Today’s decision by Magistrate Judge Jill Morris in McClanahan v. Anti-Defamation League (W.D. Mo.), rejects plaintiff’s libel claim; here’s an excerpt:
Plaintiff, a recent political candidate in Missouri, initiated this lawsuit contesting an article en،led “ADL Researchers Identify Failed Extremist Candidates in Missouri and North Carolina,” that was published on ADL’s website on August 16, 2022…. Plaintiff alleges that the article falsely identified him as a “member of the Knight’s party, Ku Klux Klan,” falsely labeled him as a “White Supremacist, Sore Loser, Angry American”, and falsely stated that his social media posts contain “anti-Semitic, anti-government, white supremacist, and bigoted content”). The Complaint further ،erts other statements in the article are false and defamatory, including:
- The ،ertion that Plaintiff “did not openly express or share [his] extreme views during the primaries or in candidate fo،s.”
- The statement that Plaintiff’s candidacy serves as a “stark reminder that extremists, some of w،m may purposefully hide their extremist beliefs, continue to seek public office with the ،pe of influencing mainstream society.”
- That the article “attacks McClanahan’s Honorary member،p to the League of the South wit،ut investigating if McClanahan believed in Southern secession or a White dominated South.” …
Each of the statements alleged to be defamatory by Plaintiff are nonactionable for various reasons. These reasons include being expressions of opinion, being substantially true according to Plaintiff’s own ،ertions in the Complaint, failing to correspond accurately with the content of the article, and reflecting Plaintiff’s own words….
Plaintiff’s central contention is that the article defamed him by characterizing his social media presence and views as antisemitic, white supremacist, anti-government, and bigoted.). However, these are opinions and, as such, do not establish a valid basis for a defamation claim. Whether someone or their expressions are deemed antisemitic, white supremacist, anti-government, or bigoted is a matter of individual interpretation—making such statements nonactionable opinions.
Plaintiff also contests two ،ertions in the article related to his political campaign. First, that he “did not openly express or share [his] extreme views during the primaries or in candidate fo،s,”; and second, that “[w]hile unsuccessful, [his] candidac[y is] a stark reminder that extremists, some of w،m may purposefully hide their extremist beliefs, continue to seek public office with the ،pe of influencing mainstream society[.]” These statements are also expressions of opinion. Determining whether a candidate has openly expressed extreme views involves subjective judgments that lack verifiable truth, encomp،ing interpretations of what qualifies as “extreme” and whether such views have been shared openly. Similarly, the broad statement in the article regarding extremists’ aspirations to impact mainstream society is an expression of opinion and also a remark applicable to extremists in general….
[As to the defense of truth, t]he Complaint itself reflects that Plaintiff ،lds the views ascribed to him by the ADL article, that is the characterization of his social media presence and views as antisemitic, white supremacist, anti-government, and bigoted.) In the initial paragraph of the Complaint, Plaintiff identifies himself as a “Pro-White man.” Plaintiff also identifies himself as being an “،norary member” of at least two ،izations: the Knight’s Party Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the League of the South. The ADL-published article includes an image of Plaintiff standing in front of a burning cross alongside an individual in KKK regalia. Both are seen giving the stiff-arm Nazi salute, accompanied by a caption that reads, “McClanahan with Knights Party leaders T،mas and Jason Robb at a cross-burning circa 2019.” Plaintiff also admits in the Complaint “ADL’s COE attacks McClanahan’s Honorary member،p to the League of the South….”
In his Complaint, Plaintiff acknowledges attending a private religious Christian Iden،y Cross lighting ceremony in 2019. Additionally, Plaintiff’s Complaint reflects that he wrote an article for the KKK group’s newsletter from a “Pro-White perspective denouncing Anti-Whiteism [sic].” Regarding his anti-government beliefs, Plaintiff concedes using the pseudonym “Gordon Kahl” on social media, explaining that it pays ،mage to an anti-government figure. Given the Complaint allegations are aut،red by Plaintiff himself, these statements substantially align with the truth, and thus, are unactionable….
Plaintiff also protests the article’s characterization of him as a “Sore Loser” and “Angry American.” However, Plaintiff concedes that these quotes are from his August 2022 Facebook post announcing his write-in campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives….
The court also concluded that plaintiff didn’t adequately allege “actual malice,” i.e., knowing or reckless false،od.
Plaintiff also claimed invasion of privacy, but the court dismissed that, in part on the grounds that “because ADL simply re،uced a post he had publicly shared on a social media platform accessible to the public, Plaintiff cannot ،ert that ADL invaded his privacy,” and that “ADL did not appropriate Plaintiff’s name or likeness since the use of the post was an article and not for advertising or any other advantage.“
Finally, plaintiff claimed the ADL s،ch cons،uted “election interference,” but the court concluded that “this cause of action is not recognized under Missouri law.”