Angry Lawyer Already Engaged In A SLAPP Suit Promises To Sue More Critics, Use His Machine Gun If Sanctioned
from the well,-that'll-go-over-well dept
Earlier this year, we mentioned the Texas lawyer Jason Lee Van Dyke in relation to a story in which Twitter, ridiculously, banned Ken “Popehat” White after he wrote about threats from Van Dyke. We had written about Van Dyke years earlier when he sued the Tor Project because a revenge porn site was using Tor. We also noted that that case involved a guy who had been declared the leader of a hate group, Kyle Bristow — and appeared to involve Van Dyke deliberately and knowingly “serving” the wrong party. The revenge porn site that Van Dyke claimed he was targeting had sarcastically provided Bristow’s address as its address to mock Van Dyke, and Van Dyke then claimed he had properly “served” the revenge porn site by serving it on Bristow.
That post, from back in 2014, also included an awful lot of Van Dyke cursing out people and threatening to sue lots and lots of people. Oh, and also declaring “it’s my job to violate the civil rights of people like you” to one critic. The more recent story, involving threatening Ken White and Asher Langton, showed that not much has changed with regards to anger management and Van Dyke. I won’t rehash the entire story, but Ken White summarized it earlier this year. Just suffice it to say, Asher Langton turned up quite a bit of evidence suggesting that Van Dyke was advertising his legal services to white nationalists on Stormfront.
Since then, Van Dyke has, repeatedly, threatened to sue and (separately!) to physically harm both White and Langton. He’s also declared himself to be part of the “Proud Boys” — a nutty group of self-declared chauvinists, who get upset if you suggest they’re racists or neo-Nazis, even if many of the distinctions appear to be quite fuzzy. Either way, they appear to get quite upset if anyone calls them those things, even though the press regularly associates them with racists, neo-nazis or the “alt-right.”
Van Dyke has also threatened to sue a number of news organizations for these claims, and actually did sue a small local news site in Ohio called the Mockingbird. The Mockingbird published this article about Proud Boy antics in Ohio — which led Van Dyke to send Mockingbird a letter requesting the site delete the article, no longer write about the Proud Boys and pay $10,000. Mockingbird’s Gerry Bello responded appropriately, telling Van Dyke to fuck off, but also stating Bello’s opinion (backed up with evidence) that Van Dyke is a Nazi.
It is over this letter that Van Dyke then sued (not the original article that inspired the bumptious threat letter). The lawsuit was filed in county court in Denton, Texas, which seems unwise. Texas actually has a fairly robust anti-SLAPP law that the courts have construed broadly to cover all sorts of SLAPP suits, making Texas one of the strongest defenders of free speech in the country.
Anyway, you can read Van Dyke’s complaint here. Mockingbird removed the case from the local county court to the federal district court late last week (we’ll see if Van Dyke tries to block that). Van Dyke is representing himself. The crux of the lawsuit:
On information and belief, Defendants are associated with a domestic terrorist collective known as ?Antifa? that prides itself on harassing, defaming, and committing acts of violence against persons and groups that espouse conservative groups. In this instance, Defendants wrongfully accused members of the Houston, Texas and Columbus, Ohio chapters of ?The Proud Boys? of the following: (a) being ?neo-Nazis?; (b) engaging in a hate crime by placing hand-drawn swastikas into mailboxes; (c) engaging in ?ethnic cleansing? during hurricane relief efforts in the Houston area; and (d) roaming the nation in an effort to commit acts of mass murder against minorities. It should be noted in this case that Plaintiff was present with the Houston Proud Boys during Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and assisted them in rescuing residents in need of evacuation and in the distribution of relief supplies such as food, bottled water, cleaning supplies, and other items to residents of areas affected by the hurricane.
Plaintiff sent a demand letter for Defendants to issue a retraction of these statements (which clearly meet the criteria for defamation per se) and Defendants responded by publishing the letter attached hereto as Exhibit ?B? on their website
Because of all of this, Van Dyke insists Bello/Mockingbird have committed libel per se, specifically in reference to the statements about Van Dyke being a Nazi, as well as statements Bello made claiming Van Dyke had a previous arrest and conviction. Bello claims this was “on weapons charges and domestic violence.” Van Dyke counters that it was a misdemeanor weapons charge — not domestic violence — and has since been expunged. He also claims that Bello wondering if Van Dyke is forum shopping his lawsuit is defamatory, as might also be Bello’s statement that under his conviction Van Dyke should not be allowed to possess firearms. Amusingly, in Van Dyke’s lawsuit, he also disputes that he was the lawyer pitching for business on Stormfront, but insists that he’s not suing over that because it’s not libel “per se.”
It does appear that Bello certainly goes a bit closer to the line than I imagine most lawyers would advise in making statements about Van Dyke, but the “Nazi” line is clearly protected opinion or rhetorical hyperbole. The throwaway line about forum shopping is clearly not defamatory either. The statement about whether he can possess firearms was presented as a question rather than a statement, so again is a stretch. As for getting the specific details of the conviction wrong, Bello doesn’t cite where he got that information, but it is true — as Van Dyke readily admits — that he was convicted on a misdemeanor firearm charge. So Van Dyke would have to show that Bello not only got things wrong beyond that in a defamatory way, but that Bello knew the information he posted was false. That’s… a tough bar to reach.
