A rift between lawyers representing students at the center of the Covington Catholic video controversy broke into the open this week, with attorneys for high-schooler Nick Sandmann threatening legal action against a lawyer best known for representing conspiracy theory website InfoWars.
Robert Barnes, who has become a personality on the right-wing internet thanks in large part to his legal work for InfoWars host Alex Jones, was quick to offer help to the Covington Catholic students after video of their interactions with a Native American drummer at the Lincoln Memorial went viral in January 2019.
Barnes’ legal predictions about the case garnered him further fame on the right, with Trump supporters eager to see the students win big legal victories against their critics. Since then, Barnes has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Covington students against various public figures.
But Barnes, whose Covington plaintiffs are all anonymous in the lawsuit, doesn’t represent Sandmann, the MAGA-hat-wearing student who had the central role in footage of the Lincoln Memorial incident.
Now Sandmann’s attorneys are threatening legal action against Barnes, saying that he’s falsely implying to his Twitter followers that he represents their client.
“We’re taking issue with some of his statements that, in our view, suggest that he is involved in our lawsuits on behalf of Nick Sandmann,” said Todd McMurtry, one of Sandmann’s attorneys.
The long-simmering tensions between Barnes and Sandmann’s camp—led by attorneys McMurtry and Lin Wood, who once represented wrongfully accused Atlanta Olympics bombing suspect Richard Jewell—exploded two days after CNN settled a lawsuit with Sandmann for an undisclosed amount. Responding to a tweet noting that author and former CNN commentator Reza Aslan had deleted a tweet saying Sandmann had a “punchable face,” Barnes tweeted that Aslan had likely just been served in a lawsuit on behalf of the ‘#CovingtonBoys.”
That irritated Sandmann’s camp, who saw it as Barnes’s latest attempt to suggest he’s representing Sandmann, the most publicly visible of the Covington students. Sandmann himself shot back on Twitter, accusing Barnes of “lying to the public.”
“Would you like to explain why you’re suing for me without my permission?” Sandmann tweeted. “You’ve blocked my lawyers on twitter and now claim you’re suing over the Reza Aslan tweet? Retract and stop lying to the public.”
Wood followed up on Sandmann’s tweet, noting that he would “prefer” to not take “legal action” against Barnes, who had blocked him on Twitter.
“Please remind him that he cannot ‘block’ a formal demand letter, a civil complaint, or an ethics complaint,” Wood tweeted. “I hope he finally gets the message.”
Wood’s co-counsel, McMurtry, joined in, tweeting that the Sandmann team was “done putting up” with Barnes.
Yet Barnes, who has tweeted that he doesn’t represent Sandmann, insists there’s “no issue” with the Sandmann team.
“My understanding is no issue exists with Sandmann's lawyers,” Barnes told The Daily Beast. “I have always made clear my clients are anonymous to protect them from being double-doxxed, and I do not represent Sandmann, who has publicly identified himself. I am glad Aslan deleted the tweet, and the process server should be able to get him served soon.”
McMurtry, though, is not happy with Barnes’ comments about the case.
“By tying his views of the case and his ideas of the case to Sandmann, it interferes with our claims,” McMurtry told The Daily Beast.
This isn’t the first time Barnes has exchanged Twitter barbs with Sandmann’s legal team. While Wood and Barnes were initially friendly as the Covington controversy unfolded, within two months, Barnes was tweeting that Sandmann “needed new lawyers.”
An amused Aslan told The Daily Beast that no matter what Barnes said, he hasn’t been served in any case filed by him.
“Whatever fantasy this guy is living, it has nothing to do with me,” Aslan said. “I’ve never heard of him, I’ve never been contacted by him, I’ve never been served by any lawsuit.”