Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is pretty much the worst. The prominent anti-vaxxer (see here, here, and here, and also here and here as his family runs away from him), anti-masker, and anti-sound health policy scion of the famous family has done incredible damage to our ability to weather and emerge from this global pandemic, making common cause with Republicans like Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to spread their anti-science, pro-COVID-19 message. Indeed, the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that just 12 people were responsible for 65% of all the COVID-19 misinformation on social media, including 73% of misinformation on Facebook. And No. 2 on their list? Kennedy and his Q-style-named organization, Children’s Health Defense.
But Kennedy isn’t content just spreading dangerous, life-threatening misinformation and lies. You know how crazy California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes sued a parody Twitter account to try and unmask the author, with Trump Justice Department help? Well, Kennedy has sued Daily Kos to unmask the identity of a community diarist for writing a story attacking him for attending an anti-mask rally in Berlin that was heavily planned, promoted, and attended by Nazis. And Daily Kos lost the first legal round in court, thanks to a judge who is apparently unconcerned with First Amendment ramifications given the chilling effect of her ruling.
The full case history, and all filings, can be found here. Here is my affidavit expressing why it’s important for Daily Kos to protect the pseudonymity of its community, boiling down to this simple conclusion: “It is essential that Daily Kos take all efforts to ensure that a registered user may maintain anonymity. This is because some of the participants in our community would be subject to adverse treatment, for example in the workplace, and in some instances even physical harm to themselves and their family if their Daily Kos identity was revealed.” We take that seriously, which is why we’ve been fighting this case and will continue to do so.
We are, of course, appealing. But this is also me reiterating everything that community member wrote, and expanding on it. And so instead of going after a pseudonymous community writer/diarist on this site, maybe Kennedy will drop that pointless lawsuit and go after me. No guarantees, of course. He’s a coward who has avoided going after major news organizations like Reuters and The New York Times that are writing the same stories. But we’re certainly not done legally fighting him. In fact, consider this an escalation. Because yes, Kennedy cavorts with Nazis. And so let me explain, in detail, from the top.
The community story in question is this one: “Anti-Vaxxer RFK JR. joins neo-Nazis in massive Berlin ‘Anti-Corona’ Protest,” by DowneastDem. The story was a translation of a German-language news story about the event.
The protest was organized by right-wing extremist organizations- including the AfD party and various anti-Semitic conspiracy groups as well as the neo-Nazi NPD party.
Among the speakers was Robert F. Kennedy Jr.. who warned against the “totalitarianism” of Angela Merkel.
“He sounded the alarm concerning the 5G mobile network and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Referring to the famous Berlin speech of his uncle JFK he said ‘Today Berlin is is once again the front against totalitarianism.’”
Protester were seen carrying poster urging “Trump, Please Help” with the QAnon logo.
Kennedy sicced his lawyers on us, demanding identifying information on DowneastDem. Because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, he cannot sue Daily Kos—the site itself—for defamation. We are protected by the so-called safe harbor. That’s why he’s demanding we reveal what we know about DowneastDem so they can sue her or him directly.
Kennedy justifies his legal assault by claiming that the community story (what we still call “diaries” around these parts!) calling the organizers “right-wing extremist organizations” is defamatory, and that the specific group that invited him to speak, the Querdenken movement, is “a broad-based, peaceful citizens’ movement for freedom, peace and human rights.” He claims that it “strongly opposes Nazism, anti-Semitism and all forces of extremists.” As a result, he concludes that the “article’s claims were utterly false” and “[t]he fact that the erroneous nature of Daily Kos’s inflammatory ‘fake news’ was so easily discernible attests to the journal’s malicious intent. By tarring Kennedy with Nazism and anti-Semitism, Daily Kos was employing two of the three most damaging accusations that anyone can levy at a public figure.”
Now, there are two different frames upon which to view this attack: The first is Kennedy’s assault on the First Amendment and efforts to silence a critic, even one as small as a pseudonymous community writer on Daily Kos. The second is the facts of the matter. In other words, there are two ways to approach this: What does the law say, and what is the truth of the matter? We’ll tackle both.
Let’s start with the law. Given that he is a public figure, the legal standard for defamation is “actual malice,” which is further defined in The New York Times v. Sullivan as “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard” for truth.
Keep in mind that DowneastDem essentially translated a local newspaper account, Der Tagesspiegel. This literally destroys any “actual malice” argument on its face, no matter how much Kennedy wants to claim “malicious intent.” (His choice of those words was legally significant, obviously.) And note, it wasn’t just that newspaper that reported the rally organized and attended by Nazis. Here’s The New York Times:
Some 38,000 protesters from all over the country flocked to the German capital last weekend, the biggest number since the marches started in April. It was an eclectic crowd. There were anti-vaxxers like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., anticapitalists, esoterics, ordinary citizens angry at having to wear face masks — but also about 3,000 members of the far-right scene.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., nephew of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, speaks to people from a wide spectrum, including coronavirus skeptics, conspiracy enthusiasts, right-wing extremists, religious conservatives, hippies and others gathered under the Victory Column in the city center to hear speeches during a protest against coronavirus-related restrictions and government policy on August 29, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.
