Soon after the 2020 election, Eric Coomer’s name started trending on Twitter, often accompanied with the hashtag #ArrestEricCoomer.
At the time, he was living in Colorado and working as director of product security for Dominion Voting Systems, the company ensnared in unfounded election fraud conspiracies following former President Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden.
Coomer found himself at the center of the conspiracy after a right-wing podcaster named Joseph Oltmann claimed without evidence that he’d infiltrated an antifa conference call in which a Dominion employee named Eric allegedly said: “Trump is not gonna win. I made f-ing sure of that.”
A series of Coomer’s Facebook posts making disparaging comments about Trump soon surfaced, including a satirical manifesto that he didn’t write that was signed by “antifa.”
Oltmann’s theory was picked up by other right-wing media and shared on Twitter by one of Trump’s sons. It eventually found its way to the St. Louis-based the Gateway Pundit, which published a story that also included a 2016 video of Coomer presenting the security features of Dominion’s systems.
One of Gateway Pundit’s early stories about Coomer appeared under the headline: “WAKE UP AMERICA! Bold Billionaire Offers $1 Million Bounty for Dominion’s, Eric Coomer’s Comeuppance.”
Coomer said the accusations led to death threats and harassment, driving him into hiding. So in December 2020 he filed a defamation lawsuit in Colorado against the Trump campaign, two of its lawyers and myriad right-wing media figures who helped spread the conspiracy — including the Gateway Pundit.
The far-right site founded in St. Louis by twin brothers Jim and Joe Hoft has been at the forefront of election fraud conspiracies, rising in influence alongside Trump to become what Missouri’s attorney general called “one of the most influential online voices in the country.”
But as lawsuits began piling up against purveyors of election lies in the aftermath of Trump’s 2020 loss, the Gateway Pundit was not immune.
A judge in Colorado rejected a motion to dismiss Coomer’s lawsuit last year, concluding the case should proceed to trial because evidence shows defendants engaged in “the deliberate spread of dangerous and inflammatory political disinformation designed to sow distrust in democratic institutions.”
That ruling is being appealed.
The Independent reported last week about the Gateway Pundit being sued for defamation in St. Louis by a pair of Georgia election workers who say debunked stories about their involvement in voter fraud subjected them to threats of violence, many tinged with racial slurs.
A hearing in that case is scheduled for next month in St. Louis Circuit Court, though the Hofts filed a countersuit claiming that they are the ones being defamed.
In both cases, plaintiffs are not only asking for monetary damages but for Gateway Pundit to remove stories considered defamatory from its website and social media platforms.
“These lawsuits are the only remedy left for people,” said Daxton Stewart, a journalism professor specializing in media law at Texas Christian University. “They feel like it’s the only way they’re gonna get a chance to be made whole, or to at least call some attention to the suffering that they faced.”
‘Shocking patchwork quilt of baseless attacks’
The Gateway Pundit has long been known for trumpeting debunked conspiracies on a wide range of topics, from the 2018 Parkland school shooting to former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. It’s helped proliferate lies about the brutal attack on former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband and made false claims about U.S. aid money sent to Ukraine.
Jim Hoft was banned from Twitter last year after repeatedly promoting falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election, though he was reinstated after Elon Musk purchased the social media company. Hoft is now a co-plaintiff in the Missouri attorney general’s lawsuit alleging the federal government colluded with social media companies to suppress freedom of speech.
In appealing the Colorado judge’s ruling last year that the case should go to trial, Hoft’s attorneys argued that the Gateway Pundit did not act with “actual malice” in its coverage of Oltmann’s claims.
That is the legal standard set in the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of New York Times v. Sullivan, which found public officials must establish actual malice — or reckless disregard of the truth — before recovering defamation damages.
Hoft’s attorneys also wrote in their appeal that “numerous aspects of Mr. Oltmann’s accounts were supported by available evidence.” And during an August 2021 deposition in the lawsuit, Hoft was asked if he believes Coomer influenced the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
“We believe that’s possible,” he said.
Coomer has flatly denied any of the allegations he’s faced, calling Gateway Pundit’s stories about him “a shocking patchwork quilt of baseless attacks.”
He states in his lawsuit that he has no knowledge of the alleged “Antifa Conference Call” and did not make the comments falsely attributed to him. And he “did not take actions to subvert the presidential election as defendants falsely allege.”
The dueling cases against Gateway Pundit are playing out soon after Fox News agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems nearly $800 million for promoting phony claims that it rigged the 2020 presidential election by flipping millions of votes from Trump to Biden.
And while Fox News’ deep pockets have allowed it to avoid a public apology, other smaller conservative outlets haven’t had that option.
Newsmax was dropped from Coomer’s lawsuit in April 2021 after it apologized and aired a statement that it had found no evidence that the accusations made against him by Trump’s team and supporters were true.
One America News Network settled a defamation lawsuit filed by the Georgia election workers last year, agreeing to say on air that there was “no widespread voter fraud” in Georgia in 2020 and that the plaintiffs “did not engage in ballot fraud or criminal misconduct.”