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Walk Away Founder Brandon Straka Sues MSNBC Hosts for Defamation Over False Statements
Two MSNBC hosts have been sued for making false statements about a man who pleaded guilty and was sentenced for taking part in the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
Chris Hayes and Ari Melber, the hosts, committed defamation when they made the statements on-air, Brandon Straka says in the new complaint.
Straka, a Democrat-turned-Republican, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. In exchange, a slew of other charges were dropped, including impeding a law enforcement officer during a civil disorder.
Hayes, on his MSNBC show on Dec. 17, 2021, claimed that many people associated with former President Donald Trump “appear to have been smart enough not to commit the Federal crime of storming the Capitol live on television.”
“Brandon Straka is the exception,” Hayes said.
Hayes also quoted Straka as saying during the tumult at the Capitol, “Take it away from him. Take the shield!” And Hayes also claimed that Straka had broken into the Capitol.
The statements are false because Straka did not commit the federal crime of storming the Capitol, did not utter the supposed quotation, and never entered the Capitol building, the new defamation complaint states.
The evidence to support the case includes a statement of offense from an FBI agent, which says clearly states that Straka was on Capitol grounds but did not enter the Capitol. The plea agreement also says Straka was on Capitol grounds but does not say he went inside the building.
“Comparing the Hayes Statements to the truth, it is beyond peradventure that the Statements are materially false,” Straka’s complaint states.
The documents do say that Straka uttered “take it, take it,” but not the full quote attributed to him by Hayes.
Melber, meanwhile, talked about Straka during a segment of “The Beat with Ari Melber” on Oct. 19.
Melber, during an interview, with Straka’s image on screen, said that Straka “was convicted in connection with the January 6 insurrection” and “was found to have been trying to help attack police officers.”
According to the plea agreement, Straka recorded people trying to take a U.S. Capitol Police officer’s shield but did not participate in the action. The agreement was for a guilty plea for a single charge, disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds.
Melber also claimed: “His name is Brandon Straka. He confessed. He confessed to being guilty. He was found to [have been] helping attack police.”
“The Melber Statements are materially false because Straka did not confess and was not found by any Court to have helped attack police officers or to have attempted an attack on any police officer,” the new complaint states. “Indeed, the public record, reviewed by MSNBC and Melber prior to publication, demonstrates beyond cavil that Straka did not engage in any acts of violence or encourage anyone to commit violence on January 6, 2021. Rather, he was filming events outside the east side of the Capitol in a journalistic capacity.”
The false statements caused damages to Straka, his lawyers said, referencing the recent verdicts against InfoWars founder Alex Jones.
“As was true in the Alex Jones cases MSNBC, Hayes and Melber’s actions caused Straka to be inundated with threats and subject to intense harassment and hate messages,” they said. “Invitations to appear on television and podcasts and to participate in events went cold due to the toxicity of Defendants’ false Statements. Straka suffered insult, embarrassment, humiliation, mental anguish, injury to his reputation, loss of income and career damage.”
Melber’s statements were made during an interview with Matt Schlapp, the chair of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual event where Straka has spoken a number of times. Melber “intentionally poisoned the opinion of an important and powerful colleague of Straka,” the complaint states, adding later that “MSNBC and Melber deliberately attempted to end Brandon’s career and destroy Brandon’s relationships with high-profile political figures.”
The statements were also made to millions of followers on Twitter, and to more people on YouTube, the complaint notes.
Straka alleges MSNBC, Hayes, and Melber knew the statements they made were false before they made them.
“Although MSNBC, Hayes and Melber made it appear as if they had direct knowledge of facts, such as through court records and rulings, they did not have one shred of evidence to support the Statements,” the complaint states. “MSNBC, Hayes and Melber had a preconceived agenda and, as Democratic Party trumpets, harbored an institutional hostility, hatred, extreme bias, spite and ill-will towards Plaintiff. This accumulated motive and bias caused MSNBC, Hayes and Melber to publish intentionally false Statements about Plaintiff, a conservative activist and social media influencer.”
Straka is seeking findings of defamation and invasion of privacy from the federal court in Nebraska, compensatory damages of $25 million, and both pre-judgment and post-judgment interest on the damages.
MSNBC did not respond to a request for comment from the broadcaster, Hayes, and/or Melber.
Straka’s lawyers said the lawsuit will be followed by others.