The family of a teenager filmed in a viral video last month that drove a partisan propaganda war online has filed a lawsuit against The Washington Post, and comments made by a right-wing pundit last month suggested that the legal action may be bankrolled by a single wealthy GOP donor. Right Wing Watch has been unable to confirm the claim, made by teen right-wing pundit CJ Pearson on January 23, 2019.
The family of 16-year-old Nicholas Sandmann is suing The Washington Post for $250 million, alleging that the paper defamed him for political purposes. The teenager was featured most prominently in a viral video depicting Covington Catholic High School students appearing to ridicule an indigenous demonstrator, though the context and nature of that exchange have been intensely disputed. The legal action comes in the wake of a multi-level public relations campaign against reporters who shared the video and described its contents as racist. The Wrap reports that numerous First Amendment lawyers say the lawsuit has a slim chance of being successful.
In response to my noting on Twitter that the lawsuit is allegedly being supported by a single major donor, “Culttture,” a blog offshoot from the same media circle that was calling itself the “New Right” last year, posted that the remark that a single donor was footing legal bills was a “bizarre claim” and wrote that it was “factually false.”
But that allegation came directly from a right-wing media source. In a Periscope livestream last month, Pearson said he was working with some of the teenagers from Covington Catholic High School regarding fallout from the viral video of the incident, which has included, according to Pearson, his compilation of a record of people who made negative remarks about the students in the video in order to “fuel” a “litigation effort” on behalf of the kids. That effort had partially raised money for court fees, but Pearson said that because a “generous donor” came forward to fund those expenses, the fundraiser ended up benefiting Students for Life instead.
“We wanted to do the GoFundMe … to cover their legal expenses and PR stuff but we got, like, such a generous donor who came up and that was all covered. So basically, a lot of the lawyers are pro bono, but of course there’s filing fees with all the court costs and all that stuff, so we wanted to get that out of the way. We got that out of the way with one big donor and then they were like ‘Let’s just donate 100 percent to Students for Life,'” Pearson said.
He added later in the video, “My goal here is to bankrupt fake news. That is my goal.”
Similar suits against media outlets have been brought forth by major GOP figures–most notably, Peter Thiel waged war on Gawker, who outed Thiel as gay in 2007, by secretly funding lawsuits that led to the site’s destruction. Donald Trump has an ongoing feud with Jeff Bezos, owner of both the Post and Amazon, because of the Post’s investigative coverage of his campaign and administration. Bezos recently exposed an apparent blackmail attempt by the National Enquirer, owned by Trump pal David Pecker.
Right Wing Watch reached out to Pearson via email last month after he made these remarks but did not receive a reply.