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TONY’S TAKE

Messenger: Battling the Big Lie is key to saving American democracy, Danforth says

From the Tony Messenger's columns on Hawley and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot series
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Hawley and the Jan. 6 insurrectionists

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., raises his fist in solidarity as a crowd of Trump supporters gathers before attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth is ending the year the way he began it.

Fighting the Big Lie.

That’s the provably false notion put forth by former President Donald Trump that President Joe Biden didn’t win the 2020 election. It’s the provably false notion that led to the violent insurrection against the U.S. Capitol and the nation’s democracy on Jan. 6. It’s the provably false notion that led U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley — a former Danforth protégé — to raise his fist in support of the insurrectionists on the very day he peddled the Big Lie by formally questioning the election results.

It’s the provably false notion that even today makes it hard for many elected Republicans to admit that Biden is the legitimate president, lest they run afoul of the angry Trump supporters who make up the Republican base and who have come to believe the Big Lie.

In January, the insurrection caused Danforth to apologize to the nation for his early support of Hawley.

“Supporting Josh and trying so hard to get him elected to the Senate was the worst mistake I ever made in my life,” Danforth told me in January. “Yesterday was the physical culmination of the long attempt (by Hawley and others) to foment a lack of public confidence in our democratic system. It is very dangerous to America to continue pushing this idea that government doesn’t work and that voting was fraudulent.”

Now he’s turning his attention to one of the many Republican propaganda outlets — St. Louis-based The Gateway Pundit — that peddled the Big Lie and targeted election officials in Georgia and elsewhere simply for doing their jobs.

In December, James Bennett of the St. Louis power law firm Dowd Bennett filed a lawsuit, along with Danforth, against The Gateway Pundit publication, its founder, James Hoft, and his brother, Joseph Hoft, accusing them of defamation and intentional cause of emotional distress of two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss.

“The intentional dissemination of known falsehoods aimed at sowing doubt about the integrity of our elections threatens our very ability to function as a democracy. These falsehoods also destroy the lives of America’s election workers, whose service to our system of government places them in the crosshairs of those who seek to undermine it with their disinformation,” the lawsuit alleges. “Plaintiffs Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ‘Shaye’ Moss have been the targets of such a campaign of lies, accused by Defendants James Hoft, Joseph Hoft, and The Gateway Pundit of committing ballot fraud to alter the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. The lies about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss have not only devastated their personal and professional reputations but instigated a deluge of intimidation, harassment, and threats that has forced them to change their phone numbers, delete their online accounts, and fear for their physical safety.”

The lawsuit was filed in St. Louis Circuit Court. An attorney for Joseph Hoft has sought to move the case to federal court. In the filing, he alleges that the defamation lawsuit is an attempt to “demonize” and “cripple” the Hofts.

Jim Hoft's tweet on Dec. 3, 2020

Jim Hoft posted this tweet on Dec. 3, 2020, according to a lawsuit filed against him, the Gateway Pundit and his brother Joe Hoft. (Screengrab from lawsuit)

America’s democracy would be better off for an end to The Gateway Pundit and internet copycats that peddle lies that cause real damage to people and to American democracy. For too long, many Republicans have coddled the Hofts and others like them. The insurrection changed things for some, such as Danforth.

“I think this lawsuit is very important; it’s important in the bigger picture,” he says. “What do I think is the bigger picture? The bigger picture is that starting right after the election Trump’s strategy was to claim that the election was stolen. That’s a very dangerous claim and it’s very injurious to the country to attack the democratic system and to attack public confidence in that system. Now, a large percentage of Republicans believe the election was stolen.”

One of the reasons Republicans believe such nonsense is the very existence of publications like The Gateway Pundit. Another is the cowardice of elected Republicans, and those running for election, who won’t stand up for the simple truth that Biden won the election and that the election was secure.

“If you look at the Senate race in our state, candidates are making that assertion, that the election was stolen, and that was a very, very serious charge,” Danforth says. He hopes lawsuits like the one against The Gateway Pundit, and similar ones filed by the Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News, One America News, and Newsmax, lead to a needed change and a return to a common bipartisan belief in the importance of American democracy.

“I wish,” Danforth says, “there were a button that could be pushed that would bring us back.”

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