Using a tactic found in fascist political movements, a Texas man tries to use the court system to silence the press. He gave up after the defendant, an anti-fascist journalist, stood his ground. But what will be his next move?
Plano, Texas attorney Jason Lee Van Dyke (VD), who represents the Proud Boys- a far-right group with connections to white supremacy – of which they deny – filed a libel suit against Ohio anti-fascist journalist Gerry Bello in September 2017. What unfolds is a story of how an American white nationalist tries to use the court system as his platform, while in his daily life supporting organized hate groups and threatening those who confront his sexism, racism and homophobia. This serial violence-threatener, a term one of his victims used to describe him, is licensed to practice law in Colorado, Georgia, Texas and Washington D.C.
Keyboard Courage Sets the Stage for the Libel Suit
In April 2017 one of the people VD was threatening online came forward to document some of the madness. Their Twitter messages give a historical context of VD to include a picture of a noose with the caption “Look good and hard at this picture you f****** n*****. It’s where I am going to put your neck.” In July, Popehat reported further problems and by August Twitter had began practicing their new policy and suspended their account, according to Techdirt.
In November a prominent musician, who uses his social media platform to better society, was suspended from Twitter because he posted VD’s business address and telephone number. In an interview with Ghettoblaster Magazine, Talib Kweli explains:
“If someone is claiming to be a defense attorney and they are making extremely disparaging remarks, unprompted, to and about women, black people, anti fascists, gay people on top of threatening to kill these people, shouldn’t the community he serves have be able to have a place to call or an address to visit to express their grievances? If that is not the time to tell someone to contact a business when is?
Getting back on Twitter is not my concern. Allowing a major corporation to say I harassed someone who tweeted me out of the blue making wild racist threats at me and those who support me is.
There is a community outside of Twitter that the lawyer is still a threat to. How can you not care about that community?”
VD would probably not have appeared in one mainstream news article at all had Kweli, who has over one million Twitter followers, not practiced community self-defense then go on to challenge Twitter’s decision to lock his account.
The Lawsuit Against an Anti-Fascist Journalist
The libel suit arose from VD catching offense over an article published by The Mockingbird titled Neo-Nazi Group Targets Residents in South Campus Area. Within this article, Bello reports that “members of the neo-nazi group Ohio Proud Boys” distributed recruitment fliers in his neighborhood.
In a letter dated September 5, 2017, Attorney VD noticed Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Bello of Mockingbird Publishing Company, of his intent to file a lawsuit against him for the “false and defamatory statements” he published. Van Dyke’s notice letter, which can be found in Bello’s editorial response, claims the article 1) falsely states that the Proud Boys are a “Neo-Nazi Group”; 2) falsely states that members of the Houston chapter were flashing “white power” or “nazi” hand signs; 3) falsely states that the Ohio Proud Boys placed hand-drawn swastikas into mailboxes and mail slots; 4) falsely states that the Ohio Proud Boys were in Houston; 5) falsely states that the fraternity members who undertook an anti-looting patrol were performing “ethnic cleansing”; and 6) falsely states that the Proud Boys are roaming the nation trying to shoot people.
The notice letter demands the news outlet immediately and permanently remove the contagious article, cease and desist all future false and defamatory articles concerning any chapter of the Proud Boys, and pay $10,000 to the Proud Boys for damages incurred to their reputation. A deadline of fourteen days was given to comply or, should Mockingbird fail to do so, VD would sue.
When Bello published his editorial response to the notice letter, a few days later VD filed suit against him in Denton County court seeking $60,000 in damages based on that editorial. In his lawsuit, he denies being a nazi and calls Bello an “associate of the domestic terrorist group known as ‘Antifa’.”
In his Petition filed with the court, VD states that he assists individual members of the “pro-western men’s fraternal organization known as The Proud Boys” in a variety of legal matters and is also a current member. He states that he was present with Houston area Proud Boys during Hurricane Harvey disaster relief efforts. He denies that he is a nazi and argues in his Complaint that Defendants are “associated with a domestic terrorist collective known as Antifa that pride itself on harassing, defaming, and committing acts of violence against persons and groups that espouse conservative groups.”
