Nick Sandmann, the high school student known as the ‘MAGA Teen’, has had his $250 million defamation lawsuit dismissed by a federal judge.
Sandmann made headlines earlier this year when a viral video appeared to show him in a standoff with Native American activist Nathan Phillips in Washington DC. Sandmann was wearing one of Donald Trump’s infamous red ‘Make America Great Again’ caps at the time.
After the incident, the Kentucky teenager filed a $250 million lawsuit against the Washington Post for defamation, claiming the newspaper’s coverage of the event led to a ‘mob of bullies which attacked, vilified and threatened’ Sandmann.
However, this week US District Judge William Bertelsman dismissed the lawsuit, saying the Washington Post was acting within its rights when it published Nathan Phillips’ account of the incident, which – in his opinion – claimed the teenager was deliberately blocking Phillips’ path, even if he wasn’t.
In the ruling, Bertelsman wrote, via New York Post:
The Court accepts Sandmann’s statement that, when he was standing motionless in the confrontation with Philips, his intent was to calm the situation and not to impede or block anyone.
However, Phillips did not see it that way. He concluded that he was being ‘blocked’ and not allowed to ‘retreat’.
He passed these conclusions on to The Post. They may have been erroneous, but… they are opinion protected by the First Amendment. And The Post is not liable for publishing these opinions, for the reasons discussed in this Opinion.
Sandmann was in Washington with his high school classmates as they took part in an anti-abortion rally.
The teenager’s lawsuit reportedly claimed the Post “ignored the truth and falsely accused Nicholas of, among other things, ‘accost[ing]’ Phillips by ‘suddenly swarm[ing]’ him in a ‘threaten[ing]’ and ‘physically intimidat[ing]’ manner.”
Nick Sandmann waltzing into Federal Court thinking that he will win the $250 million lawsuit.
Federal Court: pic.twitter.com/vZVcv5XsJS
— 🇺🇸464 Days until Election 2020🇺🇸 (@Agent47_______) July 26, 2019
The lawsuit continued: “[The Post] intended to harm Nicholas because he was a white, Catholic boy wearing a MAGA hat, and consciously ignored the threats of harm that it knew would inevitably ensue, in favor of its political agenda,’ as per The Daily Dot.
However, the judge concluded:
This is not supported by the plain language in the article, which states none of these things.
Sandmann apparently filed a similar suit against CNN for $275 million, after the viral footage was interpreted in different ways by different media organisations – some suggested the high school’s students were harassing others at the demonstration, while others praised them for showing restraint after being harassed themselves.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.