Following the Boston Marathon bombing last year, Glenn Beck set out on a mission to prove that the government was engaged in a massive conspiracy to cover up the truth, during which he repeatedly asserted that one of the victims who was injured in the attack was really an al Qaeda operative responsible for the bombing.
In the weeks following the bombing, Beck repeatedly insisted that Abdul Rahman Ali Alharbi, a spectator who was briefly considered to be a “person of interest” by investigators though quickly exonerated, was really an al Qaeda “control agent” and the “money man” who had financed the entire operation and had recruited the Tsarnaev brothers to carry it out.
In response to these unfounded claims, Alharbi eventually sued Beck for defamation and slander, and Beck’s lawyers responded by trying to get the lawsuit thrown out on the grounds that Alharbi was “involuntary public figure” which would require Alharbi to prove not simply that Beck made false accusations against him, but that he did so with “actual malice.”
Of course, it was Beck himself who continued to focus attention on Alharbi, meaning that Beck’s legal team was essentially arguing that Alharbi became a public figure as a result of Beck’s attacks … which they said means that Alharbi cannot now sue Beck for those very same attacks because he was a public figure.
Needless to say, this novel legal argument did not get very far with the federal judge hearing the case:
A federal judge has rejected a bid by conservative commentator Glenn Beck to toss out a libel lawsuit filed by a Saudi student Beck repeatedly accused of funding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
In a ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris said the suit brought by Abdulrahman Alharbi could go forward notwithstanding claims by Beck, his website The Blaze.com, and firms connected to his radio show that the Saudi’s role in events near the finish line of the marathon made him a public figure. If deemed a public figure, Alharbi would have found it difficult or impossible to proceed with the suit since he would need proof of actual malice: namely, that Beck intentionally lied or recklessly disregarded the truth.
“Choosing to attend a sporting event as one of thousands of spectators is not the kind of conduct that a reasonable person would expect to result in publicity. Quite to the contrary, a spectator at an event like the Boston Marathon would reasonably expect to disappear into the throngs of others, never attracting notice by the press. Because he did not ‘assume the risk of publicity,’ Alharbi does not meet the definition of an involuntary public figure,” the judge wrote.
Saris went on to note that Beck continued to level allegations at the Saudi student for several weeks after authorities made clear Alharbi was no longer under investigation.
“Even if a private person meets the definition of an involuntary public figure as a matter of bad luck during a public controversy, the status is of limited duration.