ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Four U.S. citizens claim a nonprofit led by a member of President Donald Trump’s disbanded Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity defamed and intimidated them by falsely labeling them as felons and publishing their private information in a series of controversial reports online.
In a 32-page federal complaint filed Thursday in a Virginia, plaintiffs Eliud Bonilla, Luciania Freeman, Abby Jo Gearheart and Jeanne Rosen claim J. Christian Adams, president of the nonprofit Public Interest Legal Foundation, drafted and publicized two reports in September 2016 accusing them of “committing multiple, separate felonies, from illegally registering to vote to casting an ineligible ballot.”
The reports, “Alien Invasion I” and “Alien Invasion II,” were allegedly conceived and written by Adams.
Beyond labeling the plaintiffs as felons, the reports also wrongfully described them as voter “registrants who had been purged from the [rolls] because they were determined to not be U.S. citizens,” according to the complaint.
Bonilla and the other plaintiffs say the reports accused them not only of “merely [lying] to get on the voter rolls,” but of violating state and federal statutes when voting since “citizenship is a requirement to vote in both state and federal elections.”
LULAC, short for The League of United Latin American Citizens, is a co-plaintiff. It says defendant Adams relied on information from a Virginia county registrar to compile his publication.
“The county registrar information relied on by defendants … does not establish that any particular voter is a not a citizen or that their conduct is felonious,” the complaint states. “The registrar lists simply establish that certain voters were removed from the voting rolls, which defendants know can occur for various reasons — including accidental failures to respond to government inquiries or routine paperwork errors.”
An error by someone at the DMV was the reason why plaintiff Luciania Freeman says she was on the registrar’s list.
But Adams, she claims, defamed her anyway and in the process intimidated her and others like her. The Alien Invasion reports put a chill on voters in the area, LULAC argues, and in effect violated the terms found of the Voting Rights Act.
The intimidation was real, LULAC claims, describing totally unfounded by Adams.
In addition to Freeman, a resident of Woodbridge, Virginia, born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and registered to vote at 18, each of the plaintiffs were born in the United States.
Maryland resident Eliud Bonilla was born in Brooklyn, New York. He has been a regular voter his entire adult life.
Plaintiff Abby Jo Gearheart is a resident of Barhamsville, Virginia, but was born in Newport News, Virginia. She has been a regular, registered voter since 18.
Jeanne Rosen, a registered voter in York County, Virginia, was born in Brooklyn but moved to Virginia and registered to vote in the commonwealth in 2013.
The plaintiffs claim that as head of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, Adams’ distributed materials and conducted media interviews that contributed to voter suppression.
The defamation wasn’t entirely unexpected, LULAC contends, given Adams’ short tenure with the president’s now-defunct election integrity commission.
“That commission has been described by noted election-law expert Professor Richard L. Hasen as a ‘rogue’s gallery of the country’s worst voter suppressors,’” the complaint states. “Even after the Presidential Commission was disbanded amidst multiple federal lawsuits, Mr. Adams publicly indicated his intention to continue his work on defamatory and intimidating ‘exposés’ such as [Alien Invasion I and II.]”
In addition to the false claims of voter fraud they contained, the reports were also a minefield of privacy violations, LULAC contends. According to the complaint, the reports listed the plaintiffs home addresses and phone numbers as well as those belonging to 433 other people.
When the information was published online, the comment sections to the articles “contained numerous threatening statements,” the plaintiffs say. In some, people called for the plaintiffs to be shot, executed, deported, or imprisoned.
One commenter allegedly wrote: “Execute them. They are subverting democracy.”
The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages and declaratory relief on claims Adams violated the Voting Rights Act.