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Georgia election workers suing conspiracy website over ‘campaign of lies’

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Ruby Freeman and her daughter allege how they became the target of a feedback loop of misinformation that included President Donald Trump.
Image: Atlanta vote
Voters check-in with poll workers to cast their ballots at the Metropolitan Library, in Atlanta, on Nov. 3, 2020.Jessica McGowan / Getty Images file

Two Georgia election workers who became the target of conspiracy theories around the 2020 election are suing The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website that published false information about them as part of a sweeping effort to sow doubt about the integrity of the vote.

The election workers, Ruby Freeman, a retired 911 call center worker, and her daughter, Shaye Moss, allege in the lawsuit that Jim and Joe Hoft, twin brothers who operate and write for The Gateway Pundit, conducted “a campaign of lies” that “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.”

Freeman and her daughter became central figures in some of the many conspiracy theories that circulated among conservatives in the months after the election. Other subjects of similar theories — most notably companies that make voting machines — have also launched lawsuits targeted at media companies that spread misleading or outright evidence-free claims about their roles in the election.

Articles from The Gateway Pundit that named Freeman sparked a feedback loop of accusations that included President Donald Trump and other conservative media outlets.

The Hofts did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

A month after articles appeared on The Gateway Pundit website that accused Freeman of “counting illegal ballots from a suitcase stashed under a table,” former President Donald Trump referred to her by name during his phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger on Jan. 2. On the call, Trump called Freeman “a vote scammer, a professional vote scammer and hustler.” (Trump is not named in the lawsuit.)

At the height of the harassment, Freeman said strangers twice attempted to push into her home to “make a citizens’ arrest,” the lawsuit alleges. Freeman was eventually forced to shutter her business and flee her home for two months at the recommendation of the FBI, the suit says.

“People have said the most vile and violent and racist things about me and my family—on the phone, on my social media accounts, on email, and in person. Things you wouldn’t believe,” Freeman, who is Black, said in a statement. 

“The toll of all this on your life, day in and day out, it wears on you. I go to church and I know that God is my keeper, so I’m keeping my head up. But the impact is still there. For example, when I’m out in public and I hear someone call my name, I jump. Just hearing my name scares me.”

Gateway Pundit’s articles began when they identified Freeman in a surveillance video from a Georgia voting center first presented by Trump campaign lawyer Jacki Pick to Georgia’s State Senate on Dec. 3. Pick claimed someone who “had the name Ruby across her shirt somewhere” found a “suitcase” full of ballots from “underneath a table.”

A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The claims were quickly dismissed by both Georgia’s secretary of state and its Bureau of Investigation, who said there was no suitcase. Election workers, who had been previously told to stop counting ballots and pack up for the night, were told to re-start the ballot count, and Freeman was simply continuing her work.

But the conspiracy theory persisted on pro-Trump websites and with QAnon influencers on social media, eventually leading Hoft to publish Freeman’s name. On Dec. 22, then-President Trump tweeted a segment from conservative cable news channel OANN featuring Gateway Pundit’s writing, which the site dubbed an “investigation.” The tweet, which just featured the video without comment from Trump, received hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets.

Gateway Pundit articles continued to accuse Freeman and Moss of voter fraud throughout the spring and summer. 

Freeman and Moss are being represented by the nonprofit Protect Democracy, along with law firms DuBose Miller, Dowd Bennett, and Kastorf Law, and the Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. They are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, along with removal of articles and statements declaring The Gateway Pundit’s coverage of Freeman and Moss was false.

Freeman said in a statement she “can’t imagine ever going back to election work.”

“The times when I’ve decided to work for the county, I did so because I thought I could help and because I knew I could do the job well,” she said. “What I didn’t know was that it would turn out like this.”