This story has been updated for clarity.
One day after news broke that CNN settled a defamation lawsuit on behalf of Covington Catholic teen Nick Sandmann, Robert Barnes announced he had sued author, producer, and show host Reza Aslan for Aslan’s tweet describing Sandmann’s face as “punchable.” The lawsuit, which Barnes provided to PJ Media, would slap Aslan with a minimum of $135,000 in damages. Barnes is not representing Sandmann, but other Covington Catholic boys whose reputations were allegedly harmed by Aslan and others.
When video of Sandmann supposedly smirking at a Native American man outside the March for Life went viral last year, Aslan infamously tweeted, “Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?”
Nearly exactly one year after posting the tweet, Aslan had finally deleted it on Wednesday.
LOL now Reza Aslan deleted his Covington tweet. After all this time.
— neontaster (@neontaster) January 8, 2020
Barnes responded to the news that the tweet had been deleted by announcing his lawsuit. “Apparently, Reza Aslan got served the suit I filed against him on behalf of [the Covington boys],” he tweeted.
— Robert Barnes (@Barnes_Law) January 8, 2020
The lawsuit, provided to PJ Media and originally filed in August 2019, names a broad swath of media figures and politicians as defendants, including Ana Navarro, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Maggie Haberman, and Kathy Griffin. Barnes told PJ Media he believes Aslan was served this week, because his team was not able to find the author’s address until last week. According to the lawsuit, the tweet calling Sandmann’s face “punchable” further spread the false narrative that the Covington Catholic boys had aggressively insulted the Native American man, when that was not the case.
The lawsuit seeks justice for the defamation of nine anonymous Covington Catholic boys.
“False and Defamatory Accusations against the plaintiffs are defamatory per se, as they are libelous on their face without resort to additional facts, and as clearly demonstrated here, [the plaintiffs] were subjected to public hatred, contempt, scorn, obloquy, and shame,” the lawsuit argues. “The conduct of the plaintiffs, based on the false facts the defendants placed and circulated into the court of public opinion, led to these lifetime labels on these minors: ‘display of hate, disrespect and intolerance’; ‘heartbreaking’; ‘decency decayed’; ‘racist’; ‘cried for America’; ‘infamous’; ‘gall’; ‘shameful’; ‘darker chapters’; compared to genocide; ‘laughing and egging on’ ‘hurtful’ behavior; ‘awful’; ‘cavemen gestures’; ‘taunting’; ‘harassing’; ‘stalking’; ‘mocking’; ‘bullies’ who should be doxed, ‘named and shamed’, expelled from school, denied admission to college, be punched in the face, and their lives ruined.”
Defamation is a high bar in American law, but the kind of non-repentant and slanderous attacks these young men faced — often for the alleged crime of wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat — arguably meets it.
The lawsuit asks the court to award “damages in an amount not less than $15,000 but not more than $50,000 against each defendant” on behalf of each plaintiff, which adds up to between $135,000 and $450,000 against each defendant.
Reza Aslan did not respond to PJ Media’s request for comment by press time.
Update 1/9/2019 3:30 p.m.
Both Sandmann and his attorneys, Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry, have attacked Barnes, arguing that Barnes is pretending to legally represent Sandmann. In his communications with PJ Media, Barnes made it clear that he was not representing Sandmann but only other Covington Catholic boys. The first paragraph in this article has been updated to reflect this.
“Robert Barnes keeps trying to suggest he represents [Nick Sandmann]. He does not. Barnes long ago blocked me, so I cannot ID him in this tweet,” McMurtry tweeted, sharing this article.
— Todd V. McMurtry (@ToddMcMurtry) January 9, 2020
Sandmann addressed Barnes on Twitter asking, “would you like to explain why you’re suing for me without my permission? You’ve blocked my lawyers on twitter and now claim you’re suing over the Reza Aslan tweet? Retract and stop lying to the public.”
He included a screenshot of this article, writing, “Barnes can claim all he wants that he’s filed it on behalf of the covington kids but we both know that isn’t true. Reza’s tweet references only one kid, and i take up a majority of the picture. The article he even linked (now deleted) stated this … It clearly states it’s about me in the title!”
Yes. Barnes can claim all he wants that he’s filed it on behalf of the covington kids but we both know that isn’t true. Reza’s tweet references only one kid, and i take up a majority of the picture. The article he even linked (now deleted) stated this: pic.twitter.com/aK7DfV9zqE
— Nicholas Sandmann (@N1ckSandmann) January 9, 2020
Wood retweeted Sandmann’s messages.
“Nicholas Sandmann has many legitimate defamation cases remaining for resolution through litigation. [McMurtry] & I prefer to focus on those matters & not be forced to take legal action against another lawyer but Robert E. Barnes crosses line with his claims about Nicholas,” the lawyer said. “Barnes has been previously warned to stop publicly suggesting or stating that he represents Nicholas. In response, Barnes “blocked” [McMurtry] & me on Twitter. Barnes apparently cannot control his desire to garner publicity by falsely using Nicholas’ name.”
Wood threatened to take legal action against Barnes if he “does not cease publishing & then correct his prior false statements.”
4/ If Barnes does not cease publishing & then correct his prior false statements, Nicholas’ attorneys are fully prepared to take legal action against him. So Barnes can take the easy way out or he will get out the hard way – we will sue him. His choice.
— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) January 9, 2020
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.