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Muslim comedian awarded $4.1 million in defamation lawsuit against neo-Nazi site

In a Nov. 15, 2006, file photo, Dean Obeidallah performs at the fourth annual New York Arab-American Comedy Festival at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York. (AP Photo/Gary He)

(RNS) — A federal judge has ordered the publishers of a prominent white supremacist website, the Daily Stormer, to pay $4.1 million in damages to Muslim comedian Dean Obeidallah for publishing false statements accusing him of terrorism.

In 2017, Obeidallah filed a civil suit in Ohio federal court against the Daily Stormer’s founder, Andrew Anglin, over the neo-Nazi site’s false claims that Obeidallah was part of ISIS and was the “mastermind” behind the bombing of an Ariana Grande concert that killed 22 people that year in Manchester, England.

“American Muslims should be able to take part in public life without being threatened or attacked,” Obeidallah said in a statement after the award was announced Wednesday morning (June 12). “This ruling sends a clear message that Muslim voices will not be silenced by threats and hate.”

Obeidallah is the host of SiriusXM’s daily “The Dean Obeidallah Show,” billed as the first national radio show hosted by a Muslim American, and the podcast “I Want to Be Your Muslim Friend.” The New Jersey-born lawyer-turned-comic also co-founded the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and co-directed the documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!”

Obeidallah said he plans to give the money to organizations working against bigotry.

“If I collect a penny from the Nazis, I’m not going to keep their money,” he told the Daily Beast. “I’m going to give it to organizations that fight hate and bigotry, the very groups Nazis despise.”

A week after the concert attack in 2017, and shortly after Obeidallah published an op-ed about President Trump and white supremacist terrorism, the Daily Stormer posted an article titled “Dean Obeidallah, Mastermind Behind Manchester Bombing, Calls on Trump to Declare Whites the Real Terrorists.”

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. ruled that Anglin’s statements about Obeidallah were not protected speech under the First Amendment and ordered Anglin to remove the post.

The post, which was still live as of this writing, said Obeidallah is a “confessed terrorist wanted by Europol, the British security service MI-5, Interpol and a litany of other international authorities.” It accused him of escaping to ISIS for safety “after being sought for questioning by MI-5 in connection to the bombing,” then “bragging” about the attack and encouraging others to carry out similar attacks.

The post also included several fabricated images of tweets purportedly showing Obeidallah claiming responsibility for the attack and voicing support for other terrorist attacks. The post suggested readers “go confront him” online.

One faked tweet reads: “All glory is to Allah, the magnificent and merciful, for it is only by his grace I was successfully able to execute the manchester bombing.” It appears to be based on an actual message from Obeidallah that said, “Thanks to Trump our allies don’t trust us and our enemies don’t fear us. Is this what Trump meant by Making America Great?!”

When the article was posted, Obeidallah asked the Daily Stormer to remove it. Two months later, when the post was still there and he had begun receiving death threats and other violent messages, the comedian sued Anglin for libel.

In a ruling issued May 2, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio entered a default judgment against Anglin, who had not responded to Obeidallah’s lawsuit, and his company, Moonbase Holdings LLC.

On Wednesday, citing Anglin’s failure to respond, the judge granted Obeidallah the full award of $4.1 million.

“The message this victory sends is unmistakable: the contemptible lies that Anglin and his ilk disseminate to sow hate among us crumble before the rule of law,” Subodh Chandra, co-counsel for Obeidallah, said after the May ruling. “The fact that Anglin didn’t even try to defend his misconduct shows how much contempt he has for real American values like equality, decency, honesty, integrity, and justice.”

Sirine Shebaya, interim legal director of Muslim Advocates, which filed the lawsuit with Obeidallah and Chandra, said the judgment “vindicates Mr. Obeidallah for the ordeal he has suffered because of the shameless smears against him” and “compensated for the threats, emotional stress, and reputational damage he has suffered.”

Anglin’s website denies the existence of the Holocaust, includes sections called “Jewish Problem” and “Race War,” and regularly orchestrates online trolling campaigns. The site’s name is a nod to Der Stürmer, a German tabloid that published Nazi propaganda until the end of World War II. The

Anglin, whose whereabouts are unknown, did not respond to a request for comment after Wednesday’s ruling was announced.

“The goal of Anglin and the Daily Stormer’s smear campaign was not just to silence me but all others who dare to speak out about the evils of white supremacy,” said Obeidallah. “The hope is that this lawsuit sends a message that white supremacists and neo-Nazis will never bully us into silence and we will continue to wage our fight against hate.”

Anglin, the Daily Stormer and Moonbase Holdings LLC are facing other legal troubles, too.

A group of Charlottesville, Va., residents is suing Anglin and other organizers of the Unite the Right rally, arguing that the 2017 white supremacist gathering was “a direct conspiracy to commit violence.”

A former American University student is seeking $1.5 million in damages from Anglin for allegedly inciting a harassment campaign against her after she became the student government’s first black female president.

Last year, a federal judge in Montana ruled that a Jewish Realtor’s lawsuit accusing the Daily Stormer of coordinating a “terror campaign” of online harassment cannot be dismissed on First Amendment grounds. The site published her contact information along with that of her husband and 12-year-old son, which she says led to their receiving more than 700 “disparaging and/or threatening messages” filled with “ethnic slurs and misogynistic rants.”

About the author

Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan is a Boston-based journalist reporting on American Muslims and millennial faith for RNS. Her newsletter, Creeping Sharia, curates news coverage of Muslim communities in the U.S. Previously, she was the social media editor at RNS.

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