Lawsuit Exposes Internal Feuds And Inner Workings Of Stew Peters’ Extremist Media Empire

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Lawsuit Exposes Internal Feuds And Inner Workings Of Stew Peters’ Extremist Media Empire

A dispute raging inside the “Stew Peters Network” ended up in a federal court in Florida last month. The ongoing case has exposed drama between a group of far right media personalities, complete with alleged text messages and emails that show the inner workings of a company that has peddled conspiracy theories, anti-gay hate speech, racism, and antisemitism, while still maintaining connections with more mainstream Republicans. 

In many ways, the trouble began — as so many things have in the modern far right — with the coronavirus pandemic. 

The company’s namesake, Stew Peters, is an internet personality whose eponymous show and associated social media posts have, in just the past two days alone, suggested immigrants are “retarded cannibals,” declared “Jewish Zionist infiltration in our government” is “our enemy,” and attacked “queer perverts” who he said needed to be “brought to heel” for creating “Weimar conditions” that “must be met with Weimar solutions.” Peters, who has amassed six figure followings on the social networks Gab and Telegram along with an audience of over eighty thousand on former President Trump’s “Truth Social” platform, has shared his stage with neo-Nazi leader Nick Fuentes. Yet Peters’ evident extremism, which has included airing blatantly antisemitic cartoon caricatures in the introduction to his broadcasts, has also not stopped him from drawing established Republicans as guests on his show, including Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who has been credited with appearances in six episodes, and multiple current GOP congressional candidates.  

While a blend of right wing politics and hate speech is a core part of Peters’ brand, COVID conspiracy theories are what provided him some of his strongest social media momentum. Specifically, Peters gained prominence with the 2022 documentary “Died Suddenly,” which focused on what the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation described as “the evidence-free claim that COVID vaccines are causing sudden deaths in people around the world.” Peters was among the producers of the approximately hour long movie. It mixed jump cuts and archival footage — including images of 9/11, the moon landing, and bigfoot — along with interviews and easily contradicted claims to argue the vaccines are part of a population control plot engineered by the “global elite.” “Died Suddenly” concludes with onscreen text urging viewers to “let us never forget what they have done.”

“If you are quiet, or apathetic, or complacent you have to stand before God and you have to answer for that,” Peters warned the audience. 

According to the Associated Press, Peters’ conspiratorial call to action amassed over 20 million views on various online platforms. It also helped inspire a viral hashtag. Those posts fueled harassment of people who experienced medical emergencies and deaths of loved ones due to COVID, as well as unrelated incidents. And, last month, disagreements over promotion and fundraising related to the movie led Peters’ company to file a lawsuit against his fellow producers, some of whom have their own connections to extremism and Republican politics.  

Documents filed as part of that suit, which are being reported here for the first time, reveal allegations of “wrongful, deceptive, fraudulent, and infringing actions” that Peters has leveled against the other producers of “Died Suddenly.” Through an attorney, all of the defendants have disputed the allegations. They are currently seeking to have the suit dismissed. The documents also depict Peters and his associates squabbling over cash generated by the film. The court docket contains internal correspondence between Peters and the other producers, including alleged text messages that Peters’ former business partners claim show him trying to hide money from his ex-wife by routing payments through a friend. 

“I’m going through a nasty divorce and I don’t really feel like giving her half of everything that they sent me,” Peters said in the alleged text exchange.

Travis DeCosta, the attorney representing Peters’ company in the case, declined to comment on the alleged text about the divorce. 

“Right now I’m not at liberty to talk about it,” DeCosta said in a phone conversation with TPM on Thursday evening.  

The lawsuit was first reported on last month by Angry White Men, a site dedicated to “tracking white supremacy.” However, the internal correspondence from Peters’ company and other case documents are being reported here at TPM for the first time. Along with feuds and alleged malfeasance in Peters’ inner circle, the documents — including some which were unsealed due to TPM reporting — shed light on the financial model that fringe far right broadcasters use to build their business. The suit paints a picture of an extremist media empire driven by clicks, commercials from a company selling gold bars to people paranoid about the “next crisis,” and audience donations. It also reveals how heavily Peters relied on outsiders to create much of the content that aired under his brand name. 

