Governor @dougducey I hope you realize this woman is flashing a white supremacist sign. These are part of the group that shows up at the Capitol w/AR-15’s and harass elementary school children and democratic staff, calling them illegals. You must denounce! pic.twitter.com/RjamJc9tLA
— Katie Hobbs (@katiehobbs) April 29, 2018
Members of the Patriot Movement AZ are suing Secretary of State candidate Katie Hobbs over a six-month-old tweet in which she criticized Gov. Doug Ducey for posing with the controversial activist group.
Four Patriot Movement members allege Hobbs intentionally sought to politically cripple Ducey and smear their group when she publicly shamed the governor for posing with the far-right activists at an April event in Mohave County.
A Democrat, Hobbs is running for secretary of state against Republican Steve Gaynor, whom the Patriot Movement recently endorsed.
Ducey was widely criticized for taking a photo with the Patriot Movement members. At the time, the governor’s staffers dismissed the photo, saying Ducey did not know who the group was.
And recently, Gaynor faced backlash for posing for a photo with a male member of the Patriot Movement. A representative for Gaynor’s campaign said that Gaynor did not know who the man was when the picture was taken and he did not notice the man’s T-shirt, which touted the Patriot Movement.
Hobbs tweeted a photo on April 29 of the governor posing with members of the Patriot Movement with the caption, “Governor Ducey I hope you realize this woman is flashing a white supremacist sign. These are part of the group that shows up at the Capitol w/ AR-15’s and harass elementary school children and democratic staff, calling them illegals. You must denounce.”
Lesa Antone, the group’s founder and the woman who made the hand sign in the photo, is one of the four people who brought the libel and defamation lawsuit against Hobbs.The symbol has been called a sign of white supremacy, but that claim has largely been debunked.
The lawsuit alleges Hobbs tagged an Arizona Republic reporter in her tweet, which the activists blame for the onslaught of print and broadcast media coverage of the photo.
Hobbs’ campaign declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, those in the photograph, claim they have faced harassment, death threats, loss of employment, loss of wages, emotional stress and more due to media coverage of the photo.
In court documents, Antone said she and her family faced death threats and had to install a security system because strangers would knock on her door and call her a white supremacist.
The activists also make claims in the lawsuit saying that they have not carried AR-15 guns to the Capitol, nor have they harassed elementary school children or called Democratic staffers at the Capitol “illegal.”
On Jan. 25, the group of President Donald Trump supporters singled out dark-skinned lawmakers, legislative staffers and children at the Capitol as they protested congressional efforts to pass immigration reform, according to staffers of the Arizona Legislature and two Democratic legislators.
They called dark-skinned people “illegal” and told them to “go home,” according to several witnesses.
At the time, members of the group — including two women who filed the lawsuit against Hobbs — vehemently denied the accusations, saying they were protesting activists from Living United for Change in Arizona.
Videos of the protest posted on YouTube and other social media outlets showed protesters calling various people at the Capitol that day “illegal,” with one protestor yelling at a young man and a LUCHA member to “get legal or get out.”
Members of the group have also carried high-powered rifles around the Capitol on numerous occasions, including during the Red for Ed protests in the spring.
The activists, who filed the lawsuit without the help of an attorney, are seeking $40,000 in damages.
A local First Amendment attorney said the plaintiffs have a high bar to clear to prove libel.
Attorney David Bodney, who hadn’t read the lawsuit and spoke broadly about the standards for libel, said that there’s a chance the Patriot Movement plaintiffs could be considered “limited purpose” public figures for their role in protests at the Arizona Capitol.
If so, they would have to prove actual malice on Hobbs’ part, with clear and convincing evidence, he said. And even if Hobbs’ tweet wasn’t 100 percent true, “substantial truth” would be a valid defense, Bodney said.
While Harrison, Antone and their fellow plaintiffs filed the case without representation, Bodney noted such lawsuits are becoming far more common.
“We’re seeing more and more libel lawsuits brought by pro se or pro per plaintiffs, and they can inflict high costs on individuals, as well as news organizations, to secure dismissal of claims,” he said.
The lawsuit, filed on Oct. 12, comes mere weeks before the Nov. 6 election in which voters will select their next secretary of state.
Read the full complaint below.
CORRECTION: A previous version incorrectly stated monetary damages sought by the plaintiffs.