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Gateway Pundit accused of purposely delaying defamation case involving false fraud claims

By: - October 12, 2023 10:03 am

Jim Hoft, founder of The Gateway Pundit, talks with Stephen K. Bannon while appearing on an episode of Brietbart News Daily on SiriusXM Patriot at Quicken Loans Arena on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio (Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM).

The St. Louis-based website being sued by former Georgia election workers for defamation is being accused of purposely delaying discovery in the case to forestall a jury trial. 

In a motion filed in St. Louis Circuit Court last week, attorneys for Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss asked a judge to set an August 2024 trial date, as well as allow for depositions of at least 20 people involved in a series of stories published by The Gateway Pundit accusing plaintiffs of election fraud. 

The Gateway Pundit, founded by brothers Jim and Joe Hoft, was sued for defamation and emotional distress by Freeman and Moss in 2021. They contend the right-wing site published debunked stories accusing them of election fraud that resulted in threats of violence, many tinged with racial slurs.

Freeman and Moss’ attorneys say the Hofts have “repeatedly delayed discovery in this matter,” including by “failing to comply with the court’s discovery orders; failing to abide by their discovery obligations… and filing not just an improper counterclaim but also several meritless motions.”

The Hofts are represented by the Las Vegas law firm of Marc Randazza, who in the past has represented numerous far-right figures, including Alex Jones of InfoWars and Andrew Anglin of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. He declined to comment when reached via email this week.

Freeman and Moss worked as election workers in Atlanta in 2020 when a top adviser to former President Donald Trump — ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — testified to a state Senate committee that Georgia election officials had counted illegal ballots to steal the presidency for Joe Biden. 

The allegations were quickly debunked by government officials and the media, but they still reverberated through right-wing media outlets.

Soon after Giuliani’s testimony in Georgia, the Gateway Pundit identified Freeman as one of the election workers accused of producing and counting 18,000 hidden, fraudulent ballots from a suitcase.

“What’s Up, Ruby,” the site’s headline read that day. “BREAKING: Crooked Operative Filmed Pulling Out Suitcases of Ballots in Georgia IS IDENTIFIED.”

A month after the initial allegations, Trump himself singled out Freeman by name in a call with Georgia officials pressing them to alter the state’s election results. The Gateway Pundit bragged in an article about the call that the site was “first to identify” Freeman and Moss in the “suitcase fraud scandal that was caught on tape and went viral online.”

The former president’s supporters went on the attack. 

Freeman and Moss say they were almost immediately bombarded with threats of violence, many tinged with racial slurs. Under advice from the FBI, Freeman says she had to flee her home. On Jan. 6, 2021 — the day of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — Freeman said her home was surrounded by Trump supporters shouting through bullhorns.

Moss says strangers tried to get into her grandmother’s home to make a “citizen’s arrest.”

Gateway Pundit would go on to publish numerous stories about Freeman and Moss, with headlines like: “WHERE’S BILL BARR? — We Got Your Voter Fraud AG Barr — It’s On Video and They Attempted to Steal Georgia with It! — HOW ABOUT A FEW ARRESTS?” 

“It’s turned my life upside down,” Moss testified last year to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Moss and Freeman also sued Giuliani over the false accusation, and in August he conceded in a carefully worded court filing that his assertions about Georgia election workers committing fraud during the 2020 presidential race were false. 

The Hofts argue that any stories published by the Gateway Pundit regarding Freeman and Moss were “either statements of opinion based on disclosed facts or statements of rhetorical hyperbole that no reasonable reader is likely to interpret as a literal statement of fact.”

Rhetorical hyperbole, the Hofts argue, “cannot form the basis of defamation and related tort claims.” 

A legal standard set in a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision states that public officials must establish actual malice — or reckless disregard of the truth — before recovering defamation damages. In this case, the Hofts say the plaintiffs are “limited purpose public figures,” and must prove actual malice to claim defamation. 

The Hofts filed a counterclaim in the case alleging the lawsuit against them is solely intended to drive the Gateway Pundit out of business.

“It is a form of political lawfare,” the Hofts’ counterclaim states, “and lacks legal merit.” 

The counterclaim was dismissed earlier this year. 

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.