For two months now, the animosity between right-wing activists and left-wing antifascists, which regularly leads to violence at street protests, has played out in a setting where physical combat is not allowed: the Los Angeles Superior Court in Torrance, California.
The legal battle began on September 3 when Adam Kiefer, a far-right activist, obtained a temporary restraining order against Chad Loder, an antifascist researcher who tweeted evidence that Kiefer was at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., during the January 6 riot.
Kiefer, 28, is a trucker from Riverside County, California, who has become a fixture at Proud Boys rallies and thrown punches at far-right protests against vaccine mandates and Black Lives Matter. Loder, 45, is a tech company founder and cybersecurity expert from Los Angeles who posts meticulous, open-source investigations of local right-wing extremists on a Twitter feed with more than 100,000 followers.
Loder has gathered evidence of Kiefer’s bellicose presence at these public events for more than a year. But on September 2, Loder seemed to strike a nerve by tweeting a detailed thread of visual evidence, gleaned by antifascist researchers from right-wing social media accounts, that appeared to show Kiefer among the rioters at the Capitol in January.
The next day, Kiefer asked for a temporary restraining order against Loder, claiming that Loder’s tweets about him — which document Kiefer’s behavior at public events — were a form of harassment akin to stalking. The family court commissioner who evaluated the application approved it, pending a hearing before a judge four weeks later, and issued an unusually broad order that barred Loder from even tweeting about Kiefer in the meantime.
Kiefer’s success immediately inspired two other far-right activists to ask the court for similar orders against Loder, who responded by filing a counterclaim that accuses Kiefer and his allies of abusing the legal system to shut down a kind of citizen journalism that is protected by the First Amendment.
Loder, who is nonbinary, told me in an interview last month that their tech career has given them the resources to hire lawyers to launch a multipronged legal counteroffensive, unlike Kiefer who is representing himself. Loder immediately defied the part of the court order that barred them from tweeting about Kiefer. “I just told my attorney, I refuse,” Loder said. “I have a First Amendment right to continue to do my reporting and to tweet about my case.”
After Kiefer reported Loder to the police six times in September for continuing to tweet about him, a local prosecutor filed contempt charges that could have sent Loder to jail for defying the restraining order.
To understand why the people Loder reports on might be anxious to stop this research from being published, it helps to know that Loder’s expert use of publicly available images to identify and track right-wing extremists has already had legal consequences for some of Kiefer’s allies.
In July, Loder helped identify far-right activist Aaron Simmons as the masked attacker who clubbed an independent filmmaker in the head during an anti-trans protest in Los Angeles. (That attack had been wrongly blamed on antifascists after video of the assault was tweeted with a misleading caption by Andy Ngo, a far-right commentator.) Simmons was subsequently arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon for the attack on the filmmaker (Simmons had menaced Loder outside the Torrance courthouse in September).
On August 26, when another Southern California right-winger, David Dempsey, was arrested by the FBI for attacking federal officers during the Capitol breach, the criminal complaint prominently cited Loder’s online detective work. In March, Loder had published a forensic visual investigation, detailed in an 18-tweet thread, identifying Dempsey as the Capitol rioter known to online researchers as #FlagGaiterCopHater because he had worn an American flag gaiter over his face.
At the January 6th Capitol riots, #FlagGaiterCopHater gave a long interview in which we can clearly hear his voice and his accent.
Compare this video to to the next one in this thread, showing an interview Daniel Dempsey at the violent Huntington Beach protest on May 31st, 2020. pic.twitter.com/UqUOh77Wyt
— Chad Loder (they/them) (@chadloder) March 12, 2021
Kiefer told me in an Instagram chat that he did not riot at the Capitol on January 6 and was not there with Dempsey, but the two men have been side by side at other right-wing rallies. Kiefer posted a photograph and video on Instagram of Dempsey at his side during protests, and photojournalists captured the men together twice last year: confronting Black Lives Matter activists in San Diego in August, and marching with the Proud Boys at a pro-Trump protest in Washington, D.C, in December.
Kiefer also insisted that he is not an extremist and is “not part of the Proud Boys organization,” although he admitted that he did wear a Proud Boys hoodie in the middle of that Proud Boys march in Washington three weeks before the attack on the Capitol.
Kiefer called the Proud Boys “a men’s drinking club” and said it would be rude to not wear the sweatshirt while hanging out with its members.
When confronted with the fact that he also wore that Proud Boys hoodie last month at a Proud Boys rally in Los Angeles — and his current Instagram profile image shows him wearing it while posing with a Proud Boys leader, Tiny Toese — Kiefer called the group “a men’s drinking club” and said it would be rude to not wear the sweatshirt while hanging out with its members.
