You Could Soon Be Fined for Defamation for Calling Someone Racist in Florida

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You Could Soon Be Fined for Defamation for Calling Someone Racist in Florida

A Florida Republican lawmaker has introduced a bill that would make it defamation to accuse someone of racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia, a measure that would deal a devastating blow to freedom of speech in the Sunshine State.

The bill, which was introduced Friday, would make it much easier for someone to sue another person for defamation. The measure states that “an allegation that the plaintiff has discriminated against another person or group because of their race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity constitutes defamation per se.”

Proving “actual malice” is one of the main requirements of a successful defamation case. And this bill would make that easier, setting up conditions for a fact-finder to automatically infer that actual malice took place after an accusation of discrimination.

In cases of alleged homophobia or transphobia, defendants charged with defamation are not allowed to use the plaintiff’s religious or scientific beliefs as part of their defense. If they are found liable for defamation, the defendant could be fined at least $35,000.

The bill applies to statements made in print, on television, or on social media. It also states that someone who is caught in a viral video engaging in allegedly discriminatory behaviors does not qualify as a “public figure,” giving those people even more grounds to sue.

Finally, the bill removes certain journalistic privileges, particularly the right to keep sources anonymous. Statements from anonymous sources would be considered “presumptively false,” making journalists reporting on discrimination vulnerable to lawsuits.

More attempts to chill free speech in the ‘free’ State of Florida,” Democratic state Representative Anna Eskamani tweeted about the measure.

The bill was introduced by state Senator Jason Brodeur, who, despite claiming he wants to protect free speech, has taken aim at the right to free speech multiple times. In 2023, he introduced a bill that would require paid bloggers who write about elected officials to register with the state. Such a registry of political writers and independent journalists would have allowed for increased surveillance.

Brodeur’s new bill is almost an exact copy of another measure introduced early last year. That original bill passed the Civil Justice Subcommittee but ultimately failed in the Judiciary Committee.

Florida increased its attacks on LGBTQ rights over the course of 2023. With Republicans holding both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office, the new version might stand a chance.

If the new bill does become law, it is unlikely to survive a legal challenge due to its clear violations of free speech and anti-discrimination laws. But as with so many Republican culture-war laws, the point is not to create good legislation. The point is to scare people.

A new pro-Trump campaign ad is doubling down on the former president’s Hitler rhetoric—and attacking Nikki Haley over her stance on immigration.

Trump-allied super PAC MAGA Inc posted the video on X (formerly Twitter) Monday morning, marking the second time the group has specifically targeted Haley. The ad shows photos and video footage supposedly of the southern U.S. border, spliced with clips from a speech Haley gave in 2015.

“Drug traffickers. Rapists. Poisoning our country,” the narrator says. “But Nikki Haley refused to call illegals ‘criminals.’”

“Illegals are criminals, Nikki. That’s what illegal means,” the ad says, branding Haley as “too weak” and “too liberal” on immigration.

During a 2015 event in Colorado, Haley said it was “incredibly frustrating” to see the massive influx of undocumented immigrants, but warned it was “disrespectful” to dismiss them as criminals.

“We don’t need to talk about them as criminals, they’re not,” said Haley, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants. “They’re families that want a better life and they’re desperate to get here.”

Monday’s ad is the second time MAGA Inc has taken specific aim at Haley. At the end of 2023, the super PAC spent nearly $3.5 million on anti-Haley ads, mailers, and text messages. Haley has seen a steady rise in the polls. RealClearPolitics’s rolling average of the last three weeks of polling currently has Haley in second place, ahead of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who was once touted as Trump’s natural successor. Trump still enjoys a hefty lead, though.

But more importantly, the ad is a clear sign that Trump and his supporters are totally fine embracing fascist rhetoric. Trump has previously claimed immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” When critics rightfully pointed out that this was language straight out of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Trump claimed he’d never read the Nazi manifesto, only to then immediately decry immigrants for “destroying the blood of our country.”

And the MAGA Inc ad similarly claims that immigrants are “poisoning our country.”

It seems that Trump is gearing up to keep that extremist train of thought going should he return to the White House, bragging in December that he would abuse his powers if reelected. He also might bring his former adviser Stephen Miller back as attorney general.

Miller, an open white nationalist, claimed in December that the United States is being overrun by immigrants and can only be saved by “massive” deportations.

Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted he urged January 6 rioters to protest peacefully. But according to a new report, he didn’t even write one of the main tweets he cites in this defense.

Some of Trump’s closest allies revealed to special counsel Jack Smith, who has indicted Trump for trying to overthrow the 2020 election, that the former president refused to help stop the insurrection, ABC reported on Sunday, citing anonymous sources close to Smith’s investigation.

Trump’s longtime adviser and former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino said that even as the violence increased, Trump was “just not interested” in stopping it. Instead, Trump was content to sit and watch the riot unfold on television.

Sources told ABC that former Trump aide Nick Luna had at one point warned his boss that then–Vice President Mike Pence had to be taken to a secure location. Trump replied, “So what?”

Trump then tweeted that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.” His advisers were shocked he would add such incendiary commentary to the growing riot.

As the situation grew worse, Scavino said he printed out potential tweets Trump could post to urge the rioters not to get violent. At 2:38 p.m., after many protesters had already breached the Capitol, Trump finally let Scavino post a message on Trump’s Twitter (now called X) account telling the mob to “stay peaceful.”

Minutes later, Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt was shot dead when she tried to break through a barricaded entrance. The insurrection did not stop until Trump—after nearly two hours of begging from his aides, advisers, family members, and allies in Congress—posted a video telling his supporters, “Go home. We love you. You’re very special.”

Since he was indicted in August for his role in the January 6 attack, Trump and his lawyers have continually insisted that he told the crowd to be peaceful. And Trump did, exactly twice. Once during his speech at the Ellipse, when he said, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” And a second time in his weak tweet.

But during his speech, Trump couched that one reference to peaceful protest in a stream of otherwise incendiary rhetoric. He falsely claimed that he had won the election and that Pence and Congress had the right not to certify Joe Biden’s win. And his speech ultimately whipped the crowd up into an angry mob that stormed the Capitol.

As for his tweet, it now turns out that Trump wasn’t all that pressed to urge for peace anyway.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed an executive order on Friday that will immediately ban gender-affirming surgeries for minors within the state, making Ohio the second state in the nation to ban the procedure.

DeWine’s decision comes about a week after the Republican governor vetoed a bill that would have banned all gender-affirming care for minors, from surgeries to hormone blockers. But then, after the rest of his party threatened to override his veto, DeWine did something unexpected. He went above and beyond the original bill, restricting some access to gender-affirming care for adults as well.

Under the new set of administrative rules, both minors and adults seeking any gender-affirming care will require sign-offs by multidisciplinary teams. That team could include (but is not limited to) an endocrinologist, a bioethicist, and a psychiatrist, DeWine explained during a news conference on Friday. The new rules will be enforced by the Ohio Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

“Candidly, which I expressed a week ago, I am concerned that there could be fly-by-night providers, clinics that might be dispensing medication to adults with no counseling and no basic standards to assure quality care,” DeWine said.

Trans adults will also have to undergo a “lengthy” period of mental health counseling before seeking care.

The new steep barrier of entry—which is not required in most states across the nation—will likely tack on incredible medical expenses, only further limiting access to what is often viewed as lifesaving care for transgender individuals.

Watch as Ohio Governor Mike DeWine proposes Adult trans restrictions, including “lengthy” waiting periods, and a team including a “endocrinologist, bioethicist, and psychiatrist.”

These restrictions would all but eliminate trans care, slowing it to a trickle. pic.twitter.com/mgVzvOb8AD

— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) January 5, 2024

It’s not clear why DeWine suddenly had a change of heart and decided to expand restrictions on gender-affirming care to Ohioans of all ages.

Last week, DeWine spoke in support of trans rights, saying he heard the cries of parents with transgender children before making the decision to veto the previous Republican bill.

“I’ll never forget what so many of them told me. They said, ‘Governor, but for this, my child would be dead by now. My child would have committed suicide,” DeWine told local news outlet WTRF.

Wayne LaPierre resigned Friday as head of the National Rifle Association, after more than 30 years at the powerful gun lobby’s helm.

Although LaPierre cited health reasons, his exit—scheduled for the end of the month—comes as he and three other current and former NRA leaders face trial for a lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James. James accused the group in 2020 of violating nonprofit laws and misusing millions of dollars from the NRA to pay for extravagant lifestyles for themselves.

