I’ve been on a journey the last few months as a writer and as a fan of a particular nerdy medium known as anime. It’s a cartoon medium originating from Japan that has grown in popularity exponentially over the last 13 years. Anime TV shows and films are now being dubbed in English almost simultaneously with their Japanese premieres. Anime conventions have cropped up in most major cities. The anime fanbase is diverse, but it’s no stretch to say that most of it consists of young women and other marginalized identities.
Now, the anime industry is having its #MeToo moment, as Sharon Grigsby of The Dallas Morning News recently wrote.
For the last nine months, Twitter has been embroiled in the dramatic fall from grace of one of the most notable men in the anime and entertainment industry: voice actor Vic Mignogna. Iconic for his roles as Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist and Qrow Branwen in RWBY, Mignogna has a voice acting career spanning 20 years. Since January, Mignogna has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct, including inappropriate touching during fan engagements and overtly aggressive behavior toward female colleagues.
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Mignogna is not of the same gilded notoriety as Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey. But particularly within the young fanbases of the internet, this is a man with clout. He’s also approachable and just within reach at your local anime or geek-based convention.
Personally, I have walked through this kind of nerd culture most of my life. Mignogna’s voice was a part of many a late night spent doing homework with the Adult Swim anime lineup on in the background. Now, that voice brings up a very different set of emotions.
Meanwhile, the harassment doesn’t end with Mignogna’s past actions. His defenders are making sure his victims suffer ongoing consequences: Some of Mignogna’s fans are actively utilizing social media to stoke the fires of extreme harassment against anyone remotely commentating on the case.
As I have watched it all unfold on my own Twitter timeline — I’ve been following many of the players in this story as a fan for many years — I’m reminded starkly of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the victimhood that he and other conservative white men in power love to invoke as part of their anti-feminist backlash. I am reminded of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and her family enduring death threats, relocating multiple times as a result. I am reminded that these same men will posture with righteous anger, manipulate their media presence with a shiny veneer of faux concern for “real” victims — and how even well-meaning people can get swept up in these manipulations.
Mignogna is following a similar sequence. For a while he was releasing seemingly sincere apologies and statements in response to the accusations against him. Then, on February 20, Mignogna announced that he had “retained a law firm as [his] last and only recourse to salvage [his] reputation and [his] 20-year career.”
Cue Minnesota lawyer Nick Rekieta (whose Twitter account was suspended last week as a response to the months of harassment unleashed against survivors by his hordes of fans). Rekieta, a friend of Mignogna’s, began a crowdfunding effort for Mignogna’s legal expenses. Since going live, the GoFundMe has raised a $252,000 war chest for the voice actor’s expenses, with excess funds to be sent to the Salvation Army Dallas Domestic Violence and Abuse shelters.
“Vic has been removed from Rooster Teeth and Funimation, and disinvited from several conventions, disconnecting him from his income and from his fans and supporters,” writes Rekieta on the GoFundMe page. “Companies cannot rely on non-credible accusations and devastate a career for virtue points.”
Although Rekieta writes on the same page that he does not act in a legal capacity for Mignogna, it was revealed recently that Rekieta has implied to his paying fans that he has been acting in such a capacity since May.
Rekieta also runs a YouTube channel where he “lawsplains” things like travel bans and the “incursion” of “cancel culture.” “Cancel culture” is a cynical term for how public figures are criticized on social media for not being “politically correct” enough, or for past transgressions. It’s a term often used to flip the script on those who bring up important criticisms of these public figures.
Rekieta averaged about 2,000 views a video until he got in on the swirling Mignogna allegations and began the GoFundMe. At that point, views shot up to between 25,000 and 200,000. Donations started rolling in, and multiple live video updates a week became the norm on the channel.
On April 18, Mignogna filed a doomed-from-the-start lawsuit against his former employer, American dubbing studio Funimation, his two colleagues Jamie Marchi and Monica Rial, who had accused him of harassment, as well as Rial’s fiancé Ron Toye. The suit alleged that the defendants not only defamed Mignogna by speaking out about their own experiences, but also participated in a conspiracy to get him fired and tortious interference with contracts relating to his public appearances at conventions and prospective business relations. Funimation was also accused of vicarious liability.
From what we know from Mignogna’s first deposition after filing the suit, his connection to Rekieta is fairly recent, and began when the lawyer reached out to Mignogna via email to express support for “[Mignogna’s] situation.” However, there is a discrepancy between that deposition on June 26 and Mignogna’s February 20 statement where he refers to Rekieta as “a friend.” Rekieta is the one who referred Mignogna to the lawyer who currently represents him — Ty Beard, of Tyler, Texas — an estate lawyer who handled Rekieta’s grandfather’s estate.
Mignogna’s status as a public figure certainly doesn’t help in a defamation lawsuit. During a train wreck of a hearing on September 6, Judge John P. Chupp even remarked on Mignogna’s lawsuit, “We don’t have many cases that people show up for. So I mean, obviously there is some following, because people are actually here. It’s usually very lonely here.” Such a statement by the judge — a commentary on widespread public interest in Mignogna — should have foretold the outcome of the case to the plaintiff, since to qualify as being defamed, one must not be considered a public figure.
