False allegation of Georgia election fraud draws defamation lawsuit

201203-Atlanta- Jacki Pick points out what she considered suspicious activity on surveillance video of the Fulton County absentee vote counting room as she and Rudy Giuliani address a subcommittee of the state Senate judiciary committee at the State Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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201203-Atlanta- Jacki Pick points out what she considered suspicious activity on surveillance video of the Fulton County absentee vote counting room as she and Rudy Giuliani address a subcommittee of the state Senate judiciary committee at the State Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

The Gateway Pundit sued over State Farm Arena conspiracy theory

A right-wing website that repeatedly promoted a debunked allegation of election fraud at State Farm Arena in 2020 is being sued for defamation.

The lawsuit against The Gateway Pundit was filed Thursday by two election workers who became victims of threats and harassment after Donald Trump and his supporters spread the website’s false claims of wrongdoing.

Multiple articles by The Gateway Pundit promoted a conspiracy theory that Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss had rigged the election by counting absentee ballots stored in hidden “suitcases” late on election night.

Election investigators have said they saw no improprieties in the video, which is available for the public to see on a secretary of state’s website. The video shows Freeman and Moss packing, unpacking and counting absentee ballots from official ballot containers, not suitcases.

“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,” Freeman, a temporary employee during last year’s elections, said in a statement. “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.”

The Gateway Pundit published articles with headlines such as “CROOKED GEORGIA ELECTIONS SUPERVIS0R filmed pulling out suitcases of ballots from beneath table” and “NEW VIDEO shows anti-Trump Georgia ballot counter Ruby Freeman with piles of ballots.”

Attorneys supporting Trump, including Rudy Giuliani and Jacki Pick, highlighted parts of the video during a livestreamed state Senate hearing Dec. 3, exposing their claims to a worldwide audience.

Trump said Freeman’s name 18 times during his Jan. 2 phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urging him to “find” enough votes to reverse the outcome of the election.

Then a crowd surrounded Freeman’s house and used a bullhorn on Jan. 6, the day of the deadly riots in Washington as the Electoral College accepted the election results. Several times, strangers knocked on her door.

Freeman fled her home at the recommendation of the FBI and didn’t return for two months, according to the lawsuit. She shut down her online business, a pop-up clothing boutique, because she was unable to conduct online marketing through social media without facing harassment.

Freeman and Moss are suing for damages, with the amount “to be determined at trial.”

The Gateway Pundit and its co-publishers, James and Joseph Hoft, didn’t return a message seeking comment Thursday.

The video of State Farm Arena displays the sequence of events that became a conspiracy theory alleging widespread ballot fraud.

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A black ballot box used for holding mail-in ballots. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

A black ballot box used for holding mail-in ballots. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
caption arrowCaption
A black ballot box used for holding mail-in ballots. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Around 10 p.m., empty black ballot containers arrive, and election workers begin placing trays of uncounted absentee ballots inside. Workers were packing ballots because they were going to go home for the night and resume counting the following day, said Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer of the secretary of state’s office.

Then most election workers left the arena around 10:30 p.m., though a few stayed behind. A few minutes later, election observers and media departed.

After Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger heard Fulton was planning to stop counting for the evening, state election officials contacted county officials and asked them to continue working. At 11 p.m., election workers unpacked the same ballot boxes they had sealed less than an hour earlier and resumed counting for two more hours.

No one told election observers to leave, Chief Elections Investigator Frances Watson said in a sworn affidavit. They simply left on their own after they saw election workers exit the room.

“Lies like those that The Gateway Pundit knowingly told about Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss cannot be divorced from the devastation they leave behind — both for the targeted individuals and for our democracy itself,” said Brittany Williams, counsel at Protect Democracy, an organization representing Freeman and Moss in the lawsuit.

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