Two Georgia election activists who became the target of conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election are suing The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website, as part of a widespread effort to sow doubts about the integrity of the vote. Wrong information published about them.
Election activist Ruby Freeman, a retired 911 call center worker, and her daughter, Shay Moss, allege in the lawsuit that Jim and Joe Hoft, twin brothers who work for and write for The Gateway Pundit, “lied launched a campaign”. “A flood of intimidation, harassment and threats have forced them to change their phone numbers, delete their online accounts and fear for their physical safety.”
Freeman and his daughter became central figures in many conspiracy theories circulated among conservatives in the months following the election. Other subjects of similar principles – particularly those that make voting machines – have also launched lawsuits targeted at media companies that spread misleading or outright evidence-free claims about their role in elections.
The articles by a Gateway pundit named Freeman gave rise to a feedback loop of allegations that involved President Donald Trump and other conservative media outlets.
Hofts did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A month after an article appeared on the Gateway Pundit website accusing Freeman of “counting illegal ballots from a suitcase placed under a table.” Former President Donald Trump referred to him by name during his phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Rauffensberger on January 2. On the call, Trump called Freeman “a vote scammer, a professional vote scammer and hustler.” (Trump is not named in the lawsuit.)
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At the height of the harassment, Freeman said that strangers twice attempted to push into her home to “arrest citizens,” the lawsuit alleges. On the recommendation of the FBI, Freeman was eventually forced to close his business and run away from his home for two months, the suit says.
“People have said the most despicable and violent and racist things about me and my family — over the phone, on my social media accounts, over email, and in person. Things you wouldn’t believe,” said Freeman, who is a Black Yes, said in a statement.
“The toll of all this on your life, day after day, it takes on you. I go to church and I know God is my protector, so I’m keeping my head up. But the effect is still there.” For example, when I’m out in public and I hear someone calling my name, I jump up. Just hearing my name scares me.”
Gateway Pundit’s articles began when he identified Freeman in a surveillance video from a Georgia polling station First presented by Trump campaign lawyer Jackie Pick To the State Senate of Georgia on December 3. Pick claimed that “somebody had the name Ruby on their shirt” who found a “suitcase” full of ballots “under the table”.
A spokesman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The claims were quickly dismissed by both the Georgia Secretary of State and its Bureau of Investigation, who said there was no suitcase. Election workers, who had previously been told to stop counting ballots and pack up for the night, were asked to resume counting ballots, and Freeman simply continued with his work.
But the conspiracy theory persisted with QAnon influencers on pro-Trump websites and on social media, eventually prompting Hoft to publish Freeman’s name. On December 22, then-President Trump tweeted a segment from conservative cable news channel OANN featuring Gateway Pundit’s writings, which the site dubbed an “investigation”. The tweet, which featured the video without comment from Trump, garnered hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets.
Gateway Pundit articles continued to accuse Freeman and Moss of voter fraud throughout the spring and summer.
Freeman and Moss are being represented by the non-profit Protect Democracy, as well as the law firms DuBoss Miller, Dowd Bennett, and Kastorf Law, and Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. They are seeking the removal of articles and statements declaring Freeman and Moss’s coverage of Gateway Pundit as false, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
Freeman said in a statement that she “can’t imagine going back to election work.”
“At the time I decided to work for the county, I did it because I thought I could help and because I knew I could do the job well,” she said. “I didn’t know it would turn out like this.”
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