‘My Special Boy’ 

Fame has long been a goal for Peters. A profile published by Mother Jones last year detailed how Peters spent the early 2000’s and 2010’s pursuing a rap career with the moniker “Fokiss.” 

Peters’ musical efforts did not result in industry success, an experience Peters detailed in a 2012 song. A video for that track begins with what seems to be a fictionalized version of his mother telling a baby Peters, “You’re going to make it Stewart … my special boy” before detailing how “that dream” was a “failure.” 

Starting in 2014, Peters went on to work as a bounty hunter in Minnesota where he experienced some initial social media success posting videos of apprehensions and taped rants. However, this venture was not without its own issues. By 2020, Peters began posting a political radio show on the Facebook page where he shared bounty hunting exploits. The following year, according to the Daily Beast, Peters was arrested after a scene at his home. The incident reportedly led Peters to express fears about the future of his law enforcement-adjacent career, and his bounty hunting videos ultimately tapered off. As Peters increasingly focused on political content, it was the “Died Suddenly” documentary that helped Peters, as Mother Jones put it, “hit his stride.”

Stew Peters rapping as “Fokiss.” (Photo: YouTube)

“Died Suddenly” was produced by Peters, filmmakers Matt Skow and Nicholas Stumphauzer, who directed the movie, Edward Szall, and Lauren Witzke. It was presented by the “Stew Peters Network,” which is essentially a subscription-based website and series of social media pages that host Peters’ show and affiliated broadcasts. Szall and Witzke are partners in the production company TLM Global, which is short for “Truth & Light Media.” 

Like Peters, Szall and Witzke, who was previously an executive producer for Peters’ network, have their own connections to both GOP politics and the more extreme far right. Witzke, who could not be reached for comment on this story, was the GOP nominee for  U.S. Senate in Delaware in 2020. After winning the Republican primary in that race, Witzke cheerfully accepted tweeted congratulations from Fuentes, the prominent neo Nazi activist and broadcaster. Before losing in the general election, Witzke conducted an interview with the website VDare, which has consistently hosted white nationalist and antisemitic content. In that conversation, Witzke indicated she was more concerned about immigration than being branded a racist.

“Died Suddenly” wasn’t the only product of the partnership between Peters, Witzke, and Szall that, according to court documents, began in October 2021. Since then, the pair also worked with Peters on the documentary “These Little Ones,” which focused on a narrative about “elite pedophilia” with echoes of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory. They also produced two movies under the “Watch The Water” banner that were credited with originating a conspiracy theory that COVID was caused by snake venom in drinking water. Two other videos made through the partnership suggest world leaders and scientists are involved in a Satanic plot and that Americans are being enslaved by taxes, narratives that are more extreme versions of the concerns about globalists and elites that hint at antisemitic tropes and have increasingly become part of the Republican playbook. Along with producing these documentaries, Witzke and Szall also hosted their own biweekly broadcast, “Crosstalk News” on Peters’ network.

‘I tried to get her to let it go, she’s not’

However, earlier this year, the partnership between Peters, Witzke, and Szall apparently turned sour. On April 3, Fokiss Inc. a Minnesota company led by Peters that bears his old rap name, filed a federal suit against Witzke, Szall, TLM Global, LLC, a related company, and the directors of “Died Suddenly,” Skow, and Stumphauzer. The suit was filed in the Southern District of Florida. All of the defendants are being represented by attorneys Matthew Nelles and Joshua Martin, who did not respond to requests for comment from TPM. Skow and Stumphauzer also did not respond to requests for comment.  

The initial complaint, which notes that Fokiss is doing business as the Stew Peters Network, accuses the TLM team of making “unauthorized donation solicitations” on a website associated with “Died Suddenly.” Fokiss’ complaint also alleged all of the defendants made “improper” applications for trademarks associated with the “Died Suddenly” brand. The court filing also includes a copy of a termination letter that Peters apparently sent to Szall on January 27, 2024 in an attempt to end their business relationship. That letter describes the “ownership confusion of the ‘DIED SUDDENLY’ name, twitter page, and documentary” along with “unapproved postings, fundraisers, and even subscription sign ups” that Peters called “unacceptable” and even “criminal.” 

