By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Muslim-American radio host is accusing the publisher of a notorious neo-Nazi website of defaming him by falsely labeling him the “mastermind” of a deadly concert bombing in England, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
SiriusXM Radio show host Dean Obeidallah sued The Daily Stormer’s publisher, Andrew Anglin, two days after domain name registration companies Google and GoDaddy yanked the site’s web address, making it unreachable until it re-emerged with a Russian domain name Wednesday. The companies acted after Anglin’s publication of a post mocking the 32-year-old woman killed in a deadly attack at a white nationalist rally in Virginia.
Obeidallah’s suit says the site embedded fabricated messages in a June 1 story to make them seem like they had been sent from Obeidallah’s Twitter account, tricking readers into believing he took responsibility for the May 22 terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
Obeidallah, a comedian and Daily Beast columnist, told The Associated Press that he received death threats after the article’s publication.
“It was literally jaw-dropping,” he said. “The death threats were something I’ve never seen before in my life.”
One comment on the post said Obeidallah “just earned himself a spot at the gallows,” according to his suit. Another threatened him with hanging, the suit said.
“Mr. Obeidallah is an ardent believer in and defender of the First Amendment. He recognizes the importance of freedom of speech and political discourse, regardless of viewpoint. But the First Amendment does not license defamation,” his suit says.
The suit claims that the article’s defamatory statements were intended to incite violence against Obeidallah, citing other alleged examples of Daily Stormer readers who did just that, including Dylann Roof, who read the site before killing black churchgoers in South Carolina.
Anglin e-mailed a two-word response to AP’s request for comment on the lawsuit: “Wew lads,” referring to an internet meme expressing sarcastic fake-surprise and dismissiveness.
The suit comes at a tumultuous time for The Daily Stormer, which already faced a federal lawsuit by another target of one of its online trolling campaigns.
Access to the site has been sporadic since Monday, when Google canceled its domain name registration, making its IP address nearly impossible for internet users to locate. The site had moved its registration to Google after GoDaddy tweeted late Sunday night that it had given The Daily Stormer 24 hours to move its domain to another provider. Google then yanked the address as well, citing a violation of its terms of service.
On Wednesday, the site reappeared for a time with a Russian domain name and registration, with a top story making the unsupported claim that President Donald Trump called Russian President Vladimir Putin to get the site restored. The site presented no evidence that Trump or Putin had any involvement in the move and Trump has no known links to the site.
And it kept up the kinds of statements that led to the string of shut-downs, mocking Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed when a man who praised Adolph Hitler rammed his car into a crowd of demonstrators in Charlottesville on Saturday. The original story called her, among many other things, “the definition of uselessness.”
The Daily Stormer website continued to receive performance and security services from San Francisco-based Cloudflare Inc., protecting it from denial of service attacks. A Cloudflare statement said the company is cooperating with law enforcement. It called some of the content on Cloudfare’s network “repugnant,” but said withdrawing its services would not remove the website from the internet, just make it slower and more vulnerable to attack.
A lawyer for Obeidallah said The Daily Stormer hasn’t responded to their request to remove the June 1 article about him. Obeidallah is represented by Muslim Advocates, a national legal and educational organization based in Oakland, California.
Obeidallah’s lawsuit claims Anglin libeled him, invaded his privacy and intentionally inflicted “emotional distress.” It seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The Daily Stormer published its post about Obeidallah a day after the Daily Beast published his column entitled, “Will Donald Trump Ever Say the Words ‘White Supremacist Terrorism’?”
“Their goal was clearly to marginalize my voice,” said Obeidallah, 47, a resident of New York City.
The lawsuit was filed in Columbus, Ohio. Anglin is an Ohio native who uses a post office box in Worthington, Ohio. His site takes its name from Der Stürmer, a newspaper that published Nazi propaganda. The site includes sections called “Jewish Problem” and “Race War.”
In April, a Montana woman sued Anglin for orchestrating an anti-Semitic trolling campaign against her family. Tanya Gersh’s suit claims anonymous internet trolls bombarded Gersh’s family with hateful and threatening messages after Anglin published their personal information in a post accusing her and other Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana, of engaging in an “extortion racket” against the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer.
Gersh is represented by attorneys from the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. In July, the law center’s lawyers claimed Anglin was “actively concealing his whereabouts” and hadn’t been served with Gersh’s suit. They said they looked for him at four addresses in Franklin County, Ohio, where he apparently has connections.
Associated Press Technology Writer Ryan Nakashima in San Francisco contributed to this report.