|Robert Stacy McCain and Ali Akbar|
At the heart of the matter is a commenter at a progressive Web site who goes by the handle "RogerS" and appears to have a fair amount of knowledge about legal matters--in fact, he was encouraging liberal activist Brett Kimberlin to file a federal RICO lawsuit against members of the bloggers club and other individuals on the right. When Kimberlin did, in fact, file a RICO suit, I wound up in jail roughly one week later. Coincidence? That's hard to say, but let's look at what we do know.
In certain corners of the blogosphere, it became popular to suggest that "RogerS" and Roger Shuler (me) were one and the same--even though I had nothing to do with the comments in question, I was not aware of any possible federal lawsuit, and I have no clue about the identity of "RogerS." Still, evidence suggests I might have paid a high price--loss of my freedom for five months-- for something that did not involve me.
As for the National Bloggers Club, it operates under a media umbrella created by the late right-wing publisher and provocateur Andrew Breitbart--and its president, Ali A Akbar, has a criminal history and admitted connections to former Bush White House advisor Karl Rove. Akbar also has a history of trolling for gay sex on adult Web sites. (More on that and Akbar's criminal record in an upcoming post.)
For a touch of irony, the NBC reportedly received seed funding from Foster Friess, a wealthy Wyoming businessman. How wealthy is Foster Friess? Reports vary, but assets in his investment-management firm total $15.7 billion, while The Wall Street Journal reported his personal net worth at $530 million. Friess is touted as an "active patron of religious and conservative causes," and he perhaps is best known for backing the 2012 presidential run of the virulently anti-gay and anti-choice Rick Santorum. Friess appears to be setting the table for a 2016 Santorum run at the White House.
The NBC is not Friess' only foray into the right-wing media. He invested more than $3 million to get Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller Web site off the ground. On his blog, Friess seems to be a pro-gun "law and order" conservative, and he has thrown money at Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is another anti-gay candidate.
With Ali Akbar's criminal record and his apparent tendency to troll for gay sex online, he seems to make a strange bedfellow for Foster Friess. But then, the Friess-supported bloggers club is a strange outfit to begin with. The "RogerS" episode they created out of thin air is one of the most bizarre sagas I've ever witnessed--and it was personal for me, given that I was portrayed as a "boogey man" for something I did not do.
Were the bloggers, or the people to whom they answer, upset enough about "RogerS" to somehow get involved with my five-month incarceration? On the surface, my arrest grew from a dubious defamation lawsuit filed by Alabama GOP operative Rob Riley and violated more than 200 years of First Amendment law. But NBC bloggers went into a virtual feeding frenzy in the days before and after my arrest, apparently convinced that I was "RogerS," the pseudo lawyer who was encouraging Brett Kimberlin to file a RICO lawsuit against them. (See here and here.)
Were the right-wing bloggers, and their benefactors, worried enough about Kimberlin's lawsuit that they decided to make me pay--for something I was not remotely involved with? Heck, did Foster Friess help bankroll an operation that led both to my incarceration and a legally shaky foreclosure on our house?
|Foster Friess: Man Atop the Horse|
But the timing of the episode is curious, and the list of questions it raises is lengthy: Were right-wing interests concerned because they thought I was encouraging a legal action that might unlock some of their secrets? Or was the "RogerS episode" a diversionary tactic to attract attention away from those who really were responsible for having me jailed? Was I actually incarcerated because of my reporting about U.S. Judge Bill Pryor and his ties to 1990s gay pornography?
Did liberal interests, who one might expect to be my comrades, play a role in helping to set me up as "RogerS"? Or did liberals throw the idea out there, more or less as a joke, only to have conservatives run with it in nefarious ways?
I've come to no solid conclusions about all of this. But since I lost five months of my freedom under historic and outlandish conditions--and my wife, Carol, almost joined me in being abducted--I have obvious motivation to learn the truth about what happened.
This much is clear: Ali Akbar himself was deeply invested in the notion that I was "RogerS," as evidenced by this tweet from early November 2013. Does that mean Akbar encouraged members of his bloggers club to spread a false narrative about me?