That CBS article also has pictures of people in the crowd wearing and carrying pro-Trump, pro-Q, and white supremacist extremist symbols and messages. This Irish Times article notes, “Noticeable numbers of neo-Nazis, kitted out with historic Reich flags and other extremist accessories, mixed in with the crowd.” In their briefs, Kennedy’s lawyers try to distinguish between the Victory Column protest, the one Kennedy spoke at, and a gathering of neo-Nazi protesters at the Reichstag (Parliament) a couple of kilometers away, but as this same story notes, “as the main demonstration was winding down, a small group of extremists waving historic Reich flags held an unofficial gathering at the Reichstag.” In other words, they weren’t concurrent, separate events.
Furthermore, the judicial order allowing the protests to proceed after a government ban required “the design of the stage area … be set up so that there is no concentration of people.” So any separation between groups of people didn’t indicate separate events, but the same event, with coronavirus-protocol separation. Meanwhile, the racist AfD party was agitating against the minister who originally banned the protest: “If he carries even a residual decency, he must resign now. The Basic Law must not be undermined by power-obsessed old-party politicians,” showing again how Querkendenken and Germany’s far-right racist party were working in cahoots.
Our response brief has many more examples of media coverage, as literally dozens of media organizations reported on the event the same way—anti-vaxxer Kennedy spoke at an event organized and attended by extremists. So why isn’t he suing those media outlets for saying the exact same thing DowneastDem wrote? What kind of cowardly bullshit is that?
Remember, Kennedy claims that “[t]he fact that the erroneous nature of Daily Kos’s inflammatory ‘fake news’ was so easily discernible … ” that the story was defamatory. Yet that characterization flies in the face of literally everyone’s reporting on the news. There is literally nothing in the reporting of the event that would suggest any hint of “fake news.” Rather, it’s obvious that Kennedy is using that phrase the same way Donald Trump does: as a way to refute the very reality we see before our eyes.
As such, this case fails even the most cursory First Amendment examination, and in fact is so frivolous that it merits financial sanction under New York’s anti-SLAPP law, which protects “defendants in lawsuits brought based on the exercise of free speech rights, and which significantly increases the risks to potential plaintiffs bringing defamation and other speech-based claims in New York.”
Despite the utter lack of legal merit, the judge in this case essentially decided that the defamation arguments needed to be hashed out between the author—DowneastDem—and Kennedy, and ordered us to reveal whatever identifying information we have, ignoring both our community member’s free speech rights and our interest as an organization to safeguard those rights by preserving pseudonymity. We are in the process of appealing.
Remember, Kennedy is a public figure, hence the standard for defamation is almost impossibly high to meet. He knows this, of course—his lawyers have told him this. And he himself isn’t an idiot. He is simply pissed at the media focus on his shady, racist, antisemitic associates and is taking it out on what he thinks is the easiest target in sight.
But those are legal arguments. Let’s talk about the truth of the matter. Because according to Kennedy, accusing him of cavorting with racists and antisemites “are two of the three most damaging accusations that anyone can levy at a public figure.” Furthermore, he claims those accusations are false because the organization that sponsored his speech, the Querdenken, is “a broad-based, peaceful citizens’ movement for freedom, peace and human rights” and it “strongly opposes Nazism, anti-Semitism and all forces of extremists.”
So let’s talk about the Querdenken.
Here’s the German outlet Deutcheswelle, with a … significantly different picture of who and what they are.
Meet Germany’s ‘Querdenker’ COVID protest movement
They act like a peace movement, but Querdenker march alongside the far-right, and their protests often end in violence.
Reading that piece, one gets the impression that as movement it’s certainly eclectic, yet happy to host extremists among its ranks, “The protesters are a mixed bag of people: Some look like hippies from the 1960s and 70s. Others seek to provoke by wearing a yellow star, similar to those which Jews were forced to wear under the Nazis. Instead of the word ‘Jude’ (Jew) their stars bear the word ‘ungeimpft’ (not vaccinated.) The stars are meant to highlight the alleged stigmatization by the system the protesters reject.” Extremist parties have strong support among its members, and its leadership has coordinated with other explicitly extremists groups.
The Daily Beast had its own look at the group, and called them “the Weird Pro-QAnon German Group Behind RFK Jr.’s Latest Anti-Vaxx Stunt.”
Querdenken 711, whose name loosely translates to “Thinking Outside the Box 711,” had tried to invite other controversial world leaders to the rally before landing Kennedy. On Aug. 7, the group’s Twitter account tweeted at Donald Trump, calling him “the only American President who has not started a war,” despite his record escalating the U.S.’s foreign conflicts, and cordially invited him “to speak on the subject of ‘peace.’” Three days later, the account tweeted at Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, asking him, too, to speak about “Peace in Europe,” apparently ignoring Russia’s intervention in Eastern Ukraine.
