Editor's note: Initially we didn't want to publish this on the main site due to the attention we'd be giving Ms. Johnstone and conspiracy theorists like her. But it seems that the far left has now become so deranged, so devoid of human empathy and so vindictive that we felt exposing the movement's absurdity would be the best way of helping to defeat it. Ms. Johnstone recently published an article titled "Please Just Fucking Die Already" in response to John McCain's surgery, then another one titled "Good." after he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
Part 1: The Banter is Being Sued by a Rogue Australian Astrologer
No, you did not misread the headline. The Daily Banter is apparently being sued for libel by a rogue astrologer/journalist in Australia by the name of Caitlin Johstone -- and we have emails from a (supposed) lawyer telling us we will be facing legal action should we not take down the allegedly libelous piece we wrote about her.
If you haven't been following the back and forth we've had with Ms. Johnstone over the past few weeks, here's a quick recap.
Banter writer Jeremy Fassler originally mentioned Johnstone as an example of the increasing insane Alt-Left community propagating provably false conspiracy theories about Russia's interference with the U.S election and the Seth Rich/DNC murder conspiracy. This resulted in a furious response from Johnstone who accused us of knowingly lying about her writing for Russian propaganda outlets. Johnstone claimed she had not written for these outlets knowingly, and stated that they had published her work without her consent. We conceded that she did not write for the outlets specifically, but knew full well they were republishing her work. She published an email clearly showing she knew, but then denied it outright accusing us of lying.
We deal with this kind of nonsense on a pretty regular basis here at the Banter, a price we pay for shining a light on the dark underbelly of the web. Johnstone is a dedicated conspiracy theorist who believes 9/11 was an inside job, the DNC murdered Seth Rich, and centrist Democrats are trying to create World War III by fabricating the Russiagate scandal. It's routine fantasy world rantings of a clearly unwell woman who spends far too much time on the internet and far too little time going out and meeting people in real life. Johnstone is apparently so bored with her life that she is injecting herself into a debate thousands and thousands and miles away from where she lives in a completely different country. I do feel a degree of empathy for her, but you only need to read her writing to understand that she is an incredibly nasty piece of work with little regard for the damage she is causing. This was made even clearer when Johnstone threatened to sue us into bankruptcy and ruin my career -- a threat she is actually trying to make good on. This email was a preview for the onslaught that was about to go down:
After I published a response to her on the Banter, Johnstone published an article to her site accusing me of libel. Her evidence? I claimed she wasn't a trained journalist. Johnstone published this in reponse:
Hours later, Cohen’s “warning” came to fruition in the form of yet another unimpressive smear piece, this one directed at me and featuring an admittedly highly unflattering photo. I didn’t mind that (the article was basically just Cohen disagreeing with my take on things using a lot of hyperbole and snark), but I do take issue with the part where he told his publication’s readers that I don’t have a journalism degree:
I take issue with the highlighted portion of text because Cohen is lying. Again. I am actually a highly-trained journalist who graduated with distinction from the most esteemed journalism program in Australia. Which I mentioned in the Rantt News response I’d used to demonstrate that Jeremy Fassler was knowingly lying about me in my previous article.
She also provided photo evidence of her degree:
And then followed up with a pledge to pursue legal action against us:
Media outlets are free to accuse me of all of the above, call me any name you like, insult me, deride my work; that’s all fine. If you want to harm my reputation there are many ways you can do that without lying. And as an added bonus, they won’t ruin your career with a massive lawsuit like the one the Daily Banter is about to get slapped with.
In fairness to Johnstone, her degree is most likely legitimate. Like every other responsible media outlet, we published an update to the piece stating that she provided evidence of her diploma and that we would take it at face value. However, we did not acknowledge lying about it given Johnstone had never published her credentials on any of her online profiles (Johnstone claimed she had written about it, but given her extraordinarily sloppy journalism, mining through her 'work' to find evidence of her education isn't exactly high on my priority list). The comment I made was a throwaway remark aimed at highlighting just how atrocious she is as a "rogue reporter", but Johnstone seized on this as a libelous comment that she could "ruin" us with via a "massive lawsuit". Never mind the fact that her journalistic credentials makes her writing all the more troubling, Johnstone's knowledge of what constitutes libel in America is further proof of how completely deranged she is.
Broadly speaking, it is incredibly difficult to win libel cases in America due to very strong rights granted by the First Amendment. It also has to be proven that the statements were knowingly false and have created provable damage to the claimant. While Johnstone no doubt believes herself to be in the middle of a planetary war between good (the hardcore American left) and evil (Hillary Clinton Democrats), she is in reality an unknown internet writer blogging from her bedroom in Australia. She might believe she is in grave danger from the McCarthyite Neo Liberalists Clintonites plotting to start nuclear war for no good reason, but her evidence would be laughed out of court faster than Donald Trump can fire off a lie on Twitter.