Here’s a look back at seven of the most outlandish things LaPierre has said.

1. He said the only thing that can stop a shooter is more guns.

Just one week after the tragic Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012, LaPierre insisted that there was no point in trying to pass restrictions on gun access. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said.

2. He said gun restrictions won’t stop school shootings.

“We can’t lose precious time debating legislation that won’t work,” he said in his post–Sandy Hook speech. “I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed officers in every single school in this nation.”

But as the country saw almost a decade later, the presence of police officers on campus did not prevent the shootings in Parkland, Florida, or Uvalde, Texas.

3. He said women are only free if they can own a gun.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, LaPierre said that Hillary Clinton didn’t actually care about women because she supported gun control laws.

“All of America’s women, you aren’t free if you aren’t free to defend yourself,” he said. “If President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or anyone else denies you that right, they don’t really care about you at all.”

4. He said guns are necessary because “Latin American gangs” have taken over the U.S.

In a 2013 op-ed for The Daily Caller, widely criticized for its racist undertones, LaPierre justified gun rights on the premise that “Latin American drug gangs have invaded every city of significant size in the United States.”

Blaming Latin American immigrants, or gangs, was a popular talking point for LaPierre. In 2018, just a week after the Parkland shooting, LaPierre fully embraced xenophobia as he accused Democrats of passing ineffective laws.

“Their laws don’t stop illegal criminals from crossing our borders every single day,” he said, as if gun control was thus completely unnecessary.

5. He did not see the irony of his own words.

“It should not be easier for a madman to shoot up a school than a bank or a jewelry store of some Hollywood gala,” LaPierre said during that 2018 speech, not seeming to realize he had just advocated for gun control.

6. He pushed antisemitic conspiracy theories.

In the same speech, LaPierre fell back on a favorite Republican talking point: blaming prominent Jewish people for the world’s problems. He claimed that socialism was on the rise in the U.S. thanks to “the social engineering and the billions of people like George Soros and Michael Bloomberg.”

7. He said all pro-gun control politicians should be afraid to go to bed at night.

The NRA’s annual 2023 convention took place in April, on the anniversary of one of the deadliest mass shootings in the city’s history and just weeks after two major mass shootings in Nashville, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky.

During his speech, LaPierre issued a casual threat. “Gun-hating politicians should never go to bed unafraid of what this association and all of our millions of members can do to their political careers,” he said to cheers from the crowd.

Florida abortion advocates got one step closer on Friday to putting access to the procedure on the state’s ballot in November, even as Republicans continue to try and block them.

Advocates needed to collect at least 891,523 valid signatures before February 1 to get the measure on the ballot. As of Friday, the Florida Division of Elections has verified 911,112 signatures—and more could come. Floridians Protecting Freedom, the group that helped organize the statewide signature collection, says they have gathered 1.4 million signatures.

The amendment would allow abortion access up until viability, or when the fetus can survive outside the uterus. This is generally estimated to happen at around 24 weeks.

Florida currently bans abortion after 15 weeks. That law went before the state Supreme Court in September. If the court upholds the law, then an even more restrictive measure banning abortion at six weeks—before most people know they are pregnant—will go into effect. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the hugely unpopular bill in April.

If the abortion amendment makes it onto the ballot, then it has a strong chance of winning. Florida requires 60 percent of voters to support amending the state constitution. A February study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 64 percent of Floridians believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases—more than enough to defeat the state’s minimum threshold. In fact, a good chunk of the petition signatures came from Republican voters.

That has Republican leaders running scared. State Attorney General Ashley Moody, a DeSantis ally, has asked the Florida Supreme Court to disqualify the amendment. She argues the language is misleading, claiming that the use of the word “viability” could have multiple meanings. The state’s high court will hear arguments on February 7.

In November, state Republican Representative Rick Roth quietly introduced a measure to raise the threshold for ballot initiatives to 66.7 percent of votes—just above the definite level of support for abortion access in Florida. The measure has not left the committee, and it’s unclear how far it will actually go. Roth introduced a similar measure in 2022 that easily passed the state House, but it failed in the Senate.

But even if Roth’s bill fails again, it’s a sign of just how far Republicans are willing to go to block people from voting on abortion access. Ballot initiatives have led to multiple major abortion rights wins, even in otherwise deep-red states. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, multiple Republican-led states have put the question of abortion on the ballot—and every single time, voters choose to dramatically increase protections.