Public documents show the following: Liberal activist Brett Kimberlin filed a federal RICO lawsuit against Akbar, the bloggers, and other right-wing figures on October 15, 2013, with an amended complaint filed on October 17. Six days after that, a Shelby County deputy entered my garage, beat me up without showing a warrant or stating his purpose for being there, directed pepper spray into my face, and hauled me off to jail.
You see what I mean by curious timing. So let's follow the trail, as we know it so far.
"RogerS" apparently made his first appearance in a September 18, 2013, post at the progressive blog Breitbart Unmasked (BU). Interestingly, that was one day after I broke the Bill Pryor gay-porn story. "RogerS" commented about a possible lawsuit that Kimberlin was planning against a number of individuals connected to the Breitbart Network.
Another commenter on the same post replied: "RogerS is one of two very cool people in Alabama . . . Everyone should read his latest: A very "stiff" portrayal of a federal judge." That's the first sign I can find of connections forming between "RogerS," Roger Shuler, and the Bill Pryor story--and it came from a commenter at a liberal Web site.
On a BU post dated October 11, 2013, "RogerS" wrote in a comment that he was a lawyer who had experience with RICO cases. He then stated the following:
I say this because if Kimberlin had us as his lawyers, we would have advised him to sue under RICO and go after a broad conspiracy, including some deep pockets. The defendants in the state case are very lucky they were not sued under RICO in federal court. It certainly appears that they have engaged in a pattern of racketeering. Those treble damages are very nice.
It didn't take long for conservatives to pick up on the idea that I was RogerS--and I was the "legal wizard" who was encouraging Brett Kimberlin to go after them under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Never mind that my only connection to Brett Kimberlin is one post I wrote about his long-and-winding feud with various conservative bloggers and entities. I've never pretended to give Brett Kimberlin, or anyone else, legal advice--after all, I'm not a lawyer, and I've never claimed to be a lawyer.
Kimberlin, acting pro se, actually filed a RICO lawsuit on October 15, 2013, four days after the "RogerS" comment above. A RICO lawsuit is a civil claim based largely on criminal allegations that typically involve a possible conspiracy. In other words, RICO involves allegations of organized crime, and it can be a pretty unsettling matter to be named as a defendant in such a lawsuit. Kimberlin filed an amended complaint on October 17, and six days later (on October 23, 2013), a Shelby County deputy attacked me in my own home and arrested me.
a post dated October 24, 2013, at Patterico's Pontifications (written by California lawyer Patrick Frey). That was the day after my arrest, and you can see the first "RogerS"/Roger Shuler comparison in comment No. 65, which was written by "Patterico" himself.
The Other McCain (written by Robert Stacy McCain) took it even further in an October 26 post. At that point, my bunk in the Shelby County Jail had barely gotten warm. From the McCain item:
If, as some have suggested today, “RogerS” is actually the self-same Roger Shuler (Shelby County Jail inmate No. 288928), then his comments at a pro-Kimberlin web site are what lawyers called “evidence.”
Evidence of what? I have no idea, especially since I wasn't, and never have been, "RogerS."
The next day, Allergic to Bull (written by Aaron Walker, also known as "Aaron Worthing") wrote about my arrest, followed by a post on October 28 that analyzes various legal actions in which I've been involved--and might include more inaccurate reporting than any blog post I've ever read. On October 31, Walker joined the "RogerS" debate and even suggested that I might have engaged in criminal activity by falsely posing as an attorney:
And while I feel the evidence is not conclusive beyond a reasonable doubt that “Roger S.” is Roger Shuler, in my opinion there is a high probability that it is.
And this could be a very big problem. As I believe it is in most states, unauthorized practice of law is a crime in Alabama.
Now look, legal advice happens all the time, on the internet. Someone says what someone should do in a suit and that is arguably legal advice, but the bar associations generally let that slide. Everyone knows you aren’t a lawyer, so an intelligent reader will take what you said with a grain of salt.
But if the person actually starts identifying him or herself as a lawyer and then starts dispensing advice on how to handle a suit... that becomes much more problematic.
