb and her buddies plan on seceding from the union without committing treason or sedition. Since in our history, seceding from the union tends to be an act of war, and therefore, you know, seditious treason.

But let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story!

Meanwhile, in Florida …

Earlier this week, Florida state Senator Ileana Garcia voted for SB 1718, a bill that would make it a felony for anyone in Florida to associate with an undocumented person. While a group of Floridians talked to Garcia about her vote, Thomas Kennedy, an immigrant and political activist, called her “illegitimate” and stated that she won her election because of “a ghost candidate.”

Guess what? It’s true! Alex Rodriguez, the ghost candidate in question, pleaded guilty to taking bribes in the election fraud scheme that helped elect Garcia. He was recruited by Frank Artiles, a former Florida state senator, who paid Rodriguez to change his party affiliation from Republican to independent and put his name on the ballot.

The reason? The incumbent Democrat in the district in question also had the last name Rodriguez. In the end, Rodriguez the ghost candidate, who did not campaign at all, received 6,382 votes. Garcia won her senate seat by 32 votes.

So, naturally, Senator Garcia’s response to a constituent pointing out this inconvenient truth was to threaten to sue him.

Kennedy: You have no validity. You won because of voter fraud.You’re illegitimate.

Garcia: llegitimate how, Thomas?

Kennedy: You won because of a ghost candidate funded by [Florida Power & Light].

Garcia: Put him on video saying that.

Kennedy (to Garcia staffer videotaping the exchange): You won because of a ghost candidate funded by FPL.

Garcia: If I sued you tomorrow for that comment, would you be up for that?

Kennedy: Sue me. Sue me. Sue me for defamation.

Garcia: It’s on record. It’s on record. It’s on record. We got a good defamation bill coming up. We got a good defamation bill coming. What’s coming up now, what’s coming up now is the validity of a couple of other things that are going on.

The bill Garcia is referring to here is SB 1220/HB 991, an anti-free speech proposal designed to stop people from criticizing Ron DeSantis and other Republicans. And in particular, it says that you don’t even have to prove you suffered any harm or damages if the defamation suit is about the fact that someone called you a racist, sexist, homophobe, or transphobe.

Yes, really. It is actually that bad. The bill has been condemned far and wide as an attack on free speech — which it absolutely is. In particular, it is intended to scare oppressed people into being afraid to publicly stand up for themselves. Make no mistake, SB 1220 is a fascist bill that is designed to silence critics and further oppress groups of people the state has already historically sought to disenfranchise.

It’s also incredibly unconstitutional, but the Roberts Court has given fascists every reason to think that they will do the bidding of their fellow Republicans, precedent and rule of law be damned.

Once again, for the cheap seats in the back: TRUE STATEMENTS ARE, CATEGORICALLY, NOT DEFAMATORY. But Garcia’s immediate jump to legal threats tells you exactly where she stands: She will use the legal system to silence her critics, even if she has to change the law to do it.

So that’s fun …

I always enjoy mocking this particular version of stupid bullshit. For whatever reason, it seems to be my sweet spot (luv u, Bob Murray, Diamond & Silk, and my buddies Monty and Steve). And while I do appreciate the entertainment, these kinds of lawsuits and threats are actually a huge problem in our legal system.

Because this isn’t just about one or two hilariously batshit cases. Using completely meritless lawsuits to try to shut up people who disagree with you is now a common tactic of politicians, the mega-rich, and other powerful people. From Donald Trump and Devin Nunes to Don Blankenship and Bob Murray, abusing the legal system to stifle free speech has become an everyday.

Just to get in on the fun, on Tuesday Utah Senator Mike Lee, otherwise known for his efforts to stage a coup, tweeted that it was defamation to report true facts about Clarence Thomas’s corruption.

Lee also showed his ass in this tweet (not literally, thank god). In addition to being just entirely wrong about the definition of defamation, the freedom-loving senator also made it a point to criticize New York Times v. Sullivan, the case that made it harder for public figures to sue people for being mean to them. For years, far-right looney toons like Lee and Donald Trump have been openly saying they want to be able to use the legal system to attack people for criticizing them. Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have already written that they want to overturn Sullivan, because powerful men should be able to do whatever they want.

Now, it looks like Lee is even saying we should change the definition of defamation to include true facts. That is, emphatically, not a thing, but with this Supreme Court, who the fuck knows.

The American legal system is already set up to work for the rich and only the rich. Even when a lawsuit is entirely meritless, the people defending a defamation, libel, or slander lawsuit usually have to pay their own attorneys’ fees — and even if you get a lawsuit dismissed at an early stage, several hundred dollars an hour adds up quickly.

These kinds of lawsuits and threats also pose the danger of simply stifling critical speech before it is uttered. Most of the time, scaring people into silence is the entire point of suing in the first place. Small local news outlets, independent journalists, activists, and everyday citizens alike must be free to criticize public officials and public policy decisions.

Speaking truth to power is exactly the kind of thing the American legal system should protect, not punish.

As the Supreme Court held in Sullivan, the United States has

“a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

Free speech is something Americans should be proud of and fiercely protect. Even people we don’t like have the constitutional right to be assholes. Like Mike Lee!