New York Attorney General Letitia James asked the judge overseeing Donald Trump’s bank fraud trial to penalize the former president to the tune of $370 million on Friday—$120 million more than originally requested—arguing that Trump showed on the stand he had gained that much through unlawful conduct.

James is also requesting that the real estate mogul receive what could potentially prove the most costly penalty of them all: a total ban from participating in New York’s real estate market.

The penalty request came in a post-trial brief filed Friday by the New York attorney general, who sued Trump for $250 million in 2022 for overinflating his net worth to obtain favorable bank loans.

Attorneys will make their closing arguments in the trial next week.

Trump’s bank fraud trial has regularly grabbed headlines since it began in earnest in September 2023, mainly thanks to his inflammatory social media posts about Judge Arthur Engoron and his staff, which resulted in harassment of Engoron’s law clerks and a stunning gag order and several fines against the former president.

Engoron has said he will try to issue a ruling on the case by the end of the month.

Florida is on the precipice of its latest prohibition against the LGBTQ community, this time proposing legislation that would end all legal recognition of trans persons living in the state. The bill would also effectively cease the issuance of driver’s licenses to trans people—unless they comply with signing a “biological sex affidavit” that confirms their sex assigned at birth.

Should the bill pass the state government’s Republican trifecta, it would effectively force all trans Floridians to carry documentation that outs them, even if it contradicts identifying documents from other states or the federal government—like passports or birth certificates—that may recognize a person’s preferred gender.

“The department may not issue an original or replacement driver license or identification card that specifies a person’s sex as different from that specified on the person’s original certificate of live birth,” reads H.B. 1233.

“The department must require an applicant to sign an affidavit certifying that the sex specified on the application submitted for a new or replacement driver license or identification card is identical to that specified on the applicant’s original certificate of live birth,” it continues. “If the applicant determines that the applicant made a false attestation, the department must revoke his or her driver license or identification card.”

Florida has introduced a bill that would invalidate all drivers licenses issued to trans people. It would require trans people to carry drivers licenses that out them regardless if it is inconsistent with identity documents such as passports, birth certificates, etc. pic.twitter.com/7Zr2vJoqiR

— Alejandra Caraballo (@Esqueer_) January 4, 2024

The bill, introduced by Florida Representative Dean Black, also seeks to change the legal definition of “sex” and “gender” in such a way that excludes trans identities from all state legislation, and requires all vital statistics collected by the state to match a person’s sex assigned at birth, effectively making it impossible to track hate crimes against trans people in the Sunshine State.

Despite the fact that anti-trans legislation does nothing for a populace other than restrict the rights of an already marginalized group of people, Florida’s government has been on a tirade to choke and chip away at every iota of aid and comfort available to the trans community—which, by the way, constitutes just 5 percent of all young people in America and collectively less than 2 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 30, according to data by the Pew Research Center.

In November, Florida Representative Ryan Chamberlin proposed a bill that would abolish LGBTQ nonprofits, prohibiting the distribution of state funds to any contractor or organization that considers an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation. It is currently in committee.

And in 2022, the state angered educators across the nation by enacting a restrictive “Don’t Say Gay” law, which made it illegal for elementary school and later high school teachers in Florida public schools to mention sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom.

Donald Trump’s campaign team actively helped organize the scheme to use fake electors to falsely claim he won Michigan during the 2020 election.

Internal campaign emails obtained by The Detroit News reveal just how extensive Trump’s involvement was in the plot. The messages show Trump’s campaign staff helped organize the state Republican Party meeting that resulted in the fake electors. Trump’s team also tried to mail the document falsely certifying he had won Michigan to then–Vice President Mike Pence and the National Archives.

Joe Biden won Michigan in 2020 with 50.6 percent of the vote. When it became clear he would lose, a Trump campaign employee allegedly tried to start a riot at the TCF Center in Detroit, where ballots were being counted, to stop the vote count.

After Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Republicans in Michigan and six other highly contested states launched attempts to overturn the results. GOP operatives signed certificates falsely stating they were the state’s Electoral College representatives and tried to claim that Trump had won their state.

Michigan Republican leaders publicly insisted the fake electors were just there to ensure that Trump could be certified as president in a timely manner should the courts overturn the 2020 election. Every single one of Trump’s legal challenges to the election were thrown out.