In a last-ditch effort to score a major speaker outside of their own ranks, the group finally tweeted at Kennedy, asking him to join them on stage for “freedom and peace” […]
So to be crystal clear, Kennedy was only invited to speak at the event after Donald Trump and freakin’ Vladimir Putin had turned them down. That … speaks volumes, doesn’t it.
Voice of America has taken its own look at the rise of German extremist groups.
Last month, officials in the southwestern Baden-Wuerttemberg region added the “Querdenken 711” group to a watch list, the state’s Interior Ministry said.
“Legitimate protest against coronavirus restrictions is increasingly making way for a general hate against state and politics,” Interior Minister Thomas Strobl told Reuters.
Strobl said violent right-wing actors are spreading false claims to incite hate against the state, making “absurd comparisons” with the Nazis, and minimizing the Holocaust.
Querdenken, which means lateral thinking, first emerged in Stuttgart and was started by IT entrepreneur Michael Ballweg. At first, it attracted an amorphous assortment of anti-establishment supporters. But violent far-right elements appear to have become more pronounced in the group, which has increasingly embraced the idea that the modern German state is illegitimate.
Meanwhile, the BBC reports that “’Querdenker’ anti-lockdown demonstrations have drawn support from a variety of groups, including the far-right AfD party, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. The BfV (federal office for the protection of the constitution) said the protest organisers’ agenda had gone beyond objecting to anti-Covid measures and had been connecting with Reichsbürger (Reich Citizens) and Selbstverwalter (Sovereign Citizens) who reject the authority of the German government and spread anti-Semitic slurs.”
The country’s anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, told Euronews that the COVID-denying movement Querdenken (“outside the box thinkers”) weren’t just represented by those from right-wing groups.
He discussed the issue at a press conference on Tuesday attended by Anette Kahana, chair of the anti-fascist Amadeu Antonio Foundation, and Deputy party leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) Kevin Kühnert.
“Corona protesters have an anti-Semitic narrative,” says Klein. “For the first time, we’re seeing groups that would normally have nothing to do with each other united in the protests: right-wing groups, left-wing extremists, Islamist groups. And anti-Semitism acts as a binder and that’s new.”
Furthermore, Querdenken is working alongside white supremacism Nazi groups in Germany. From the aforementioned Daily Beast article on Querdenken (well worth a full read):
At the first large protest in Berlin on Aug. 1, [Querdenken founder Michael] Ballweg cited the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all” in front of a cheering crowd. At the same event, he was photographed talking to Nikolai Nerling, a former primary school teacher who was convicted for incitement by a German court after denying the Holocaust in front of students at the concentration camp memorial in Dachau […]
Ballweg also dog-whistled his support for Reichsbürger (“Imperial Citizen”), a movement similar to the “sovereign citizens” in the U.S., by calling on protesters to research the term “peace treaty.” (Reichsbürger believe the German government to be a puppet state controlled by the Allied forces, pointing to the lack of an official peace treaty after WWII).
Note: This all happened at the event with Kennedy. If he didn’t know of the organization’s racist and antisemitic sympathies when he showed up, it shouldn’t have been hard to notice them both at the event and in the aftermath. Again, Kennedy isn’t an idiot. He sees all this and is refusing to distance himself from that crowd because they’re making common cause with his anti-vaccine crusade. And that’s our point: Kennedy has allied himself with racists and antisemites, and he doesn’t care. He’d rather sue people who point out a connection that is right there, in plain sight, for everyone to see.
All of this has been pointed out by multiple publications, so is Kennedy suing them for besmirching the good name of his racist, antisemitic benefactors, the same ones who turned to him only when Trump and Putin were unavailable, and who march alongside actual Nazis? Of course not. No, he’s going after DownstateDem, because who the hell knows.
So we’re happy to fight to protect the pseudonymity of our community, we’re happy to engage this case on the law (and specifically, the First Amendment), and we’re happy to engage this debate on its merits.
Kennedy spoke at an event in Berlin organized and attended by antisemitic Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. The facts are clear: He could’ve pled ignorance and simply said that he didn’t know better when Querdenken came calling. Instead, he’s dug himself into a deeper hole, spreading the news further and wider than ever would’ve been the case had he kept his lawyers leashed up.
See: Streisand Effect.
Obviously, this fight isn’t inexpensive. So you can help us fight for the pseudonymity of this community by contributing here. I’ll keep everyone apprised of the legal case as it winds its way through the courts.
And if Kennedy isn’t a coward, he can drop the suit targeting DowneastDem and come directly after me, as I’ve reiterated every single charge made in that one original diary. If it’s some weird payday he’s going for, I suspect Daily Kos and I have more assets to go after than a random diarist on this site.
So bring it, asshole.
One more thing, Robbie or Bob or whatever people call you, because you sure as hell don’t deserve to be called by your initials like our great president, I have a question about this: “By tarring Kennedy with Nazism and anti-Semitism, Daily Kos was employing two of the three most damaging accusations that anyone can levy at a public figure.” What’s the third accusation in that list? Because I’d love to see if you are guilty of that one as well.