Credit: Stephen Fowler / GPB News
Fulton election workers file defamation suit over continued push of debunked conspiracy theory
Two Fulton County elections workers are suing a popular far-right website that repeatedly spread false accusations that the workers committed mass voter fraud, arguing The Gateway Pundit's claims led to racist threats and real-world harassment.
The defamation suit, filed in Missouri where the site's publishers Jim and Joe Hoft reside, says that The Gateway Pundit wrote a series of articles falsely accusing Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea "Shaye" Moss of altering election results after former President Donald Trump narrowly lost the state in the 2020 election.
Other suits are pending against fellow pro-Trump outlets Newsmax and One America News as well as Fox News for claims made about voting machine vendors and their employees.
Debunked and disproven claims that the duo used "suitcases" of hidden ballots, counted batches of votes multiple times and illegally conducted vote counting in secret at State Farm Arena have served as a cornerstone of Trump supporters' baseless claim that Georgia's election was fraudulent and must be overturned and, in particular, that Fulton County's elections board must be replaced by the state.
"With no concern for the truth or the consequences of their willful conduct, Defendants baselessly portrayed Plaintiffs as traitors who participated in a carefully planned conspiracy to steal the presidential election in Georgia," the lawsuit reads. "Within 24 hours, the claims had been publicly and definitively refuted by Georgia elections officials through a detailed explanation of what the misinterpreted video actually showed: no suitcases; no illegal ballots; no voter fraud."
On Dec. 3, 2020, Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani regaled Georgia lawmakers with a false and fanciful tale that Freeman and Moss were akin to drug dealers "passing out dope" and that a selectively edited surveillance video was evidence of fraud.
Elections officials and investigators said that was not the case.
"What the video shows is that they have pulled out plastic bins from underneath the desks," Fulton elections director Rick Barron said the day after the hearing. "It was normal processing that occurred there, as Gabe Sterling from the state explained this morning."
Fact-checking website Lead Stories posted an explainer of what the video actually showed, and included statements from officials with the secretary of state's office calling Giuliani's claims false.
But other Republicans quickly jumped on the claims as evidence of fraudulent election practices, including Rep. Jody Hice, the Trump-endorsed candidate for secretary of state, who tweeted a video clip from the hearing that showed Freeman and Moss working and called it "F R A U D."
Trump himself mentioned Freeman's name more than a dozen times in a secretly recorded phone call where he pressured Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to overturn his defeat.
More than two dozen articles on The Gateway Pundit's website appear when searching Freeman's name, with headlines like "BREAKING: CROOKED GEORGIA ELECTIONS SUPERVISOR Filmed Pulling Out Suitcases of Ballots from Beneath Table IS IDENTIFIED" that specifically targets the two women and attacks media coverage that explains why their posts are false.
The lawsuit says after elections officials knocked down the claims made by The Gateway Pundit and other pro-Trump media outlets, Jim and Joe Hoft continued to write false stories about the two election workers while knowing that they were not true.
The suit also details harassment the two Black women faced after The Gateway Pundit stories received traction, including at least 400 emails, 75 text messages and countless phone calls. Strangers showed up to their homes, including two occasions where people tried to force their way inside to make a "citizen's arrest."
Callers left racist messages and threats of violence, and as recently as last month Freeman says she received an email accusing her of treason with a link to The Gateway Pundit.
Elections officials and workers around the country have faced an onslaught of violence and harassment after the 2020 election, with many opting to retire or quit before the midterms.