But the recently revealed campaign emails show that Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, who came up with the fake elector plan, told Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn that the actual goal was to boost the conspiracy the election had been rigged. Doing so could eventually “void the results” showing Biden had won.

Trump lawyer John Eastman, who took over the plan from Chesebro, explained separately that “if Biden is simply held to under 270 by virtue of electoral votes not being counted (even though ‘appointed’), or by virtue of a switch to legislature-certified electors, then the election gets thrown to the House.”

“If the Republicans there hold true and vote with their state delegations, Trump should win a bare majority of the states.”

In addition to helping organize the fake elector scheme, Trump’s campaign staff also took it upon themselves to get the fake certificate to Washington. Emails show that campaign staffer Shawn Flynn led the meeting on December 14, 2020, during which the fake electors signed a certificate. Flynn was also in charge of mailing the certificate to Pence, who oversaw the electoral vote count.

When Flynn asked if he should pick a certain mailing class, Trump’s director of Election Day operations, Mike Roman, replied, “Choose the fastest.”

But it soon became unclear whether the certificate would make it. The fake documents from Michigan and Wisconsin got stuck in the mail, and Trump campaign staffers rushed to fly the certificates to Washington themselves. They even considered chartering a private jet to make it in time to block the legitimate certification.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel charged 16 people in July with felonies for pretending to be 2020 electors. The accused include state Republican Party Co-chair Meshawn Maddock and state Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Berden.

Three states have issued charges for fake elector schemes. Nevada charged six Republicans, including the state GOP chair, in early December. In Georgia, the Fulton County district attorney has charged some fake electors as part of her larger indictment against Trump. The former president and his allies have been indicted in the Peach State for trying to overturn the 2020 election results.

There is also an investigation into the fake elector scheme in Arizona. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, 10 Republicans who posed as fake electors settled a lawsuit over their actions in December. Under the agreement, the Republicans acknowledged that Biden had won the state and promised not to serve as electors in 2024 or any other election where Trump is on the ballot.

The other states where Republicans tried to overthrow the results—New York and Pennsylvania—have yet to publicly announce whether they will probe the fake elector plot.

If Congress doesn’t work out for Representative Andy Biggs, he may have a future writing campaign ads … for Democrats. The Arizona Republican admitted his party has accomplished “nothing” while in control of the House.

During a Thursday appearance on Newsmax, Biggs acknowledged the “embarrassing” truth: The GOP hasn’t managed to get anything done since taking control of the House of Representatives in 2022.

“We have nothing, in my opinion, we have nothing to go out there and campaign on, Chris!” Biggs told host Chris Salcedo. “It’s embarrassing!”

Salcedo echoed the sentiment: “The Republican Party in the congressional majority has zero accomplishments.”

Biggs: We have nothing to campaign on. It’s embarrassing

Salcedo: The Republican Majority has zero accomplishments pic.twitter.com/5ay2zKEzZP

— Acyn (@Acyn) January 4, 2024

The 118th Congress has passed just two dozen bills in its two-year session. Previous congresses have typically passed between 300 and 450 laws. Even when Republicans controlled both chambers under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, those sessions still managed to pass more than 70 laws.

Most of the current congressional session has been taken up instead by Republican in-fighting that resulted in two separate tortuous rounds of voting for a speaker. First in January 2022 for Kevin McCarthy and then again in October 2023 after McCarthy was ousted for making too many deals with Democrats.

Biggs is partially to blame for the lack of accomplishments, though. A member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, Biggs ran against McCarthy for speaker, contributing to the dragged-out chamber vote.

Biggs has repeatedly blocked budget bills, claiming he wants to decrease government spending but really helping push the U.S. dangerously close to a shutdown multiple times over the course of 2023. He also voted to oust McCarthy as speaker, plunging the House into chaos as the chamber scrambled to elect a new leader.

This is now at least the second time a Republican has publicly called out the GOP for getting nothing done. Texas Representative Chip Roy excoriated his colleagues in November during a House session.

“One thing. I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing. One. That I can go campaign on and say we did,” Roy said. “One!”

“Anybody sitting in the complex, if you want to come down to the floor and come explain to me one material, meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done besides well, ‘I guess it’s not as bad as the Democrats.’”

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