In his Second Amended Complaint, VD removes the accusation of calling antifascists a terrorist group and broadens his definition of who antifascists seek to hurt to include a larger amount of people, namely those who “espouse mainstream conservative views including, but not limited to, support for President Trump.”
Attorney Randall Kallinen of Houston filed a response to VD’s suit, denying that his client Bello committed libel and providing evidence that Van Dyke is, at the very least, a violent racist. Kallinen’s legal strategy was to try to get the lawsuit dismissed based on anti-SLAPP statute. In Texas the “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” statute essentially allows judges to dismiss lawsuits early on if they are deemed an attempt to silence a defendant’s free speech. By forcing the case to federal court, he could use the Texas state anti-SLAPP suit statute in the federal jurisdiction.
This would have added many additional hearings and filings before the actual freedom of press issues were heard or testimony started. VD chose to drop the suit instead of engaging in a potentially years long battle. He contacted the defense with his change of plans: “My supervisor has instructed me to confer with you concerning a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice for the Mockingbird case and to sign one if you are willing to agree to it.” He filed a stipulation of dismissal on November 24 and the case was dismissed with prejudice by Judge Roy Payne on November 27.
No Disciplinary Action in Sight
When a Huffington Post writer contacted the State Bar of Texas for comment on VD’s public statements, their president Tom Vick responded “The statements attributed to this individual are reprehensible and contrary to the values we hold as Texas lawyers. I condemn them in the strongest terms.”
It is rumored that various complaints have been filed with the Texas Bar against VD. However, only one record of a formal complaint can be found and it did not result in any disciplinary action. On November 3, 2010 a woman who had enough of VD’s harassment filed a grievance. In her complaint to the bar, she outlined how his actions caused her to lose her job because her boss grew tired of and feared the situation, how he threatened key people around her with lawsuits, how he unfairly made derogatory entries on her credit report through his employment with Commission Express, and how he told her angrily outside a courtroom that he would “make it his life’s mission to make my life a living hell.”
Within two months he sued her in the District Court of Harris County, TX for filing a grievance, claiming breach of written contract for disclosure of information to the Texas Bar. After two years, the case was dismissed in 2013 for want of prosecution due to a failure to comply with a notice.
In 2013, when someone told him they were going to complain to the bar, he responded in writing “I will warn you: I have sued everyone who has ever filed a formal grievance against me with the State Bar. If you file some sort of groundless grievance… I will make your life a living hell unlike anything you could imagine.”
The www.texasbar.com search feature reports “no public disciplinary history” and a phone call to the office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel confirmed that any pending actions will be noted on this website. Additionally, no actions against VD were reported in any issue of the Texas Bar Journal through January 2018. He remains licensed to practice law in Colorado, Georgia, Texas and Washington D.C.
The Take Away
Other than the entertaining and fearless lawyer blogger of Popehat, the most promising action by a lawyer in a position of power comes from Victoria County District Attorney Stephen Tyler. Although it may have occurred accidentally and not for any reason of hideous moral character, Tyler denied VD the assistant district attorney position he was slated to begin in April of 2017. In a highly unusual legal move, VD sued Tyler over his rescinded job offer. That case is currently pending in Victoria County District Court.
Anti-fascist activists are not known for their access to funding nor are they blessed with the good graces of mainstream media support. Long time anti-fascist Bello is no exception to this unfortunate fact. What is remarkable in his briefly annoying, yet expensive to him legal battle, is the lack of help he received. When the ACLU of Texas did not return Bello’s telephone calls, he found and hired civil rights attorney Kallinen. He was able to raise $1800, came up with $5000 out of pocket, and his attorney was kind enough to waive the rest of his bill. Needless to say there is no legal defense fund to protect against attacks from men like Jason Lee Van Dyke.
“Society as a whole lost because it failed to have a broad conversation about the implications of the attempt,” says Bello. That being said, this case is marked as a victory for anti-fascists. Bello says, “What won out the day is community self-defense. My community of old friends and my newer community of online friends stepped up. The former did so on consistency of my life long work on this issue. The latter did so because my enemy was already their enemy, as he should be to any person of conscience regardless of political affiliation. We leftists have a word for that. Solidarity.” Now more than ever it is imperative to have non-sectarian defense of other anti-fascists.