One of Ted Cruz’s most prominent supporters could be headed to court soon to defend his Islamophobic falsehoods about a victim of terrorism.
Glenn Beck, the media entrepreneur and purveyor of hundred-dollar gangster vests, has become a fixture on Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign since endorsing him in January 2016 in Ankeny, Iowa.
“I’m taking a very big risk here and gambling on it, but this is how much I believe in Ted Cruz,” he said on the day of his announcement.
“And if Donald Trump wins, it’s going to be a snowball to hell,” he added.
But come this summer, it’s Beck who could face judgement. The radio talker faces a defamation lawsuit—because he doubled and tripled down on charges that a victim of a terrorist attack was actually the real terrorist.
And now, previously unnoticed court filings show his defamation lawsuit might get exciting—and just as the presidential race hits a boiling point. Filings also show that the mediation process, which could have resulted in a settlement, has been terminated.
Filings also show that we may know as soon as this summer whether or not Beck’s suit will go to trial. A First Amendment case like this one would likely attract breathless media attention—especially since it involves a conspiracy-minded media celeb using explicitly Islamophobic language to go after a student.
And if Cruz is the Republican nominee (not an unthinkable prospect), then one of his top surrogates could give him a rolling PR nightmare.
The facts of the case are, well, not that surprising if you know anything about Glenn Beck. In the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing terrorist attack that left six people dead, Beck claimed that one of the victims—Saudi national Abdulrahman Alharbi, who was injured in the attack—was actually in on it.
“You know who the Saudi is?” Beck confidently proclaimed in one broadcast a few weeks after the attacks. “He’s the money man. He’s the guy who paid for it.”
Beck also urged his listeners to alert their congressmen about the matter.
“I need you to call your congressmen right now,” he said. “There are congressmen who are aware of this, have seen the documentation—they need your support, they need your help… If we do not stand up, he is on a plane tomorrow or he is already gone.”
And he then asserted that Alharbi, living in the U.S. on a student visa, was part of a larger, sinister relationship between the American and Saudi Arabian governments—a theory he pushed for weeks across his various media platforms.
“There is a relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia the American public doesn’t know about,” he said at one point. “The case of Abdulrahman Ali Alharbi is only the latest example.”
The problem for Beck? Not every person from Saudi Arabia is a participant in a terrorist plot. Authorities investigated Alharbi and subsequently cleared him of any involvement—but it was not lightning-fast enough to keep Beck from telling his millions-strong audience that Alharbi was a crypto-terrorist.
So, in March of 2014, Alharbi took him to court. As the ensuing defamation lawsuit plays out, Beck’s lawyers have made some very interesting arguments in defense of their client.
For instance, it’s much harder to sue someone for defamation if you’re a public figure. So Beck’s team argued that Alharbi became an “involuntary” public figure by virtue of the fact that he was the victim of a terrorist attack.
“By behaving suspiciously at the marathon finishing line when the bombs detonated, thereby causing his detention and a background check by law enforcement,” he had become a public figure, according to a motion his legal team filed in July of 2014.
Current filings show the deadline for finishing the information-gathering process has been moved from Sept. 30, 2015, to March 31, 2016. And they indicate that we may know within a few months if a judge will opt to toss the case or send it to a jury.
“Since Beck has made the First Amendment a cornerstone of his defense, I’m not surprised he would not agree to participate in mediation, which would likely end in some kind of settlement,” said Steve Klein, a lawyer who focuses on First Amendment issues.
“It does not speak to the strength or weakness of his defense,” he added.
Beck and Cruz have campaigned side-by-side across the early primary states. Beck accompanied Cruz for the last few days of the Iowa caucuses, where Cruz snagged a game-changing win.
During their Iowa swing together, Cruz could barely control his affection for Beck.
“What an extraordinary, visionary, passionate thinker,” he gushed at one Iowa stop.
In a radio broadcast this month, Beck complained that he has spent a lot of money paying his own way to campaign for Cruz.
“This has cost me about $300,000 to go on the road for as long as I have,” he said, according to the Christian Post. “$300,000 out of my pocket. Those are not donations. This is out of what I’ve personally lost because I’m not on the job, so that’s what it’s cost me by not being at the facilities in Dallas. We’ve lost $300,000.”
Beck also stumped for the senator in Arizona and Utah. In the lead-up to that trip, he told listeners that they needed to campaign for the senator because we may be facing divine judgment.
“Ezekiel talks about these times and says basically everyone in their own way, you are a watchman on the tower, you are a watchman at the gate,” he said. And the blood of the people who could have been saved—now think of this—because we’re talking about the rights of all mankind. If America goes down—this isn’t hyperbole any more, this isn’t like a famous Reagan speech that he gave—this is real.”
Cruz has already faced scrutiny for associating himself with reflexively anti-Muslim figures.
Frank Gaffney, head of the conspiratorial Center for Security Policy, was cast out into the cold by most of the GOP—in part for his irrational fear of Muslims—before he found a haven in the Cruz campaign. Gaffney also helped push the Obama birther theories in 2008 and has accused top Hillary Clinton adviser Huma Abedin of being a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Speaking of secret Muslims, he has long crusaded against Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, who Gaffney also believes is secretly hiding his Muslim faith. In fact, Gaffney is so obsessed with Norquist’s alleged secret life that he has convinced enough members of the National Rifle Association of his claims that they moved to bring Norquist’s membership on its board up for a vote.
When Wolf Blitzer pressed Cruz this month on the fact that Gaffney has said Saddam Hussein played a role in the 1993 World Trade Center attack and the Oklahoma City Bombing, Cruz deflected.
“I’m not interested in playing the media ‘gotcha game’ of ‘Here’s every quote everyone who’s supporting you has ever said at any point, do you agree with every statement?’” he said. “That’s silliness.”
If Cruz thinks Beck’s defamation situation is equally silly, he’s keeping it to himself for now. His team didn’t respond to a request for comment.