AIDS Denialist Files Defamation Suit In Hopes Of Silencing HIV-Positive Critic
from the a-thug-with-a-headful-of-bad-wiring-and-his-own-jackboots dept
Ken White at Popehat has fired up the Popehat Signal again, seeking legal assistance for a blogger on the receiving end of legal abuse from the “most despised inhabitant of the internet playground: the bully who can dish it out but can’t take it.”
The bully in question is Clark Baker, former cop and current AIDS denialist (i.e., someone who believes HIV does not cause or lead to AIDS). He and his representation (Mark Weitz of Weitz Morgan PLLC) have filed a lawsuit against J. Todd Deshong, an HIV-positive blogger and activist, for “trademark infringement, defamation, ‘business disparagement,’ and for injunctive relief.”
Baker is a piece of work.
He was convicted of battery on the allegation he assaulted a jaywalker; that conviction was overturned based on misconduct by the prosecutor, who gratuitously and unethically invoked the Rodney King incident. Now he’s a private investigator and runs the “Office of Medical and Scientific Justice,” which provides, among other things, help to people accused of endangering sexual partners by failing to disclose HIV or AIDS status.
Baker blogs as well and that’s where his AIDS denialism ran head on into Deshong’s activism. The “discussions” between the two have been far from pleasant as one can probably infer from the strong views and the subject matter. But Baker’s lawsuit is simply a vehicle for silencing a strong critic — one he’d rather not have rebutting his arguments and pointing out his errors.
The list of complaints in Baker’s suit are rather strange. The de rigeur defamation charge is there, but where do “trademark infringement” and “business disparagement” fit it?
The trademark claim is based on Deshong’s use of “HIV Innocence Group” to criticize Clark Baker’s activities. Baker lost that argument conclusively before a Uniform Domain Name Resolution panel:
“The Panel finds Complainant has engaged in reverse domain name hijacking because it was clear Respondent was legitimately using Complainant’s mark to make a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the domain name, without intent for commercial gain to misleadingly divert consumers or to tarnish the trademark or service mark at issue. Complainant clearly knew this before it began this proceeding. Complainant did not disclose this obvious fact in its Complaint.”
Mr. Baker is bitter at that result:
“Unfortunately, the arbitration body had no expertise in trademark or trade name infringement and allowed Deshong’s unsupported assertions of good faith usage to stand.”
Add “sore loser” to “playground bully.” And “business disparagement?”
Mr. Baker’s defamation and “business disparagement” claims are premised on a combination of vague characterizations of Mr. Deshong’s speech or explicit references to statements of opinion and advocacy. For instance:
“Deshong’s stated purpose is not informational or in any way fair use. He admits in writing on-line that his purpose it to “deconstruct” the HIV INNOCENCE GROUP. He states that his goal is the economic destruction of Clark Baker and OMSJ. In his own words he states, “It is therefore the sole purpose of this site to provide the general public, and attorneys seeking Baker’s help, and any interested parties, the proof that Clark Baker’s Innocence project, now called the Innocence Group is a useless tool of AIDS denialist propaganda.” This stated purpose undermines any notion that the confusion Deshong causes and the infringement of OMSJ’s trade name is for any fair use or enjoys any protection thereunder. The admitted purpose is to economically destroy Baker and OMSJ.”
There’s more and it’s all very entertainingly detailed (and rebutted by Ken White) but the crux of the issue is clearly spelled out in Baker’s lawsuit.
Finally, Mr. Baker reveals the core of his: he thinks Mr. Deshong should not be allowed to say that AIDS denialism is a hoax:
“They allege that Plaintiff Baker is incompetent, that he knowingly makes false and misleading representations to the public, that his legal and scientific theories with regard to HIV are a hoax, that Baker’s reputation as a former LAPD police officer is misleading, and other personally disparaging remarks.”
This isn’t the first time that junk-science purveyors have filed lawsuits to shut critics up. Ken lists several other cases, including AIDS denialist Celia Farber who sued a critic (and lost), as well as one of the pioneers of the anti-vaccine movement, Andrew Wakefield, who sued his critics (and lost). There’s a pattern here, and that pattern doesn’t bode well for Clark Baker.
Despite the lousy track record of dubious persons suing their critics, and despite the fact that Baker’s case is full of holes, there’s still a chance that Deshong could lose, or if nothing else, spend a whole lot of money defending himself against bogus claims. Hence the Signal:
Todd Deshong needs help. He’s being sued for attacking junk science; he’s being sued by the sort of loathsome nutter who threatens the mothers of critics. Your freedom to speak without fear of censorious and frivolous litigation chilling you depends on the willingness of people to step up in situations like this. If nobody helps Todd Deshong, then anybody can be driven to penury by a flawed legal system that serves as a vehicle for despicable and un-American censorship by lunatics of every stripe.
This is the true danger of those unwilling to fight speech with speech and resort instead to legal threats in order to “win” arguments — a chill on expressing your opinions or taking on purveyors of bad ideas or pseudoscience on the internet battlefield. People who find their rhetoric stymied by the strong rebuttals of others resort to all sorts of logical fallacies and ad hom attacks, and when that fails to halt the flow of critical speech, they will often attempt to turn the legal system into a vehicle for censorship. Sometimes they even succeed. And each time they do, it raises hope in other blustering jackasses who feel your freedom of speech should be subject to their whims — or hurt feelings.