On Thursday, a former lawyer and conservative commentator sued Twitter, former California Secretary of State (and current U.S. Senator) Alex Padilla, and others, alleging that these people conspired to suppress free speech and discriminate against conservative critics of Padilla in the name of fighting “misinformation” about the 2020 presidential election. Rogan O’Handley, the commentator in question, amassed 440,000 followers on Twitter as he shared his concerns about the 2020 election, but Twitter permanently booted him from the platform.
Padilla, as secretary of State, ran the newly created Office of Election Cybersecurity (OEC), which “devolved into a political weapon for censorship of disfavored speech by an overtly partisan Secretary of State’s office, more resembling an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Approved Information’ than a constitutionally restrained state agency,” the lawsuit states.
Padilla and the OEC worked with the Democratic firm SKDKnickerbocker (SKDK), the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), and Twitter to silence election integrity concerns and criticisms of Padilla’s office. According to the lawsuit, “the California censorship scheme included supporting the victory of SKDK’s client Joe Biden, the elevation of California Senator Kamala Harris to the Vice Presidency, and creating an opening for Padilla himself to be elevated to the position of United States Senator from California.”
To make matters worse, Padilla sidestepped state regulations on government contracts, claiming he had “emergency authority” to create the contract that would go to SKDK in private. He awarded the $35-million contract to SKDK, which publicly boasted of its involvement in Biden’s campaign. At the time, Democrats were considering Padilla as a replacement for Harris in the U.S. Senate, creating an obvious conflict of interest.
Padilla’s lack of budgetary authority to award the contract led California State Controller Betty Yee to reject paying SKDK. In February 2021, the California legislature belatedly agreed to pay Padilla’s past-due bills.
Meanwhile, NASS and OEC had a direct reporting channel to Twitter, which allowed the government bodies to flag certain messages for “misinformation.”
“We worked in partnership with social media platforms to develop more efficient reporting procedures for potential misinformation,” Padilla boasted at an NASS meeting. “Misinformation identified by our office or voters was promptly reviewed and, in most cases, removed by the social media platforms.”
Enter Rogan O’Handley, a former corporate and entertainment lawyer who put law behind him in order to engage in the political process as a commentator. He did well, too, with over 75 appearances on national news networks in the last year and a half. President Donald Trump even invited O’Handley to his summit on social media censorship.
As the lawsuit explains, “Mr. O’Handley’s speech infraction was his expression of the opinion that California, along with the rest of the nation, should audit its elections to protect against voter fraud.”
“A Democratic political consultant—hired with taxpayer dollars in a closed-bid, closed-door boondoggle to which not even California’s Democrat Controller could turn a blind eye—flagged Mr. O’Handley’s inconvenient speech to the OEC as evidence of ‘election misinformation,'” the lawsuit explains. The OEC contacted Twitter and the Big Tech company “promptly complied with the OEC’s request to censor Mr. O’Handley’s problematic opinions from its platform, and ultimately banned his account, which had reached over 440,000 followers at its zenith, for violating Twitter’s civic integrity policy.”
The lawsuit recounts how Twitter gave O’Handley the five “strikes” that would get him permanently exiled from the platform.
On November 12, 2020, O’Handley wrote, “Audit every California ballot. Election fraud is rampant nationwide and we all know California is one of the culprits. Do it to protect the integrity of that state’s elections.”
Even though an October 2020 poll found that 40 percent of Californians “express[ed] skepticism that [the 2020] presidential election [would] be conducted in a way that’s fair and open,” SKDK labeled O’Handley’s post as “misinformation” and reported it to OEC. OEC then flagged the post under the indicator of “voter fraud,” and reported it to Twitter on November 17.
“Shortly after Padilla’s agent or staff member ‘flagged’ Mr. O’Handley’s post to Twitter, Twitter subsequently appended commentary asserting that Mr. O’Handley’s claim about election fraud was disputed,” the lawsuit recounts. “Twitter than added a ‘strike’ to Mr. O’Handley’s account.”
The lawsuit mentions each of O’Handley’s other verboten tweets:
Jan. 18, 2021: “When your country is stolen and you aren’t even allowed to talk about it, that’s not freedom. It’s fascism.”
Jan. 21, 2021: “We are captives under a government we didn’t elect. It was forced upon us. That is by definition a dictatorship.”
Jan. 22, 2021: How about a 9/11 commission-style report on what the hell just happened this past election?! When half our country stops believing in the integrity of our vote, that’s an *emergency* issue.” (At this point, Twitter locked O’Handley’s account for seven days.)
Feb. 22, 2021: “Most votes in American history,” he tweeted, with a picture of the U.S. Capitol Building behind a fence.
After the final tweet, Twitter permanently suspended O’Handley’s account.
“Twitter never elaborated on how Mr. O’Handley’s five-word Tweet and photograph of the U.S. Capitol [incidentally, Mr. Padilla’s new workplace]—which was posted well after the 2020 election had been certified and a new President installed in office—manipulated or interfered with an election, suppressed voter turnout, or misled people about when, where, or how to vote,” the lawsuit adds, wryly.
O’Handley’s lawyers — Harmeet Dhillon, Ron Coleman, and Karin Sweigart — predicted that “discovery will show Twitter’s stated reasons for suspending Mr. O’Handley were pretextual. Twitter’s real reasons for suspending Mr. O’Handley do not stem from a violation of Twitter’s terms of service, but from the content of his speech raising concerns about election administration and integrity, specifically concerns related to the work of then-California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.”
“The trigger for Twitter’s censorship of Mr. O’Handley was its coordination and conspiracy with other Defendants to silence the protected speech of many Americans,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit brings six counts against Padilla, Twitter, and their alleged conspirators. It claims they violated O’Handley’s rights to free speech under the First Amendment (1) and the California Constitution (2); that they discriminated against him in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause by censoring him with discriminatory intent (3); that they violated his right to due process by interfering in his occupation without any kind of hearing (4); that the relevant section of the California Elections Code is “impermissibly vague because it fails to provide a reasonable opportunity to know what conduct is prohibited or is so indefinite as to allow arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement” (5); and that Twitter, Padilla, and others engaged in a “civil conspiracy to interfere with civil rights.”
The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgement, a permanent injunction preventing the secretary of State and the OEC from censoring speech, monetary damages, and attorneys’ fees.
While social media companies like Twitter have defended their censorship in the 2020 election by claiming they were fighting “misinformation,” this lawsuit presents an excellent argument that at least some of these efforts involved a cabal to advance Democratic politicians’ interests. Given the documented leftist bias at Big Tech companies like Twitter, it stands to reason that these companies might put their thumbs on the scale, even in unintentional ways.
In the 2020 election, however, Big Tech rushed to not only silence conservatives who raised concerns about voting by mail but also to suppress news about Hunter Biden’s laptop scandal, which directly implicated Joe Biden himself. A shocking post-election poll suggested that enough Biden voters would have abandoned the Democrat if they had known about this damning scandal.
O’Handley may have a very strong case against Padilla and Twitter. If the lawsuit proceeds, discovery may expose just how deep the scandal goes.