I didn't pay Johnstone's threats any attention whatsoever and had a good time laughing about it with the Banter staff. Fringe conspiracy theorist thrive off of any coverage they get from legitimate publications and use it to whip up their impressionable audience with yet more fear mongering and tales of nefarious forces working to get them killed etc etc. I promised not to write anything else about Johnstone, not wanting to give her any more attention than she already had, despite her publishing our email interactions and attempts to crowd source a Californian lawyer on Twitter (the Banter is a California based company).
But then the phone rang late at night from a California number, and the story took a completely different turn -- one crazier than anything we've dealt with on the Banter before.
Part II: The Conclusion
Given I had recognized the phone number as being from California, I ignored it on the off chance Ms. Johnstone had managed to find an actual lawyer. Knowing several lawyers myself, I've always been told never to respond to a lawyer in person. You need a lawyer to respond to a lawyer, and even if the case against me was ridiculous, I knew there was no point in taking any risks. The caller left a voicemail, and I listened to it as I drove home from my friend's place.
"Good evening, I'm trying to get hold of Benjamin Cohen of The Daily Banter. My name is Felipe Hemming of the Hemming Law Firm in Huntington Beach California," said the message.
"I'm trying to locate the owner of the website The Daily Banter".
Wow. This was actually happening. I hung up and called my friend.
"I'm actually being sued!" I said.
"Get a lawyer," my friend advised. "Don't take any risks".
I went home feeling slightly taken aback, but mostly amused given Johnstone's case was about as viable as climate scientist's long term job prospects in the Trump administration. I did some more research into libel law in America, contacted a couple of lawyer friends of mine, and went to bed feeling comfortable about The Daily Banter's future when they assured me the premise was completely and utterly ridiculous.
I woke up the next day to several more attempts to contact me by Mr. Hemming -- the most bizarre coming from Facebook:
And then on Twitter:
There was another equally bizarre email, apparently from his sister Krista Hemming, but signed off by Felipe, who had found contact details through Godaddy, the company we bought our domain name through:
It then became apparent that this was completely fraudulent. Real lawyers don't:
a) call people they are tying to sue late at night to have a quick chat.
b) contact them through social media
c) use a fucking gmail account when sending an official email
I then did some more digging about 'The Hemming Firm' and discovered it doesn't appear to actually exist. The website given at the bottom of the email gets redirected to this page:
A cached version of the site can still be found, but it only lists Krista Hemming as being the "sole proprietor and attorney for The Hemming Firm". The home page of the cached site states:
Facing criminal charges, traffic tickets or want your old record expunged, we can help. Are you or someone you love in need of post-conviction relief or post-conviction appeals, we can help. Have you or someone you loved suffered from false arrest, police abuse or police misconduct, we can help. Were you or someone you love the victim of a civil rights violation, we can help. Are you trying to navigate the legal system alone and are feeling a little overwhelmed, we can help.
Krista Hemming is apparently an actual lawyer, but specializes in criminal charges and traffic tickets (a far cry from libel law) and works for a completely different legal firm in Redwood California, over 400 hundred miles away from Huntington Beach. Furthermore a Google search for Felipe Hemming shows that not only is he not a lawyer (and never has been), he runs some sort of a clickbait website named "Photography Isn't a Crime" (more pithily shortened to 'PINAC'), dedicated to reporting on taking photos of crimes committed by law enforcement (be advised, if you clicking around the site, pop up ads spring up from almost every section).
I received several more emails and calls from Felipe, each being more specific about the case. The last email specifically named the article we wrote about Ms. Johnstone:
At this point, I couldn't help but laugh about the whole situation. Caitlin Johnstone's dark threats and sinister promises to sue us into bankruptcy had culminated in her crowdsourcing a fake lawyer from a fake law firm on Twitter. In truth, this is what you'd expect from an woman who believes the CIA is directing the Washington Post to spread fake news, and 9/11 was an inside job perpetrated by the US government in an attempt to take over the Middle East. However, I did expect a little more from Ms. Johnstone. If you put aside the paranoia and maniacal screeching, Johnstone is capable of stringing together a decent argument. While the premise of much of what she says is insane, I did enjoy matching wits with her as she attempted to pick apart our article and poke holes in our sources. But Johnstone, as lunatic conspiracy theorists are prone to do, went off the deep end and turned the whole thing into a ridiculous comedy show that made her look even more deranged and detached from reality than she was before. Her attempt to make some quick cash and destroy the Banter was really just sad, and if anyone is at risk from legal proceedings, it is Mr. Hemming, who could be prosecuted for impersonating a lawyer.
I doubt we've heard the last from Ms. Johnstone -- she is an expert at making a victim out of herself and creating attention for her "cause". I would have published this on the main site, but frankly she doesn't deserve any more attention. This may go up at some point, but we'll have to get ready for the onslaught from her Twitter minions and expert legal team -- stress we can well do without.
It was fun while it lasted, Ms. Johnstone. Mostly for us, though.
Read more in the Members Only section: How the Tea Party, Bernie's Revolution and New Atheism Went Horribly Wrong