Kiefer has also documented his own violence against left-wing protesters, using a video camera strapped to his chest, on his @americanpoliticalbeefz Instagram account, which has thousands of followers. At one of those events, he wore a T-shirt with his Instagram handle printed below the slogan “Kill All Pedos.”
Loder first became alarmed while working as a consultant for tech companies that wanted to keep their sites clear of hate speech and messages that promote violence; they realized that social media platforms were not doing enough to keep extremists “from fundraising and recruiting and spreading their hateful messages.” Paying attention to what was on those platforms during Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and in the lead-up to the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Loder said, felt like “pointing at an oncoming freight train, and then just watching it happen.”
So, working on weekends, Loder started to tackle the problem as a volunteer, watching hours of footage from right-wing social media feeds and trying to identify groups that might be using political rallies as “grass to hide in, to recruit and carry out violent acts.”
Loder has tried to prod social networks into taking action against users who threaten violence. In 2019, Loder set up searches to collect death threats directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar, after then-President Donald Trump tweeted a video that distorted her comments on the 9/11 attacks alongside images of the World Trade Center in flames. Loder then urged other users to mass-report those tweets to press Twitter to enforce its rules and remove them.
California makes it easy to obtain temporary restraining orders, which only stay in effect until a hearing before a judge, in order to protect potential victims of domestic abuse or stalking from violence. Kiefer might have triggered those concerns by claiming in his application that Loder had “posted my address online” and threatened “to have me killed.” Loder denies having ever threatened Kiefer or shared his address, and Kiefer got the restraining order without presenting any evidence to support those claims.
“I didn’t even know his home address,” Loder told me. “I would never put someone’s address out there.”
“Do I identify people based off of their public activities? Yes, that’s what I do,” Loder added. “Is that doxxing? I don’t really think so. I mean, not in the sense that these people use it, which is like, ‘Oh, he identified me as someone who attacked someone in public, so I’m going to post his fucking home address, and his kid’s address.’ Like OK, no, that’s really out of bounds as far as I’m concerned.”
A piece of evidence Kiefer brought to a hearing last month suggests that he is operating under the assumption that any information about where he lives that appears on Twitter must have been secretly orchestrated by Loder. Outside the courthouse in Torrance, Kiefer held up a printout of a tweet that showed what he said was his truck outside his former home. Kiefer then accused a journalist who reports on the far right, Kelly Stuart, of having traveled to that location to take the photograph of his truck and post it on Twitter. Stuart denied that and pointed out that she had just retweeted the image, which was posted on an anonymous Twitter account three weeks after Kiefer had obtained the restraining order against Loder.
In fact, that image was taken in February 2021 by a Google Street View camera as it drove past a house that is different from the home address Kiefer had provided to the court.
There is, however, evidence that Loder has been doxxed. Loder told me that, just before Kiefer obtained the restraining order, they received threatening text messages. Loder allowed me to review the texts and they included records showing Loder’s address, the name of Loder’s ex-wife, a threatening remark about their young child, and the warning that this information was “being sent to every Patriot in the country.”
After the texts, Loder said, “My apartment got plastered with all of these flyers … saying that I’m a white supremacist and I’m attacking a gay Asian man online — that’s Andy Ngo, of course.” According to Loder, Proud Boys “bragged about having done this” in a Telegram chat monitored by antifascists. “What they’re doing by showing up at my house at night is saying, ‘We know where you live, we can get to you, we can get to your family,’” Loder told me.
When Kiefer first obtained the temporary restraining order, it was greeted as a triumph by his allies on the far-right — including Ngo, who tweeted video of the order being served on Loder by Sarah Mason, another far-right activist Loder has tracked.
In a follow-up tweet, Ngo informed his 900,000 followers that Loder had been required, because of the temporary restraining order, to surrender their gun to the police until the case is settled. Loder told me that Ngo’s tweet, which named the area they live in and showed the inside of their apartment, had triggered threats, including from a retired LAPD homicide detective who tweeted to Ngo: “I’m going to see Chad one day. I’ll take photos of the aftermath.” (The former detective, Sal LaBarbera, told me that he did not mean to threaten Loder with violence.)
Then the copycat requests for more restraining orders against Loder were filed by two far-right activists Loder has tracked, Bryna Makowka and Lucas Isturiz. In late January, Loder had reported that Makowka — who was also at the Capitol on January 6 — played a leading role in an anti-vaccine protest that led to the temporary shutdown of a mass vaccination clinic at Dodger Stadium. In April, Loder had identified Isturiz as the right-wing activist who was captured on video destroying a memorial in Hollywood for Daunte Wright and threatening Black Lives Matter activists.
Both Makowka and Isturiz had their initial requests for temporary restraining orders against Loder denied, although they were automatically granted subsequent hearings before a judge.