Bello/Mockingbird’s “Original Answer” is fairly short on details, other than denying all the claims and (for now) throwing out all possible affirmative defenses (I assume a more specific answer will be forthcoming later). Bello’s lawyer has also said that they’ll file an anti-SLAPP motion, though that does not appear to have happened yet.
Meanwhile, Bello has launched a crowdfunding campaign as well.
Oh, and we’re not even remotely done yet. A few weeks back, Van Dyke also got into a Twitter spat with, of all people, Talib Kweli. While the conversation is now gone (in part because Twitter recently suspended Van Dyke’s account), here’s how Kweli describes it:
?His first tweet to me was that he was a defense attorney and worked with mentally challenged people,? explained Kweli. ?He wrote, ?You are stupider than the mentally challenged people I work with,? and so that caught my eye immediately, because why would a defense attorney be upset at a black stranger and starting using his own clients to engage in harassment??
Kweli responded to the tweet, explaining that he doesn?t start arguments, but is willing to engage when challenged. ?And so, I engaged him,? he said. ?And the way I engage people who harass me like that is I always ask them to explain their position, because if you ask a racist or a bigot to explain their position, it falls apart.?
As this went on, Kweli eventually posted Van Dyke’s publicly available business contact info — and, not unlike Ken White, Twitter stupidly temporarily suspended Kweli’s account, because (again) Twitter is bad at understanding the difference between abuse and calling out abuse. Over the last few months and weeks, Van Dyke has been ranting about Kweli, Langton and White. He even wrote up and posted completely made up stories about Langton and White, calling them satire. It seems like he thinks he’s proving a point, though what point is unclear.
As for why Van Dyke was finally suspended from Twitter, it was apparently for tweeting a pretty gruesomely horrible racist tweet — involving both the n-word and a noose. In the HuffPo article, they spoke to the president of the Texas state bar, who does not seem happy about Van Dyke’s actions:
?The statements attributed to this individual are reprehensible and contrary to the values we hold as Texas lawyers,? State Bar of Texas president Tom Vick said in an email to HuffPost. ?I condemn them in the strongest terms.?
Meanwhile, Van Dyke has been posting (on various other social networks) increasingly angry messages about Kweli — many of which have pretty clear racist overtones, and some of which include threats of violence. He complains about Kweli being “uppity” while promising to beat him and skin him alive. He compares Talib to Amadou Diallo, the man assassinated by the NYPD in 1999. He also says that Talib will have to change his name to “Toby”, a pretty damn likely reference to the famous scene in Roots in which Kunta Kinte is whipped by his owner, until he says his name is Toby — at which point the owner says “Aye, that’s a good n****r.” So, yeah. If Van Dyke is trying to portray himself as not being racist, he’s not doing a very good job of it so far.
Holy shit. pic.twitter.com/w99aBStoP8
— Asher Langton (@AsherLangton) November 18, 2017
— Asher Langton (@AsherLangton) November 18, 2017
This seems police worthy pic.twitter.com/0BOKgS3FsN
— tristan *vince* vaughan anthony (@shiftevil) November 18, 2017
And, because Van Dyke never seems to find the bottom of the hole he keeps digging, Asher Langton posted the following screenshot of Van Dyke not only promising to sue White, Langton, Kweli and the Huffington Post today, but also saying that he doesn’t care if he gets disbarred or sanctioned, and if they do he’ll defend himself with a gun.
— Asher Langton (@AsherLangton) November 17, 2017
If you can’t see that, it says:
No longer welcome where I’ve trained for years. This is the final straw. Langton, White, Kweli, HuffPo – they are all getting sued first thing Monday morning. This ends now. They can disbar me if they want, I don’t give a damn. If they sanction me, my property is defended with a 50 BMG.
I’m guessing that the Texas bar might not like that one so much either — nor any court where these lawsuits may be filed. Of course, we saw similar threats in what we posted about Van Dyke years ago as well, which did not lead to lawsuits. This time, he has sued Bello and Mockingbird, though, so perhaps he will attempt to follow through on these other threats also. Apparently he has sent Mockingbird/Bello’s lawyer the following email, asking to amend the original complaint to raise the damages from $60,000 to $10 million and to add White, Langton, Kwelli, Huffington Post and Andy Campbell (the author of the HuffPo piece).
It is, at the very least, unclear how he thinks any of this helps him rather than digging him deeper and deeper into a hole. As far as I can tell, Van Dyke seems upset that he’s facing the consequences of his own actions — which include threats of violence and lawsuits in addition to a variety of other highly questionable statements. And rather than recognize that perhaps he shouldn’t do those things, he’s responding to people who document his own statements by doing even more of the same, which only continues the cycle. We’ll see if he’s actually foolish enough to follow through on this lawsuit. It is unlikely to end well. Not only are there unlikely to be any legitimate claims, it makes no sense to add them to this other lawsuit, which is about an entirely different set of statements. Randomly joining together other people who have called you out separately hardly seems like good lawyering. It does, however, remind us of Rakofsky v. the Internet, in which a young (and not very good) lawyer sued basically everyone who criticized him. It didn’t end well. And, of course, that one didn’t include threats of violence mixed in.
I suspect he’s not interested in taking our advice — he has regularly mocked Techdirt any time we’ve written about him — but there’s a time when the correct response is to stop digging. Suing people for calling you out won’t end well. Threatening violence, repeatedly, over criticism is not a good look, especially for a lawyer.