As pro-life Catholic teen Nick Sandmann presses on with his defamation suit against the Washington Post, attorneys for several of his classmates have filed another defamation suit naming multiple public figures for their misrepresentations of an infamous confrontation at the January March for Life.
Immediately following the pro-life event in Washington, D.C., the press erupted with claims that a video showed boys from Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School harassing Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, outside the Lincoln Memorial. But additional extended video and firsthand accounts soon revealed that Phillips was the one who waded into the group waiting for its bus and decided to beat a drum inches from Sandmann's face, while members of the Black Hebrew Israelites fringe group shouted racial taunts at the kids.
The kids had been performing school cheers in an attempt to drown out the harassment and did not respond to adults' insults and abuse in kind, nor did they chant "build the wall," as had been widely claimed.
As additional video came to light, many journalists and public figures quickly deleted their snap condemnations of the students. Others either tried to keep the original narrative alive or refused to unequivocally retract or apologize for their initial claims, leading attorneys representing the students to threaten numerous defamation suits.
Last Thursday, attorneys Robert Barnes and Kevin Murphy filed a defamation suit in Kentucky's Kenton County Circuit Court against twelve public figures on behalf of eight unnamed Covington students, Law & Crime reports.
The targets are Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Deb Haaland, CNN's Ana Navarro, the New York Times' Maggie Haberman, comedian Kathy Griffin, ABC News's Matthew Dowd, ex-CNN personality Reza Aslan, Kentucky entrepreneur Adam Edelen, Princeton University's Kevin Kruse, left-wing activist Shaun King, Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery, and Rewire editor-in-chief Jodi Jacobson.
"Several of our Senators, most-famous celebrities, and widely read journalists, collectively used their large social media platforms, perceived higher credibility and public followings to lie and libel minors they never met, based on an event they never witnessed," the lawsuit declares. "These defendants called for the kids to be named and shamed, doxxed and expelled, and invited public retaliation against these minors from a small town in Kentucky.
"The defendants circulated false statements about them to millions of people around the world," it continues. "The video of the entire event, known to the defendants, exposed all of their factual claims against the kids as lies. The defendants were each individually offered the opportunity to correct, delete, and/or apologize for their false statements, but each refused, continuing to circulate the false statements about these children to this very day on their social media platforms they personally control."
Among the defendants' commentary was Warren claiming that Phillips "endured hateful taunts," Griffin demanding that the teens be publicly identified in order to "shame them," Haberman tweeting that students were "egging on" unspecified mistreatment of Phillips, Aslan tweeting that Sandmann had a "punchable face" (then defending the tweet), and Jacobson insisting that "white journalists" were "rushing to excuse a clearly racist incident."
Rewire and Edelen declined to comment on the suit for L&C, but the New York Times responded that the suit is "entirely without merit."
Earlier this year, Barnes announced to the offending parties that tweeting a public apology would suffice to avoid a lawsuit:
"No individual plaintiff seeks damages from any defendant in excess of the cost of a four-year tuition at the University of Kentucky," the suit says. "Plaintiffs file this Complaint for neither fame nor fortune; they bring this suit to protect future families from experiencing the nightmare the defendants caused these kids to experience."
The news follows a federal district judge dismissing Sandmann's defamation suit against the Washington Post. Sandmann's attorney, Lin Wood, says his legal team will appeal. In the meantime, Barnes tells L&C he believes that the latest suit has greater odds of success.
"Kentucky law makes it more difficult to sue institutions than individuals in the context of libel law," Barnes explains. "Additionally, the major media institutions almost all issued corrections per my request, as defined under Kentucky law. Finally, we are only suing the most egregious high-profile individuals who inflicted the most harm & refuse to issue corrections."