When Elizabeth Richter first received notice on December 13, 2022, that she was being sued by right-wing media performer Andy Ngo, none of it made sense. Richter had only ever been in proximity to Ngo once, at a 2021 Black Lives Matter demonstration. Ngo had dressed in all-black clothing in an effort to go undetected by demonstrators. A group of activists discovered him, prompting Ngo to flee into The Nines, a high-priced hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon.
Believing Ngo was partially responsible for the harassment of many of those closest to her, Richter let out a stream of expletives as Ngo fled the building. While she would rather have not sworn at Ngo, it was a constitutionally protected form of speech, so she thought little about it. But when she was served in Ngo’s expanding lawsuit, one that had begun nearly two years prior in 2020, she was speechless.
“I was really scared. It just seemed outrageous.… The claims that he put in his suit against me were huge lies,” Richter told Truthout. “There was a huge part of me that thought this would not go anywhere because it’s so untrue, but I had no legal background, so I kind of felt really alone.”
Ngo’s lawsuit claimed that a series of attacks, ranging from thrown milkshakes to alleged serious injuries, were the result of a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations-style criminal conspiracy in which activists were alleged to be either members of, or worked in coordination with, Rose City Antifa, a Portland-based anti-fascist group.
Ngo’s team sought $900,000 in damages from 50 defendants, including several John and Jane Does they believed were members of Rose City Antifa. Ngo eventually added on later incidents, including one in which activist and journalist John Hacker allegedly threw water on him at 24 Hour Fitness, and a second 2021 incident in which a group of black-clad activists chased Ngo at a Black Lives Matter protest (the same incident Richter was alleged to be involved in).
The trial began on August 1, and Ngo’s large list of alleged co-conspirators were whittled down to just two: Richter and her friend, Hacker, who were accused of participating in assault. “Andy knew from the litigation process that I’m a broke single mom of two disabled kids,” Richter told Truthout. As Ngo spread what she calls misinformation about her online, it became clear to the defendants that he had aims other than a simple payout.
Little evidence was provided of any overarching collaboration between the defendants, and several of the people named in the lawsuit were chosen simply because they had attended a protest or because they wore black clothing. Rose City Antifa was eventually dropped from the suit altogether when the judge ruled the group wasn’t even a legal entity that could be sued.
“For [Ngo], it was a way to create a new chapter/new book, new ways to bring in donations,” says Alissa Azar, an independent journalist who was present for the trial. “Aside from money, I think it was a way for him to try and use the system to uncover people’s identities, regardless what part they played in any of the involved incidents, and using that to further harass people, encourage and incite violence, and more fuel for his lie-infested ‘articles’ and content.”
The court pronounced Richter and Hacker not liable for damages on August 8. The ruling ended a multiyear quest by Ngo and his team of attorneys, media figures and right-wing organizations seeking to “take down” antifa by making activists’ information public and threatening them with the possibility of going bankrupt from spurious tort claims.
The defense brought in several witnesses at the August proceedings who drew doubt about the legitimacy of Ngo’s claims and the coherence of his assertions about anti-fascist violence, testifying to Ngo’s position as a right-wing provocateur. One such witness was Alexander Reid Ross, a geographer and scholar of far right movements who teaches at Portland State University. Ross had previous run-ins with Ngo, including having been singled out by Ngo on X, formerly known as Twitter, and in Ngo’s book, in which he erroneously suggested that Ross was actively involved in anti-fascist organizing.
“Whereas journalists tend to report stories from an observational standpoint, I told [the court] that Ngo makes himself the story, first targeting individuals who participate in social movements that he opposes through social media, and then aggravating volatile situations in ways that stimulate violence,” Ross told Truthout, noting that Ngo’s team tried to impugn his credibility on cross-examination. “It was actually a terrifying situation. I had to wait in a back room, and there were rumors of the whole courthouse being locked down due to threats.”
The security dynamic, in which the court restricted trial attendance following threats against both sides, played heavily into right-wing coverage of the trial. Ngo’s publication, The Post Millennial, portrayed the defendants as dishonestly feigning concern for their safety.
Ross testified that, of the people who responded to Ngo’s X posts about him, “There were at least three who fantasized about my death.” He also testified that every time Ngo posts a mugshot on X, he claims the person is antifa, which he said can lead to a terrorizing experience for the person singled-out (a point Ngo admitted previously).
Richter would know. “Andy was all over the internet spreading lies about me all through the trial prep,” she told Truthout, adding that she had to go on psychiatric medication because of the stress of the trial and the online harassment she faced. “[I experienced] nonstop death threats … people showing up at my house.”
While Ngo’s team was likely aware they wouldn’t get much money out of Richter, and that there was little evidence to prove her association with Rose City Antifa or any alleged assaults on Ngo, they continued forward anyway. This put her back into the limelight, and often in the crosshairs of Ngo’s X account, where his supporters would often single her out for further harassment.