Moreover, most of the “evidence” against the defendants consists of tweets and commentary that hardly mention Mignogna by name, and rely heavily on the context of other tweets that the plaintiff’s representation failed to provide in numerous botched filings and affidavits prior to the September hearing.
In the midst of the legal battle, Rekieta continued to livestream from his home (and sometimes from wherever his many travels take him), drinking alcohol along with special guests, including Beard, to comment on whatever irrelevant piece of information they’d dug up in an effort to even the score for Mignogna. In one instance, Rekieta uncovered an old, dropped restraining order against Toye, a defendant in the case, apparently attempting to discredit Toye’s current fiancée’s claims against Mignogna while drudging up long-resolved interpersonal conflicts that have nothing to do with the current case.
Such “discoveries” are meant to incite Rekieta’s fanbase, who have already shown themselves to be capable of threats and harmful actions, even going so far as to disclose the home addresses of defendants and other parties who have spoken out through Kiwi Farms, a forum which came to the mainstream forefront during Christchurch mosque shooting for reposting the manifesto and livestream of the shooter. Sexually explicit “rebuttals” and death threats on various other social media are not uncommon. These people are not to be taken lightly; they can and will weaponize any information they can gather to silence anyone speaking out.
Both Rekieta’s Twitter timeline and his livestream feed function much like Donald Trump’s Twitter account. Rekieta’s videos directly attack survivors. He states, “I just don’t like any of the defendants and I think they’re terrible people and I want to see them ground into dust. Because when you lie to take away a man’s livelihood you deserve to be ground into dust.”
Twitter user Terez27 breaks down a clip from Rekieta’s stream following the release of this clip of Mignogna harassing a child during a costume contest. During his commentary, Rekieta employs the use of some basic strawman fallacies, implying that “Law Twitter” (the group of lawyers who have independently commented on this dumpster fire of a case) is suggesting that Mignogna is soliciting sex from a child and that the defense in the case should play the clip for a hypothetical jury. Never mind that such a case is unlikely to go to a jury, and that no lawyer commenting on the case actually accused Mignogna of that. Rekieta then says that Mignogna asking a child dressed as Wonder Woman “what are you doing after the show?” is “cute.”
A favored tactic of both Beard and Rekieta is reverse psychology. In one video, Beard says, “Sooner or later you lunatics are going to [destroy a person’s career] who’s going to take a gun and blow your head off…it’s not going to happen in this case. . .” However, Rial herself has been told to wear a bulletproof vest to her public appearances, and has had to make statements about the threats she and others have received.
Meanwhile, Mignogna is still active in the anime convention circuit. These conventions can range from small meetups at the local Holiday Inn to large-scale productions that host thousands of fans, who may dress up as their favorite characters, go to panels, and meet actors and creators in the scene. Those public figures are typically paid for such engagements. Very few conventions have canceled Mignogna’s appearances. And one that did, Kameha Con, eventually allowed him back under certain stipulations. In fact, Mignogna appeared at HawaiiCon, where he was paid for his fan engagements which included a “Manta Ray Snorkel on a Polynesian Canoe with Vic Mignogna.”
Oh, and look: Here’s Rekieta giving his viewers a live update from the convention, informing them that the judge-ordered mediation between the parties in the lawsuit came to an impasse. Mignogna’s livelihood is clearly not “ruined,” as alleged by the lawsuit and his representation.
Rekieta and Beard seem to have forgotten that Mignogna is not on trial. Even Mignogna himself seems to have forgotten he is not on trial. Had he stuck to his previous apologies and tried to make amends, this incident might have reached a potentially restorative conclusion. And perhaps old fans like myself would have a lot more respect for him in the aftermath.
The allegations against Mignogna never shocked me. As a person who regularly attends conventions, I was warned against going to his photo ops and signings long before January 2019. What does shock and sadden me is the way in which he is ongoingly targeting survivors — through his lawsuit and through proxies like Rekieta and Beard. As Mignogna stands back, these two men are drinking whiskey and eating jellybeans on a livestream for all to see while they rake in the cash and kickbacks.
As we watch this particular case continue to unfold via Twitter and Rekieta’s livestreams, despite Judge Chupp’s October 4 dismissals of claims against all defendants, it’s important to note the relentless backlash that rises up in the face of any #MeToo moment. Too often, we consider exposing abuse perpetrated by powerful men to be accountability in itself, without deeply examining the power dynamics at play.
Power is a versatile thing, and it can be used by people without the titles of Supreme Court justice or president. It can be used by men, particularly white cisgender heterosexual men, in niche communities like the one Mignogna is a part of, where a lot of young marginalized people find solace in their favorite media and actors.
Mignogna’s failure to recognize the power he holds in this very public sphere is unfortunately all too commonplace, and has only led to the direct targeting, shaming and denigrating of survivors who have so bravely come forward to share stories.