When Infowars and Alex Jones were slapped with a default judgment for their years-long smearing of the Sandy Hook families in October, I believed that it would likely have the effect of putting them out of business. Now it looks like another deplorable agitprop shop may be the next to be potentially sued into oblivion: Gateway Pundit and its impresario, Jim Hoft.
For much of December 2020 and January 2021 (and beyond), Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, were the target of a vicious trolling campaign that falsely accused them of being part of a nonexistent plot to steal Georgia for Joe Biden. This campaign originated in articles run by Hoft, a man long reckoned as “the dumbest man on the Internet.” Now Freeman and Moss are suing; from my non-lawyer’s perspective, they could potentially drive Gateway Pundit out of existence.
Freeman and Moss accuse Hoft and his twin brother Joe of orchestrating “a campaign of lies” that triggered a vicious campaign of “intimidation, harassment and threats.” As NBC News reports, the saga started in December, after Trump campaign lawyer Jacki Pick claimed on Dec. 3 that an election worker named “Ruby” hid a suitcase of ballots under a table.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation quickly called BS on Pick’s claim. Of course, the deplorable fever swamp being the deplorable fever swamp, that wasn’t enough to stop the rumors. Once Hoft published Freeman’s name, accusing her of “counting illegal ballots from a suitcase stashed under a table,” this triggered what NBC News calls “a feedback loop” of disinformation that went all the way to the Trump White House.
On Dec. 22, then-President Trump tweeted a segment from conservative cable news channel OANN featuring Gateway Pundit’s writing, which the site dubbed an “investigation.” The tweet, which just featured the video without comment from Trump, received hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets.
Trump even went as far as to refer to Freeman by name in his now-infamous attempted shakedown of Raffensperger on Jan. 2, calling her “a professional vote scammer and hustler.”
Freeman and Moss accuse the Hofts of making most of 2021 pure hell.
At the height of the harassment, Freeman said strangers twice attempted to push into her home to “make a citizens’ arrest,” the lawsuit alleges. Freeman was eventually forced to shutter her business and flee her home for two months at the recommendation of the FBI, the suit says.
“The toll of all this on your life, day in and day out, it wears on you. I go to church and I know that God is my keeper, so I’m keeping my head up. But the impact is still there. For example, when I’m out in public and I hear someone call my name, I jump. Just hearing my name scares me.”
Mother Jones notes that the pro-Trump outlet published “dozens” of stories about the pair, up to and including in November 2021, and dives a little deeper into the impact of Gateway Pundit’s targeted campaign against them.
For Moss and Freeman, the fallout was devastating. After retiring from her job as an emergency call coordinator, Freeman had started a small boutique that sold fashion accessories online, but she was forced to shutter that businesswhen her social media accounts were flooded with threats and racist messages.
According to a Reuters investigation that detailed the harassment, Freeman’s home address was posted on social media platforms, and Trump supporters publicly called for her execution. Strangers camped outside Freeman’s home and ordered pizza for delivery to lure her outside. Photos of Moss’ car and license plate were posted online. On two occasions, Moss told NPR, strangers attempted to force their way into her grandmother’s house—where Freeman used to live—and make a “citizen’s arrest.” One particularly graphic comment underneath a Gateway Pundit article called for the two Black women to be “strung up from the nearest lamppost and set on fire.”
The two women didn’t have enough money to hire private security, as the Fulton County police chief suggested, and Freeman was eventually forced to go into hiding. Reuters reported that she moved between Airbnbs and that she had stopped using credit cards for fear of revealing her location.
It got so bad that Freeman and Moss had to change their phone numbers and go off social media. They not only want actual and punitive damages, but want all of the smears about them deleted, and a formal statement acknowledging that Gateway Pundit’s coverage of them was false.
On the face of it, the women have the chance to really draw blood, and then some. They’re private citizens, remember. Situations like this are why private citizens only have to prove negligence.
In a statement via Protect Democracy, who represents the women, Freeman made her goals clear.
“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. 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.”
It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Freeman and Moss can drive Gateway Pundit out of business, and it would seem that the disinformation twins are also concerned. In the wake of Freeman and Moss’ lawsuit, Jim Hoft begged his loyal readers for financial assistance; as of Saturday morning, the right-wing fundraiser has managed to grift over $81,000.
This situation has a lot of parallels to another right-wing pseudojournalist who had his mic shut off for good. Back in 2017, GotNews, the doxing platform masquerading as a news site run by longtime far-right provocateur, Charles C. “Chuck” Johnson, falsely accused Joel Vangheluwe of driving the car that plowed into the counterprotesters in Charlottesville and killed Heather Heyer. In reality, Vangheluwe was merely one of several previous owners of the vehicle. In 2018, Johnson and GotNews agreed to pay a total of $29,900 to the Vangheluwe family. GotNews abruptly went offline that August—hardly a coincidence. In 2019, GotNews filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection—and Johnson hasn’t been heard from since.
The Hofts could potentially suffer the same fate. It would be a welcome and long overdue outcome, considering their own history of falsely smearing innocent people. Earlier this year, Gateway Pundit was kicked off Twitter as part of the post-insurrection purge. But it didn’t feel like nearly enough.
Hopefully Freeman and Moss can drive them offline altogether.