Despite these concerns Peters indicated in the letter a willingness to continue to work with Szall, Witzke, and TLM. Peters specified that Crosstalk “may continue to air on the SPN.” He also discussed the terms for this, which he indicated were part of a separate “contract.” The deal outlined by Peters in the letter indicated that “Crosstalk” was fully produced by TLM and then delivered to his company on the afternoon it was aired. He wrote that TLM needed to pay $1,600 monthly to air on the network. The exchange indicates that, at least in this case, Peters charged other hosts to make content for his network, which offered them the benefit of exposure to his following. Peters also wrote that TLM had an “ongoing obligation to complete and deliver … the remaining two documentaries” for which he said they were already “paid in full for by the Stew Peters Network.”

The complaint details the amount TLM was paid to make documentaries for Peters. It also identified Goldco, a relatively mainstream company that helps clients invest in gold and other precious metals as the primary funder of the Stew Peters Network and its documentaries. 

According to the complaint, Goldco had two sponsorship agreements with Peters’ company that ran from April 2022 to the end of last month. He has continued to identify the company as a sponsor in more recent broadcasts as well. The complaint described Goldco as providing “the majority of the Network’s annual budgets and production requirements.” Goldco and its CEO, Trevor Gerszt, did not respond to questions from TPM about its role financing Peters’ network, and its extremist content. 

According to the complaint, Peters’ company provided TLM a “documentary budget” of $379,000 through two separate payments last year that were “generally tied to the Plaintiff’s obligations to the GoldCo Sponsorship Agreement.” 

The complaint included a Feb. 5 response from Ryan DiGiovanni, an attorney for TLM Global LLC, answering Peters’ termination letter from the prior month. DiGiovanni objected to what he described as Peters’ attempt to “piecemeal together the provisions for which you expect continued performance while at the same time repudiating your responsibility for continued payment.” He also said TLM “unequivocally disagree[s] that the two documentaries have been ‘paid in full.’” 

While TLM’s attorney said they considered Peters’ letter a “material breach” of his agreement with the company, he attempted to end his response on a relatively positive note. DiGiovanni said TLM would provide Peters’ “work completed to date” on an unfinished documentary and that the company was “open to further discussion … regarding the possibility of future contract(s).”

Peters’ attorney, DeCosta, fired back with another letter that quoted a “request” that purportedly came from Witzke in October 2003 where she indicated the remaining documentary budget was $189,000. That alleged request, which was a bulleted list, also included other money Witzke, who was still working for both the Stew Peters Network and SPN at the time, wanted from Peters. According to Peters’ attorney, Witzke had line items asking for “$25k Lauren Mid Year Bonus (You Promised)” and  “Lauren Car – $13,500 (You Promised).” Peters’ attorney also included a November 17, 2023 email that he said was sent from Szall to bolster the argument the documentary budget had been fully provided to TLM. In that alleged email, Szall wrote to Peters that, despite some disagreement, he needed no further payment for the remaining documentaries required by their contract. 

However, the alleged email from Szall to Peters indicated there were still outstanding issues about money Witzke believed she was due.

“Regarding what you mentioned in the itemization about Lauren’s bonus and car allowance, TLM cannot receive money on behalf of Lauren as she was your employee,” Szall wrote in the alleged email, adding, “Bro, listen, she still considers the $25k bonus and the $13.5k car allowance as outstanding, and she may pursue that money on her own. Just wanted to let you know, I tried to get her to let it go, she’s not.” 

Szall further suggested that Witzke would “pursue” those funds. Nelles, Witzke’s attorney in the suit, did not respond to specific questions about the bonus and car payment dispute. DeCosta, the attorney for Peters’ company, told TPM Witzke’s requests for funds were a “moot issue” that “has nothing to do with the intellectual property claim that this lawsuit’s about.”  

“We dispute that she’s entitled to any money,” DeCosta said of Witzke in a phone conversation on Thursday evening. 

‘He’s turning Died Suddenly into HIS grift’ 

In the over six weeks since Peters’ company filed suit against Szall, Witzke, the TLM companies, and the “Died Suddenly” directors, the lawyers for both sides have engaged in a back and forth argument in court. Two days after filing the suit, Peters and his attorney argued for a temporary restraining order that, among other things, restricted the defendants’ assets and barred them from using web and social media associated with “Died Suddenly.”  The temporary restraining order was put in place on April 9. 