In a post written two days later, Robert Stacy McCain jumped on the "Roger Shuler must be committing a crime" train. The lengthy November 2 post includes screenshots of comments "RogerS" left at BU and then attempts to draw some conclusions:
See, there are coincidences and then there are coincidences. As anyone can see from the comments I’ve screencapped, “RogerS” had been commenting quite frequently: Oct. 17, Oct. 18, Oct. 19, Oct. 21, Oct. 23 and then . . . silence, beginning the same day Roger Shuler was arrested in Alabama, continuing for a full week until, after Aaron Walker pointed out that it is a crime in Alabama to impersonate a lawyer, suddenly “RogerS” pops up to say he is definitely not Roger Shuler.
What kind of coincidence do you think that was? And don’t you think that authorities in Alabama, who seem to be very zealous in their enforcement of the law, might be able to get a subpoena to determine whether Roger Shuler was indeed the phony lawyer “RogerS”?
Because it seems to me that if there were probable cause to suspect Roger Shuler of actually committing a crime — as opposed to a mere contempt of court problem regarding civil litigation — they could get a search warrant for Roger Shuler’s computer.
McCain seems to be big on "coincidences," so isn't it curious that he has a keen interest in searching the contents of my computer, where perhaps my research related to Judge Bill Pryor was stored?
What does all of this mean? I still don't know, but we have clear evidence of a coordinated campaign to falsely suggest that I was "RogerS"--and I was encouraging Brett Kimberlin to file a RICO lawsuit.
Matt Osborne, editor at Breitbart Unmasked, tried to put the whole thing in perspective with a post titled "Why is Team Akbar So Invested In Believing That Roger Shuler Comments Here?" Osborne stated that "RogerS," whoever he is, posted comments from a geolocation far removed from my home base of Alabama. Osborne also showed that "RogerS" had left a comment just hours after my arrest--and correctly noted that it would have been impossible for me to comment from jail.
Here is Osborne's broader take on the "RogerS" saga:
After the arrest of Alabama blogger Roger Shuler on October 23, right wing blog speculation over the identity of RogerS, who leaves comments here from time to time, reached fever pitch. Robert Stacy McCain, Aaron Walker, John Patrick Frey, Kimberlin Unmasked, and even Ken White (of Popehat blog) all weighed in with excitement bordering on bloodlust. In fact, one might even be tempted to think that all their blogging about Shuler’s arrest was driven by an intense desire to link Mr. Shuler with this website, as if they thought such a link would magically absolve Team Akbar of defamation. But last Thursday evening, RogerS spoiled their plans with a comment from the same IP address that he always uses. . . .
Looking over Team Akbar’s blog coverage of Shuler’s arrest, we find Aaron Walker the most hypocritical. A few weeks ago, Walker pretty much admitted to practicing law without a license in Maryland; now he tries to compensate by speculating about RogerS, Roger Shuler, and whether the latter has broken the law by making litigation-related comments as the former. But for sheer dumbassery, R.S. McCain is impossible to beat. As if to underscore just how desperately he needs to believe RogerS is Roger Shuler, on Saturday McCain wrote a breathless justification for his conspiracy theory. McCain’s writing is far short on proof, but overly long on speculation. He seems to think that Shelby County deputies would be justified in seizing Mr. Shuler’s computer to search for proof of nefarious criminal coordination with McCain’s mythical “Team Kimberlin. . . . ”
(McCain) hates liberals with the utter contempt and eliminationist loathing of a racist. He does no fact-checking against what he thinks he knows. He panders to a reactive audience that actually believes the president was born in Kenya, and (McCain) hoards guns and gold in anticipation of the Second Amendment remedies for Obamacare. The tone is absolutist and authoritarian: if you disagree with McCain’s politics, you are not human, and therefore not entitled to constitutional protections. Team Akbar is characterized by two kinds of thinking, magical and misanthropic, and McCain is the perfect avatar for both.
How is this for irony? I've never had much interest in the Kimberlin v. Team Akbar story. The one post I've written on it was at the request of a valued source. While the story raises some important issues in the digital age, it generally falls outside the boundaries of what I normally report.
Someone, though, decided to drag me into the fray--based on false assumptions that I was encouraging Brett Kimberlin to file a RICO case. I intend to find out more about why that happened.
Before we go, here is a video where Ali Akbar admits (at about the 2:17 mark) that he has worked with Karl Rove:
(To be continued)