George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot and killed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin, is suing Martin’s family, the lawyer who represented them, and other people associated with the murder case. Zimmerman is being represented by a right-wing lawyer who supported the anti-Obama “birther” movement, and the claims in the lawsuit stem from a documentary by a fringe filmmaker who traffics in conspiracy theories.
Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in a 2012 case that sparked a national debate over racial profiling and gun laws. Martin, 17, was unarmed when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, reported him as “suspicious” as he walked through a gated community where Martin was visiting family in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman shot and killed Martin, claiming he acted in self-defense. He was later acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges. Now he’s suing Martin’s family and associates for $100 million, based on claims from a discredited documentarian.
The lawsuit targets Martin’s mother, father, various people associated with Martin and his case, the state of Florida, the Martin family’s lawyer Benjamin Crump, and HarperCollins Publishers, which released Crump’s book on the killing of minorities this year. The suit claims one of the witnesses against Zimmerman misrepresented herself—with Crump and the Martin family’s knowledge.
Zimmerman is being represented by Larry Klayman, an attorney described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a professional gadfly notorious for suing everyone from Iran’s Supreme Leader to his own mother.”
While accusing President Barack Obama of secretly being Muslim in 2013, Klayman called for a “second American nonviolent revolution” to get Obama to “leave town, put the Koran down [...] and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”
A “birther” who claimed Obama faked his U.S. birth certificate, Klayman has also claimed the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was ordered by Saddam Hussein. Klayman is a founder of the conservative group Judicial Watch, which has repeatedly sued the Clintons. This summer, a D.C. legal ethics panel recommended barring Klayman from practicing law for 33 months over a complaint by a former client who accused Klayman of exploiting her financially when she refused his advances. Klayman said he planned to appeal and claimed the hearing was “politicized.” The panel told The Daily Beast the appeal was “ongoing.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Klayman said, “George Zimmerman seeks justice not just for himself, but for all of those others victimized by dishonest prosecutors who seek convictions to further their political and other unethical agendas to advance their careers. He also seeks justice against those who would divide the nation by pitting the races against each other for ‘fun and profit,’ including the Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump and his friend Al Sharpton.” (Sharpton is not a defendant in the case.)
In a statement on behalf of himself and Martin’s family, Crump blasted Zimmerman.
“This plaintiff continues to display a callous disregard for everyone but himself, revictimizing individuals whose lives were shattered by his own misguided actions. He would have us believe that he is the innocent victim of a deep conspiracy, despite the complete lack of any credible evidence to support his outlandish claims. This tale defies all logic, and it’s time to close the door on these baseless imaginings,” Crump said Wednesday.
Those alleged “baseless imaginings” stem from a new documentary by a longtime conservative conspiracy theorist.
“The facts pled in this Complaint, which set forth the injury suffered by Plaintiff, were only recently discovered by Plaintiff Zimmerman on or about September 16, 2019 through the publication of the book and film by Hollywood director Joel Gilbert, both entitled The Trayvon Hoax: Unmasking the Witness Fraud the Divided America,” the lawsuit reads. (Klayman’s announcement of the lawsuit also advertised a screening of the film.)
Gilbert is a repeat Infowars guest who has peddled a number of right-wing conspiracy theories. In 2012, he made a movie claiming President Barack Obama was actually the secret son of labor leader Frank Marshall Davis, and that Obama had been raised from birth to lead a communist revolution. (Gilbert accounted for the two men’s lack of physical similarities by claiming Obama had plastic surgery to hide his link to Davis.)
During the 2016 presidential election, Gilbert produced a film falsely accusing Bill Clinton of fathering an illegitimate child (the man in question took a DNA test decades ago that indicated Clinton was not the father). Gilbert also designed a pro-Trump Times Square billboard, paid for by Roger Stone’s super-PAC. He previously marketed other conspiracy films, including one suggesting Paul McCartney is secretly dead. The film was later reclassified as a mockumentary.
Gilbert claimed to have mailed millions of copies of his anti-Obama documentary to swing state voters in 2012, raising questions about his financial backing. The Federal Election Commission mulled legal action against Gilbert that would have required him to disclose his funding, but the agency’s general counsel ruled that the videos counted as a media action, not an independent political expenditure.
Zimmerman has previously tried to capitalize on his fame from the Martin shooting. In 2017, he advertised a “celebrity boxing match” against rapper DMX. The fight was later cancelled. Later that year he likened Martin to a “dog.” He also made $138,900 auctioning the gun he used to kill Martin.