On April 17, lawyers for Szall, Witzke, and the other defendants filed a motion to dissolve the temporary restraining order. Along with objecting to technicalities related to an alleged lack of certified notice given by the lawyer for Peters’ company and problems with the time stamp on the order, the motion featured the text purportedly from Peters about his “divorce.” The motion said that text was an instruction from Peters to Witzke on May 4, 2023, and that the money he was hoping to conceal from his ex-wife was his “Goldco sponsorship.” In light of this, TLM’s lawyers argued it was “ironic” Peters’ company was concerned about anyone else “hiding assets.” 

TPM reached out to Szall via text message on Thursday with several questions about the case. Via email, he pointed to the motion seeking to dissolve the restraining order and specifically the page featuring the alleged “nasty divorce” text. Szall suggested he and the other defendants felt that page contained “the answers you are looking for.”  

The motion seeking to dissolve the restraining order against TLM and the other defendants also included an alleged text from Peters to Witzke on February 25, 2023. In that alleged exchange Peters apparently expressed frustration that Szall and his colleagues were soliciting donations in the name of “Died Suddenly,” which he described as a “serious problem.” 

“He’s turning Died Suddenly into HIS grift,” Peters wrote in the alleged text exchange, later adding, “I have NEVER asked for a donation.”

The lawyers for Szall, Witzke, TLM, and the directors suggested in court filings? this showed Peters was aware of the donations well before seeking the temporary restraining order. They also claimed “just $4,134.60” was raised through fundraising between January and April of last year. A judge ultimately recommended to dissolve the restraining order on April 23. DeCosta, the attorney for Peters’ company, did not object to the recommendation.

Since then, there has been a flurry of activity related to the fact the initial complaint filed on behalf of Peters’ company exceeded a required page limit. DeCosta is currently working on an amended complaint. On Monday, the attorneys for Szall, Witzke, TLM, and the “Died Suddenly” directors filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim. A response from the attorney for Peters’ company is due June 3. As of this writing, the case remains ongoing. 

‘Dr. Suss’

As the court fight rages on, Peters’ extremism has become an issue. In the motion seeking to withdraw the restraining order, TLM’s attorneys cited the fact that Peters is “a divisive individual.” As evidence, the motion pointed to posts Peters made criticizing Martin Luther King Jr. and the gay community. Of course, Szall, Witzke, and TLM are no strangers to divisive rhetoric of their own. 

Old episodes of “Crosstalk” are still available on the Stew Peters Network website. The most recent episode hosted on the page is a “Christmas Special” from December last year that begins with graphics of Szall and Witzke as angels before moving to a Dr. Seuss parody titled “How The Rabbi Robbed Christmas by, Dr. Suss.” The story, complete with antisemitic caricatures, was the tale of a rabbi who doesn’t like Christmas, in part because it hurt “his wallet.”

“Even the Jews down in Jewville liked Christmas a lot, but the rabbi who lived just north of Jewville did not,” a narrator said.

Since then, TLM has moved on to other projects including working with Trump associate Laura Loomer. Fundraising pages for that project initially indicated Fuentes, the neo Nazi streamer, was involved. However, when asked by TPM, both Szall and Loomer claimed that was an error

Szall has taken the Crosstalk brand to Cozy TV, a video platform that is heavily associated with Fuentes. The site is home to Fuentes’ broadcasts and the company that owns and operates Cozy is also headquartered at the same PO Box address as Fuentes’ America First Foundation. 

TPM emailed Szall to ask if he had any regrets about his own statements in light of his attorneys’ trying to make an issue of Peters’ “divisive” commentary. TPM also pressed him on how he could have concerns about that if he was apparently willing to work with Fuentes. Szall stood by his own remarks, though he suggested Witzke has not been involved in the Cozy broadcasts.

“You will never find us casting blame onto others for our own statements and behaviors,” Szall wrote. “I run a Bible study on Cozy, and Lauren doesn’t make content anymore, as she is 7 months pregnant and her attention is focused entirely on her new and growing family.”

Szall also suggested Peters’ comments were included in the motion to show that the host had damaged his own brand separate from any harm he alleged was done by TLM.

“Any damages caused to Stew Peters’ reputation are entirely self inflicted- and no fault of Lauren’s or my own,” Szall wrote.   

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