The New York Times is reporting that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has hired Marc Randazza to defend him against the lawsuit filed by the families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims over Jones’s claims that the shooting was some kind of hoax.
Since days after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Jones has spread bogus theories that the families were “crisis actors” in a government plot to confiscate Americans’ firearms. The families have endured online abuse, physical confrontations and death threats from Mr. Jones’s devotees.
Unfortunately, the Times story finds an unhelpful angle, as telegraphed by its title, “Lawyers for Neo-Nazi to Defend Alex Jones in Sandy Hook Case.” Reporter Elizabeth Williamson probably did not write that headline, but she did write the rest of the story:
Alex Jones, an online conspiracy theorist who claims the Sandy Hook massacre that killed 20 children and six adults was a hoax, has hired lawyers representing a founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website to defend him against defamation claims brought in Connecticut by families of seven Sandy Hook victims.
Marc Randazza and Jay Wolman of the Las Vegas-based Randazza Legal Group are defending Mr. Jones in Connecticut. The lawyers also represent Andrew Anglin, the co-founder of the Daily Stormer, who is being sued for harassment by a Montana woman after Daily Stormer followers subjected her to a torrent of anti-Semitic slurs and threats. Mr. Anglin has cited Mr. Jones as an early influence.
It’s a general principle of legal ethics that everyone is entitled to a lawyer. Alex Jones and Andrew Anglin are no exception. They are entitled to a lawyer, so somebody in the legal profession has to represent them. In this case, they’ve picked Marc Randazza.
Scott Greenfield, who manages to write about all legal things before I do, has found some dumb reactions to Randazza’s representation of Jones, and one of them is a common but tiresome response from Above the Law‘s Elie Mystal, who should know better.
And I respect what he’s doing. No, I don’t agree. I don’t think he should be doing it. Just because Nazis deserve a legal defense doesn’t mean you’re a good person for defending them.
That’s a slight variation of something lawyers must hear a lot when they defend unlikable clients: “Just because somebody has to represent them, that doesn’t mean you have to do it. You could have said no.”
That’s a weak argument. Everyone, including guys like Alex Jones and Andrew Anglin, has a right to legal representation. As an ethical matter, the legal profession, considered broadly as an institution, owes them a duty of defense, no matter how unpleasant it may be. And when faced with a repellent duty that someone has to fulfill, there is no virtue in refusing the duty when you that know someone else will have to do it. If Randazza had refused to take this case, then some other poor lawyer would be stuck in his place, having to endure the same stupid crap.
Beyond that, guys like Alex Jones and Andrew Anglin deserve a defense simply because our legal system is built around the assumption that they will get one. Our adversarial system encourages both sides to present their strongest and most aggressive argument in court. So although Jones and Anglin may be bad people, they aren’t necessarily as bad as the opposing party accuses them of being. That doesn’t mean they did the specific things that the lawsuit alleges. That doesn’t mean the people suing them are entitled to everything they’re asking for. A one-sided proceeding does not produce justice. Which is why everyone deserves a defense.
I suppose you could ask, even if everyone deserves a defense, why it is that Randazza seems to represent so many figures from the alt-right.
…he’s taken on a number of far-right clients, including Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin, the alt-right site GotNews and its founder Chuck Johnson, right-wing internet personality Mike Cernovich, and the alt right-beloved forum 8chan. Last month, he also entered the case of alt-righters and neo-Nazis accused of conspiracy to riot in Charlottesville.
I think the reason is probably the obvious one: They pass his name around between them. You defend dentists against malpractice suits, you get calls from other dentists. You defend cops from brutality claims, you get calls from other cops. And you defend alt-right trolls, you get calls from other alt-right trolls. That’s just how word-of-mouth marketing works.
(If I had to guess — and guessing is much less work than investigating — I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Cernovich was the key. Randazza is a long-time legal blogger at Legal Satryicon, and long before Cernovich was a leading figure on the alt-right, he had a perfectly normal legal blog called Crime and Federalism, which he shared with Connecticut lawyer Norm Pattis. In those early days, the legal blogosphere was a small community, and Cernovich almost certainly would have been aware of Randazza. I was part of that community, and I knew both of them.)
Marc Randazza is not some kind of “Nazi lawyer.” He’s a well-known First Amendment lawyer who has helped a lot of different kinds of people, sometimes for free. In a small way, I’m one of them. Randazza’s blog has one of the most hilariously pugilistic Terms and Conditions pages I’ve ever seen, and when I asked him something about it, he told me I could use it on my blog if I wanted to, and he let me list him as the legal contact for Windypundit.
At another time I was thinking of registering a “Windypundit” trademark, and Marc gave me some free advice. He even offered to do the registration for me. (I didn’t take him up on it because it felt funny to ask him to work for free, even though he’d offered.) It would be misleading to say Marc Randazza is my lawyer — he’s never represented me in anything — but I wouldn’t be surprised if our minor interactions meet the technical legal definition of a lawyer-client relationship.
What it comes down to is this: When planning the military defense of a country, you want the battle against the invaders to start at its borders, not in its heartland and cities. The same is true when defending free speech. We want the battles to occur at the fringes, with the weirdos and deplorables, because if we’re fighting for the freedom of speech of people who say ordinary things, we’ve already lost the war.
Marc Randazza is one of the people fighting for us at the fringe.