Here’s a tip for white supremacists out there who are thinking about suing news outlets over their coverage of you: maybe watch out for who you associate with and what you say, because it might come back to bite you. Case in point, the recent decision by the Michigan State Court of Appeals in James Edwards v. Detroit News, Inc.
In March of last year, Detroit News opinion columnist Bankole Thompson published a piece headlined “Thompson: Jewish leaders fear Trump presidency.” In it, Thompson wrote the following:
Of particular note to some in the Jewish community is the unprecedented support the Trump campaign has received among white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and its leaders like James Edwards, David Duke and Thomas Robb, the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas.
James Edwards, host of the Memphis-based podcast The Political Cesspool, offended at being labeled a “leader” of the Ku Klux Klan, decided to sue the Detroit News and Thompson for defamation.
Of course, this might sound odd to anyone who’s followed Edwards’ activities over the years, since Edwards is an obvious white supremacist with Neo-Confederate leanings.
Last year Edwards claimed that the terrorist attacks in Belgium were the “manifestation of diversity,” and said white Europeans were being “robbed” of their “birthright” by “an alien group that hates you.” In one Political Cesspool episode he smeared Martin Luther King Jr. as a “fat, greasy, white-hating Communist,” among other epithets. And following the 2016 presidential election he called for “retribution” against the “lying press” and other enemies of the alt-right.
These facts didn’t escape the judges who heard the case. The opening paragraph of the court’s unanimous opinion — written by Judge Brock A. Swartzle, a Republican appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder — states that:
Notwithstanding this lack of formal relationship, Edwards has espoused views consistent with those associated with the Klan and, equally as important, he has repeatedly and publicly embraced several individuals who are strongly associated with the Klan. Mindful of Aesop’s lesson, “A man is known by the company he keeps,” we hold that Edwards cannot make claims of defamation or invasion of privacy and affirm summary disposition in favor of defendants.
Of course, the decision hinged on several key facts, including whether or not Edwards is a public figure, whether or not the allegedly defamatory statement was opinion, and how narrowly the term “leader” should be construed, Edwards’ beliefs and associations did him no favors.
Judge Swartzle briefly laid out the history of the Ku Klux Klan — various iterations of which Edwards’ associates have been involved with — as well as some of the rhetoric of Edwards himself. For example, Swartzle quotes Edwards as stating that The Political Cesspool “represent[s] a philosophy that is pro-White,” and that “European-Americans” are being subjected to a genocide through “immigration and intermarriage.”
And he examined Edwards’ relationship with Klan leaders like David Duke, Don Black (whose website, Stormfront, carries Edwards’ radio show), and Thomas Robb, as well as his relationship with Sam Dickson, an attorney who often represented the Klan in legal matters.
And while it would have been inappropriate to mention it in the opinion, the attorney representing Edwards in his defamation suit was none other than Kyle Bristow, the creepy white supremacist who founded the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas (FMI), a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group.
Last year, at a white nationalist gathering in Detroit, Bristow boasted that the Republican Party had become the de facto party of the alt-right, with the goal of “mak[ing] America white…again.” And while his website lays out his many “accomplishments” — including, and I’m not joking, passing “the Ohio and Michigan bar exams on his first attempts with high scores” — he neglects to mention his hobby of writing racist murder porn.
Ultimately, the court ruled that Thompson’s column is “protected opinion speech,” in large part due to the subjective nature of the word “leader.” In fact, it stated that, as a result, “we do not address defendants’ other arguments that the statement was substantially true or that Edwards is libel proof” — that is, someone whose reputation is so tarnished that relief is barred as a matter of law.
But make no mistake, Edwards’ loss was due in no small part to his well-earned reputation for Klan-like bigotry. Let that be a lesson to all the other whiny, litigious white supremacists in the world.