[ Complaint ]

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Ron DeSantis Desperate For Wingnut Students, Faculty To Come To Nice Little College He Wrecked

Ron DeSantis and his personally appointed wrecking crew of rightwing ideologues are looking for some students and faculty to come help them turn New College of Florida into a bastion of rightwing higher education, a “Hillsdale of the South,” as DeSantis aides have put it.

Unfortunately for the DeSantis crew, led by professional Culture War grifter Christopher Rufo, New College already came with a faculty and student body who don’t at all fit the mold of Gov. Orban’s ideal institution. The place has historically been delightfully idiosyncratic, with students encouraged to design their own degree programs, and instead of grades, an end-of-course conversation with the prof about what students learned. Think Washington’s The Evergreen College, but with palm trees instead of geoduck clams and rain.

So in February, the Florida Lege directed $15 million to help the new New College recruit a more suitable crop of students and faculty. The budget amendment said the funds were to be used, at the Board of Trustees’ discretion, “for hiring faculty, offering student scholarships, and covering additional operational costs necessary to transition into a world-class classical liberal arts educational institution.” We assume that would also help purchase every new student their very own AR-15 lapel pin.

To help attract the Right kind of students, New College is getting help from rightwing groups like the “Florida Family Policy Council” and its mailing list. That group’s president, John Stemberger — a longtime Bible-Banger — sent an email to “friends with college-age students” plugging the scholarships, with the topic line “Students should consider New College in Sarasota quickly being touted as the Hillsdale College of the southeast,” which is a run-on sentence.

The email also passed along a message from Richard Corcoran, New College’s interim president. Corcoran, a big mucketymuck in Florida Republican circles, had previously been speaker of the state House and a state education commissioner under DeSantis. Corcoran’s message said the $10,000 scholarships will be available to “each qualified first-time-in-college or transfer student,” in addition to other financial aid. Good deal! The message said that New College is

the place for the rapidly growing population of students who are looking for a place to explore their intellectual curiosity, pursue their passions, and gain a better understanding of the world without having to abandon who they are and what they believe. [emphasis added — Dok]

Translation: You can be a rightwing Christian nationalist and no one will ever suggest that’s a bad thing.

The “Tomorrow Belongs To You” boosterism was a bit less subtle in a story from a thing called “The Florida Standard,” a website seemingly created to tell the world how great Ron DeSantis is, and that he makes the very best three-headed gophers ever, and should make more. The headline and subhed make clear that if you a student from a stock photo, you should very definitely get $10,000 to enroll at NCF — and did you know that it is “touted as the ‘Hillsdale of the South'”? (It’s like that running gag in the movie version of Get Shorty, touting the Oldsmobile Silhouette as the “Cadillac of Minivans”)

The hard-hitting press release rewrite touts — in another internal heading and in the text — that NCF is out to become the Cadillac of Hillsdales, without even the least hint that up until now, New College has been a haven for liberals, intellectual stoners, and a very LGBTQ+ -friendly culture. (We do hope that even after the takeover, the school’s knitting club can keep the name “Anarchy Deathsticks.”)

Last week, a New College professor made a bit of a splash by saying in his resignation letter that the effort to remake New College as [yes, you know the phrase now] left him feeling almost ready to “burn the college’s buildings to the ground,” but for his love for the students and what the place used to stand for.

In the kind of excellent invective that we assume means he doesn’t need to worry about making his next mortgage payment, Aaron Hillegass, the director of applied data science at New College, tweeted a copy of his resignation letter to Corcoran, noting that he’d been hired just prior to DeSantis’s hostile takeover.

Hillsdale College is bad for America. It cultivates prejudice against immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, minorities, and non-christians. It pushes a nativist and nationalistic agenda that would isolate the US from other nations.

When a governor guts the leadership of a state school in an effort to make a facsimile of Hillsdale, that is fascism. Not the shocking Kristallnacht-style fascism, but the banal fascism that always precedes it.

The nation is watching this experiment. If it is successful, the academic freedom of every state school under a conservative governor will be in peril. I love New College, but for the good of our nation, I hope the school fails miserably and conspicuously.

If I were more patriotic, I would burn the college’s buildings to the ground. However, the soft spot in my heart for the students and faculty who remain prevents this. Thus, I will (not outraged, just moved by a nagging sense of duty) vote with my feet, and simply walk away.

Note: I am taking the $600K that I pledged to the New College Foundation with me.

When my employment contract expires on August 22, I will not be renewing it.

Hillegass later added that no, he would not really do a arson, and that the line was simply a “poetic flourish that sounded cool until it showed up in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.” Heck, we bet he only burned metaphorical bridges with the letter. Wingnut Media must have gone after him, because yesterday he tweeted that he really is a capitalist, and that one of his ancestors was “Michael Hillegas who was the treasurer of the Continental Congress.”

So put that in your tricorn and smoke it, teabaggers. In the replies, they all call him a hypocrite for not being tolerant of fascists, the end.