Independent journalist and activist Melissa “Claudio” Lewis was set to be a witness about Ngo’s behavior and whether or not Richter and Hacker could have been involved in the incidents in the way that Ngo implied. “One creepy [thing] about journalists is we watch so carefully for so long we memorize body types: how people walk, how they hold their bodies, their shoulder placement,” she told Truthout. She added that she could testify to the fact that Hacker and Richter were not in a particular video doing anything they were being accused of: “John Hacker throws no punches, and Elizabeth Richter does not wear [all-black].”
This runs in direct contrast to Ngo’s claims that both Hacker and Richter were involved in the physical altercations as he describes them. Claudio was eventually cut for time, and Ngo’s attorney subsequently contested her appearance in the courtroom audience, citing alleged past contentions between Claudio and Ngo.
“As far as I know, none of [the civil cases against anti-fascists] have been successful.… I think that, as far as a strategy to get money, it’s obviously not working,” says Hacker, who believes the lawsuit’s real objective was to try and reveal activists’ personal information and as a longshot way of obtaining the kind of real evidence Ngo’s case was lacking. “That type of tactic could have been effective if you had other people that were willing to give information to opposing counsel that they weren’t required to.”
The Post Millennial has framed the case as an example of liberal city corruption and the ubiquity of antifa’s power. Whether or not Ngo was victorious in court, right-wing media outfits similarly used the case to paint Ngo a victim of an unjust system and themselves as brave truth tellers.
Portland State University’s Ross tells Truthout that the case suggests a high level of integration between wealthy donors, the legal sphere and the media sphere, and reveals “how wealthy donors can conjure up a legal practice on behalf of a right-wing provocateur with an obvious lack of integrity in order to back his specious lawsuit with the intention of stripping civil liberties from huge portions of the population by falsely implicating two activists and dragging their lives through a grotesque and miserable circus sideshow.”
The lawsuit was originally supported by Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney who has also been hired by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson to challenge charges of gender discrimination, represented Project Veritas’s James O’Keefe and served as a legal adviser to Trump’s 2020 campaign. Dhillon became a national committeewoman for the Republican National Committee of California, subsequently appearing dozens of times on right-wing media.
The Dhillon Law Group, Dhillon’s legal firm, still currently has a fundraising page on its website for Ngo, citing the 2019 “milkshake incident” despite that event no longer being included in the case against Hacker and Richter.
Just days after Ngo’s initial 2019 assault, right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin created a GoFundMe for Ngo that garnered nearly $200,000. According to evidence introduced at trial, Ngo has received $462,000 in royalties from his book, which became a top seller on Amazon, and he continues to draw anywhere from $5,000-$6,000 a month on Patreon on top of his other paid positions and appearances.
Defendants Face Court Costs
Even though Ngo lost the case, he has still been able to hold at least three defendants — Katherine Belyea, Madison Allen and Sammich Overkill Schott-Deputy — liable for incidents they claim to have had no involvement with: On August 21, the judge ordered the three, who had previously “defaulted” by not responding to the lawsuit, to each pay $100,000 in damages to Ngo. These three defendants never responded to the lawsuit, either because they never heard about it or for other reasons, and therefore the judge awarded the damages to Ngo as the default judgment.
“I had no idea the trials were actually going through. I had no idea the state of Oregon had tried to serve me and had done so via publication,” said Sammich Overkill Schott-Deputy, who uses they/them pronouns, and says they found out about the trial as it was happening. The county, they say, knew where they were residing because they were on probation. The summons was published in The Oregonian as a way of reaching defendants the court could not reach in other ways, which can be determined to meet the legal bar for notification.
Ngo alleged Schott-Deputy was involved in the infamous June 29, 2019, milkshake incident, but the only evidence provided was video in which Schott-Deputy was seen standing at a distance in the background. Schott-Deputy claims they “had no clue whatsoever” who Ngo was at the time. It was only when Schott-Deputy was arrested in a separate incident that they first heard about the possibility of being named in the suit, but their subsequent conviction and incarceration rendered them unable to respond. Schott-Deputy assumed that since the court was monitoring them closely, the court would have provided them with a summons.
“I wanted to answer for it. I wanted to speak my piece because I know of my own innocence in this matter,” Schott-Deputy told Truthout, pointing out that unlike Richter and Hacker, they never even had an interaction with Ngo. “[This judgment] would ruin me financially for the rest of my life, quite literally.” Schott-Deputy said they had struggled through multiple years of homelessness and substance addiction, just recently pulling their life back together. They say they’re weighing options with their attorney.
Meanwhile, Richter and Hacker are still on the hook for around $40,000 in total for the various costs associated with the court despite their attorneys working pro bono. The two are looking into pursuing Ngo to pay for part of the court costs, but they will still need to fundraise to be able to pay the rest of the bill.
Just as concerning, the trial put the private communication of the defendants into the public record. Hacker pointed out that part of what protects him and all activists is keeping “security culture” in mind, noting that his direct messages on Twitter were made public. Even if a case is lacking in merit, exposing the private communications of organizers can leave people open to far right harassment, doxxing and potential legal jeopardy, making effective activism nearly impossible.
“I don’t regret what I did. If you’re going to be confronted with someone who’s hurt a lot of people and you’re given the opportunity to tell them they’ve hurt a lot of people, take it,” Richter told Truthout. “Just know your rights. That was my First Amendment right to say what I wanted to say.”
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