“These people are just thrilled that they can cause me to get dragged to a court … and they get to stick a camera in my face and shout stuff at me and it’s a spectacle, and then Andy posts it,” Loder told me, referring to video of Loder being heckled by right-wing livestreamers outside the courthouse shared on Twitter by Andy Ngo. “But they’re actually getting crushed, legally,” Loder added.
From the start of the legal battle, Loder knew something important about California law that Kiefer apparently did not. The state has a statute designed to punish anyone who abuses the legal system by filing meritless lawsuits, including false harassment claims intended to deter or silence the protected speech of their critics. In legal jargon, such a scheme is known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or a SLAPP.
Last month, Loder’s legal team invoked this law and filed what is known as an anti-SLAPP motion, asking the judge overseeing Kiefer’s case to rule that his request for a restraining order was an abuse of the legal system designed to silence Loder. If Loder’s motion is successful, it could cost Kiefer tens of thousands of dollars. That’s because, if the judge agrees that Kiefer’s request for the temporary restraining order was a SLAPP, the court would not only lift the order but also impose a financial penalty by requiring Kiefer to pay Loder’s legal fees.
Kiefer filed a two-sentence response to the court, which was based not on any legal analysis but on an Andy Ngo tweet, in which the far-right pundit noted that Loder had tweeted in early 2020: “I am not a journalist. I’m an activist.”
Kiefer submitted a screenshot of Loder’s tweet as an exhibit, telling the court: “Loder states that he is not a journalist but an activist. There fore [sic] ‘slapp law’ doesn’t count.”
Unfortunately for Kiefer, that is not how the law works. Thomas Burke, a lawyer who wrote a book on California’s anti-SLAPP statute, told me that it doesn’t matter at all if Loder is defined as an activist or a journalist. The law is designed to protect anyone whose free speech in a public forum or on a matter of public interest is threatened by a meritless lawsuit or injunction.
In fact, the statute was first crafted in 1992 to protect activism, not journalism. The original impetus, as the text of the law states, was to address “a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances.” The legislature added, “it is in the public interest to encourage continued participation in matters of public significance, and that this participation should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process.”
As Burke explained, the original aim was to stop wealthy corporations from suing environmentalists or residents of an area who protested a company’s use of land but could not afford the legal fees to defend themselves from a libel suit. A later amendment added language saying that the statute “shall be construed broadly.” Since then, courts have ruled that anti-SLAPP protections apply to people who are providing information to the public, whether they are activists or journalists.
Since Loder’s use of publicly available information to track extremists is related to a public interest, Burke said, it should clear the bar for the type of speech the statute protects from prior restraint.
At a hearing on October 22, Loder’s lawyer John Hamasaki convinced the judge to strike the part of the temporary order that had banned Loder from tweeting about Kiefer. A week later, the prosecutor who had filed contempt charges against Loder for violating the ban while it was in effect dropped the case.
Loder has also fended off the two other requests for restraining orders. After learning that she could end up being saddled with paying Loder’s legal fees if she proceeded and lost on anti-SLAPP grounds, Makowka decided to drop her request. Isturiz’s case was dismissed because he arrived late to the courthouse and missed his hearing. Isturiz was informed later that he could refile, but told a reporter that he would not.
A ruling on the anti-SLAPP motion against Kiefer is expected to come in early January.
In the meantime, Loder has also repulsed two recent legal complaints from lawyers working for Andy Ngo. The first was a copyright complaint over a photograph Loder tweeted of Ngo posing in front of fascist graffiti in Poland. The second was a cease-and-desist letter concerning Loder’s role in a Twitter campaign to shame companies into pulling their ads from the Canadian website Ngo writes for, The Post Millennial.
Loder scoffs at Ngo’s complaint that putting pressure on the site’s advertisers is a form of censorship. “I’m not censoring you,” Loder said they would tell Ngo. “But I am showing advertisers what your site looks like and what’s on there, and they’re dropping you.”
“To me, it’s frustrating and it’s time-consuming and it has interfered with my reporting, but it’s also an indication to me that I’m getting to them,” Loder told me of the legal complaints. “The people who cry about cancel culture and free speech,” Loder added, seem untroubled by the idea of reporting an activist to the police for tweeting.
When I asked Kiefer if he was sorry he ever asked the court for help in his dispute with Loder, he replied, “No. Why would I be?” I pointed out that the temporary restraining order no longer keeps Loder from tweeting about him, and he could end up paying Loder’s legal fees. Kiefer told me he is sure he will prevail in January when the court is expected to rule on the anti-SLAPP motion.
The post A Right-Wing Brawler Asked a Court to Protect Him From an Antifascist’s Tweets appeared first on The Intercept.
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