[Florida Standard / Tampa Bay Times / Semafor / Photo: Alaska Miller, Creative Commons License 4.0]

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#Ron #DeSantis #Desperate #Wingnut #Students #Faculty #Nice #College #Wrecked

Here Is Our Registration To Blog In Florida, Mister Knucklef*ck Sh*thead State Senator, Sir

Dear state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Florida):

We are writing to inform you that we are writing about you, an elected member of the Florida Legislature, and your very interesting and facially unconstitutional bill, Florida SB 1316, which would require paid bloggers to register with the State of Florida, just like lobbyists would — at least if the blogger is paid for the posts they write. We would first off like to thank you for exempting newspapers and amateur bloggers from the legislation. That is right neighborly of you! Florida really is all about freedom, isn’t it? Unless you’re a wokey, and we all know about those wokies and their mobs.

We won’t go into the details of the bill too much, since its instructions are so clear and easy to follow: If someone is paid to write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, the lieutenant governor, any member of the cabinet, or any member of the Lege, then that blogger must register with the State Bloggerlobbyists Office within five days of publication, and then also submit monthly reports to the appropriate office by the 10th of each month, unless “the 10th day following the end of a calendar month occurs on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday,” in which case “the report must be filed on the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.” Easy peasy!

You really thought that through! You don’t mention whether the bloggers must be resident to the great state of Florida, one of those oversights that can happen when a bunch of fucking idiots get elected to make “laws.” We’ll assume that it applies to everyone everywhere in the known universe, since you didn’t say it ain’t.

The monthly reports must itemize each post that mentions any of said Florida officials, and must include a statement — rounded to the nearest 10 dollars — of how much the blogger was paid. And heck, if we go a month without mentioning any of Florida’s colorful elected officials, we can even skip filing for that month. Again, very generous!

It’s also very convenient of you to identify the appropriate offices where the reports must be filed, depending on whether we write about a member of the executive branch (the Florida Commission on Ethics) or the legislature (the Florida Office of Legislative Services). If we mention both — like this very piece, which mentions both the increasingly fascist Ron DeSantis and his increasingly fascist lickspittles in the Legislature like you, I assume we can simply file two copies of the same report. Or would they have to be separately written, to avoid confusion?

Also, it doesn’t appear that your bill explains how we should report our income if we’re on salary, rather than paid by the blog post. I write about national and international politics, as well as about education, entertainment, edutainment, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (both the show itself and the fandom). Would I just try to figure out how my annual income breaks down per post, or should I calculate it by the time I spend writing each post?

Like, it took me forever to round up all the shitty things red states like Florida are doing to trans people (although I didn’t mention Mr. DeSantis today), but I’m basically dashing this piece off while giving it the effort your stupid bill deserves, which is only slightly more than that involved in the average dump, and not even one of those messy ones where it takes forever to wipe, because for one reason or another it’s just kind of viscous. I just want to make sure I’m in compliance. And I need more fiber, most likely.

Also, I think it’s really smart of you to structure the fines for failure to report any blogging activity exactly like those for lobbyists — $25 per day the report is late, up to a maximum of $2,500, per blog post, to be paid to the appropriate office, depending on whether the non-reported blog post had been about a legislator or a member of the executive branch. Hey, if the post mentioned both, does half the fine go to each office, or is the fine doubled?

Maybe we should just write about county officials and school boards. They’re just as fucking crazy, but with less paperwork. HA! That’s what you WANT!

In any case, those fines would really pinch our income, which depends entirely on donations from our readers. They’re the best.

We see you explained to Florida Politics — a blog, we believe — that

Paid bloggers are lobbyists who write instead of talk. They both are professional electioneers. If lobbyists have to register and report, why shouldn’t paid bloggers?

We’re not so sure we agree with you 100 percent on your police work there, Senator.

You see, we’re mostly interested in making clear what an asshole you are, not necessarily in influencing legislation in the state of Florida, and we don’t represent any interest group other than our readers, who we may have mentioned are the only reason we’re able to do this anyway. Sure, we’d like to see your stupid fascist bill fail, and for you to be laughed out of office, but nobody’s paying us to advance that view on their behalf. A lot of those filthy fuckaducks are just here to post cat pictures, which we would add is a far better use of time than trying to threaten pissant non-newspaper independent opinion bloggers like Yours Truly.

In conclusion, we really look forward to your bill failing hard, either in the Florida Lege, or if Crom forbid it passes and Gov. Orban signs it, in the courts.

Also consider this our report of our mention of you in this blog, for which we were paid in Ameros and in cedar cheese anyway. Our Editrix has already filed her registration report, too, although it’s about pregnancy hemorrhoids, not cat pictures and difficult shits.

Hey, you know who else is a difficult shit? Yes, you’re right, it’s YOU.

Also, go fuck yourself. Did we mention that already? Just in case, go fuck right off the peninsula and keep fucking off all the way to the wide Sarcastro Sea.

See also the case of Flying Fuck v. Rolling Donut (1969) and the subsequent ruling in Flying Fuck v. Mooooooooooon (1976).

[Florida Politics / Daily Beast / Florida SB 1316]

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