Charlottesville Judge Keeps Subpoena Efforts in Place

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) – Advancing a bid for evidence that participants in the fatal 2017 Unite the Right rally had geared up for racially motivated violence, a federal judge rejected a motion to quash Tuesday by a white supremacist blogger.

Alt-right activists and neo-Nazis march on Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017. Their event left 40 injured and one dead. Those injured are still fighting for monetary damages in a federal civil trial. (Image via Anthony Crider/Wikimedia)

Michael Peinovich, who goes by the pseudonym Mike Enoch on his alt-right website The Right Stuff, is no longer a party to the lawsuit underway in Virginia but he claimed that he would be harmed if online communications about the Charlottesville rally became public.

Specifically the subpoenas at issue target Twitter; the web-hosting platform; Cloudflare, which services Peinovich’s website; and Hatreon, a crowdfunding site where supporters allegedly raised bail money to free people arrested at the Charlottesville rally.

Peinovich lodged objections after a federal magistrate found that his risk of harm from the subpoena was too speculative, but U.S. District Judge Norman Moon in Charlottesville denied the motion to quash on Tuesday.

“Although Peinovich asserts in his objections that he has continued to ‘receive anxious communications from listeners concerned about being doxed as a result of the subpoenas,’ such assertions are no more concrete or well-supported than the near-identical assertions Judge Hoppe considered and rejected as too speculative,” the 8-page ruling states.

In an interview this morning, Peinovich stressed that the subpoena represents an effort to scare visitors away from his website.

“There was no real relevant information [in web traffic or log-in data] to get here,” Peinovich said. “You shouldn’t be able to seek information on visitors to a website, period.”

In support of his claims that the subpoena would have a chilling effect on his business, Peinovich asserted that he has lost regular podcast listeners, and that Right Stuff visitors have “cancelled their accounts and stopped visiting the site.” 

Judge Moon found Tuesday, however, that such objections came too late.

“Peinovich only developed his associational privilege argument once [the judge] had already ruled on his motions,” Moon wrote.

Filed in 2017 by lead plaintiff Elizabeth Sines, the lawsuit over the Charlottesville rally initially named an array of defendants including rally organizers Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler.

James Fields, the rally-goer who killed counter-protester Heather Heyer by driving his car into a crowd of people, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder in December 2018. 

Fields still faces federal hate-crime charges, which could put him on death row.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs at Cooley LLP did not return a request for comment.

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