Brandon Straka, a pro-Trump influencer known for founding the WalkAway campaign, a movement to urge an exodus of liberals from the Democratic Party, lost out in a libel lawsuit he filed against NBC Universal over comments that MSNBC hosts made on-air about his Jan. 6 misdemeanor disorderly conduct conviction.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska in December 2022, amounted to “semantic hair splitting,” Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon wrote Tuesday in a 10-page memorandum and order tossing the case.
Straka, who recorded himself on Jan. 6 shouting “take it, take it” as the angry mob attacked a police officer for his shield, was ultimately sentenced to 3 years of probation. In January 2022, Straka took exception to the way MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Ari Melber described his Jan. 6 offense. As a footnote summarized, Straka had argued that Hayes and Melber made “materially false statements on cable television programs that that Straka committed the ‘Federal crime of storming the Capitol;’ that NBC Universal misattributed statements to Straka that he never made; that NBCU falsely stated that Straka ‘[broke] into the Capitol’ on January 6, 2021; and that NBCU falsely stated or implied that Straka was ‘convicted’ of ‘trying to help attack police officers’ and that he ‘confessed’ and was found ‘guilty’ of ‘helping attack police.””
Unfortunately for Straka’s lawsuit, the judge found those complaints to be “entirely contradicted by the factual basis of his guilty plea.”
“The differences between the statements NBC Universal published on cable television programs and the admissions Straka made in his criminal case are slight if not nonexistent. Although there may be no federal crime expressly denominated as ‘storming the Capitol,’ the descriptions of Straka’s conduct on January 6, 2021, would roughly equate to such a crime,” Bataillon said. “He admitted committing disorderly and disruptive conduct in the Capitol building or grounds, with the intent to disrupt the counting of electoral votes. That admission made him complicit in storming the Capitol.”
Bataillon, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote that the “material challenged in the plaintiff’s complaint cannot be understood by a reasonable person as anything but substantially, if not literally, true,” even though Straka didn’t actually enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Rather, Straka was right outside doors recording video of the mob and shouting “take it.”
Here’s Brandon Straka’s footage of the Jan. 6 mob stealing a shield from a Capitol police officer while he cheers them on. pic.twitter.com/f9d48kSDZx
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) January 24, 2022
At sentencing, Straka apologized “to all the people in America, even to those who hate my guts.” He also apologized to police officer in the video.
Judge Bataillon wrote that the evidence showed Straka’s lawsuit was an exercise in “hair splitting”:
His conduct has the same “gist or sting” whether or not he crossed the building’s threshold or not. The distinction between entering the Capitol building versus the grounds of the Capitol is meaningless in the context of the charges levelled against him. Straka admits he “chimed in with the crowd, saying ‘take it, take it.’” Whether he said, “take it away from him” or “take the shield!” as opposed to “take it! take it!” is another distinction without a difference. The reference is clear from the surrounding context. Whether the crime charged was a felony or misdemeanor is also a matter of no consequence. Straka admitted the public was restricted from the Capitol grounds and he was inside the grounds without authorization. In the context of the overall occurrence, there is no meaningful difference between the actions outlined in the Statement of Offense and the allegedly false statement or implication that that Straka was “convicted” of “trying to help attack police officers” and that he “confessed” and was found “guilty” of “helping attack police.” Whatever differences there are between statements that Straka committed the federal crime of storming the Capitol and the conduct that forms the basis of his plea amount to semantic hair splitting.
As a result of the foregoing, the judge granted NBC Universal’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
Read the dismissal here.
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