Two Georgia election workers targeted by a vicious campaign of false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election have sued the pro-Trump TV network One America News, OAN’s owners, a network correspondent, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani in federal court.
On Thursday, the two election workers, Rudy Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, alleged defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy by Giuliani, OAN, OAN executives Robert and Charles Herring, and OAN correspondent Chanel Rion for promoting the claims that Freeman and Moss, who are both black, engaged in election fraud during the vote-counting process in Georgia for the 2020 election.
The defendants, the complaint says, “bear responsibility for the partisan character assassination of Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss. Defendants have engaged in a concerted effort to accuse Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss, by name, of committing ballot fraud in order to alter the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.”
The complaint was filed in a federal court in Washington, D.C.
Reached for comment, a spokesman for Herring Networks said the company will not respond to “any questions from reporters” and referred Rolling Stone to outside counsel. A message sent to that lawyer prompted an out-of-office reply. Rudy Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Freeman and Moss say they’ve been subjected to online and physical harassment as a result of the bogus claims made about them. They’ve described receiving a constant stream of hateful messages containing racial slurs and threats of being lynched. On Jan. 6, a crowd of people surrounded Freeman’s home on foot and in cars, according to court records. An FBI agent later told Freeman that her and her daughter’s names were on a list of people to be executed; the list was found in possession of a person who allegedly attended the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to Reuters. As a result, Freeman and Moss say they avoid going out in public when possible, changed their physical appearance to avoid being recognized, and cannot live a normal life for fear of being targeted or attacked.
This is the second lawsuit filed by Freeman and Moss against people who have spread conspiracy theories about them. In early December, they sued far-right blog The Gateway Pundit and the two brothers who run it, Jim and Joe Hoft. They alleged that Gateway Pundit, a notorious promoter of false stories, and the Hofts repeatedly defamed them.
The suit is part of a broader effort led by the group Protect Democracy and its Law for Truth project aiming to defend victims of harmful disinformation and conspiracy theories, including election workers, by bringing defamation complaints. One of the lawyers representing Freeman and Moss in their new suit is Michael Gottlieb, a partner at the firm Willkie Gallagher who previously represented James Alefantis, a victim of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and Aaron Rich, who was the target of baseless claims related to his brother, Seth, who worked for the Democratic National Committee and was killed in July 2016.
The initial spark for the baseless claims against Freeman and Moss occurred a few weeks after Joe Biden won Georgia and its secretary of state had confirmed that narrow victory. At the time, conservative media sites and pro-Trump pundits were consumed with wild theories about vote-counting irregularities in the state’s urban counties. A minor water leak caused by an overflowing urinal at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena — a main ballot-processing facility — somehow became evidence of a sinister plot to rig the presidential vote.
On Dec. 3, 2020, as conservative media touted theory after theory of supposed election fraud, a lawyer for former President Trump’s campaign testified before the Georgia state senate. The lawyer, Jacki Pick, played several brief excerpts from a 14-hour surveillance video of workers counting absentee and military ballots on election day at the State Farm Arena.
As the soundless excerpts played, Pick claimed that she was showing evidence of criminals caught in the act. Pick testified that the election workers in the video first told the Republican observers on site to go home for the day. “Once everyone is gone, coast is clear, they are going to pull ballots out from underneath a table,” Pick testified, adding that there were enough phony ballots in the supposed suitcases to tip the election to Biden.
Pick didn’t name the election workers in the video, but she did say that “one of them had the name Ruby across her shirt somewhere.” Conservative blogs eventually discovered that two of the people in the video were Ruby Freeman, who had served as a temporary election worker in Fulton County, and her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, who had worked full-time for the Fulton County Registration and Elections Department for eight years.
The Georgia secretary of state’s office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigated Pick’s allegations and found no evidence to back up her claims. Yet conservative media outlets and Trump surrogates ran with it.
One America News, a slavishly pro-Trump media outfit that has amplified other conspiracy theories and tried to compete with Fox News, aired the Trump campaign’s edited surveillance video later on the same day as Trump lawyer Pick’s testimony in Georgia, the lawsuit says. Giuliani and Rion, the OAN correspondent, shared the edited video and the baseless theory about “suitcases” full of fake votes.
On Dec. 23, 2020, the lawsuit states, OAN published a story focused on Freeman and Moss titled “Poll Worker in Fulton County, Ga. Caught on Camera Scanning Same Stack of Ballots Multiple Times.” During a show he hosted on the platform Rumble, Giuliani continued to accuse Freeman and Moss of participating in a voter fraud scheme, saying, “It’s quite clear no matter who they’re doing it for, they’re cheating. It looks like a bank heist.” Giuliani would repeat these accusations several times on his show, in interviews he gave to various OAN programs, and even from the stage during his speech at the Jan. 6 “Save America” rally that immediately preceded the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Freeman and Moss’s lawsuit alleges that the defendants continued to spread harmful lies about them after both local news organizations and fact-checking outlets debunked the claims and lawyers for Freeman and Moss asked the defendants to correct the record or retract certain claims.