Two election workers in Georgia are suing a website that spread conspiracy theories about them and their roles in the 2020 election.
The far-right website The Gateway Pundit reportedly shared inaccurate information about the election workers to make voters doubt the results.
NBC News reported that retired 911 call centre staffer Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss claim in the legal filing that Jim and Joe Hoft, operators and writers for The Gateway Pundit, produced “a campaign of lies” that “instigated a deluge of intimidation, harassment, and threats that has forced them to change their phone numbers, delete their online accounts, and fear for their physical safety”.
It was claimed that Ms Freeman and Ms Moss played integral roles in several conspiracy theories shared and consumed by conservatives following President Joe Biden’s election victory over former President Donald Trump.
Companies that manufacture voting machines, such as Dominion Voting Systems, have also sued media companies that reported misleading or directly false claims about their election work.
Pieces appearing on The Gateway Pundit that implicated Ms Freeman were sucked up in a loop of accusations that also included other conservative outlets as well as Mr Trump.
Mr Trump referred to Ms Freeman by name in his call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on 2 January, during which the then-president asked Mr Raffensperger to “find” close to 12,000 more votes in favour of Mr Trump to allow him to erroneously eke out a victory in the state.
The call took place a month after a Gateway Pundit article accused Ms Freeman of “counting illegal ballots from a suitcase stashed under a table”.
Mr Trump, who isn’t named in the lawsuit, called Ms Freeman “a vote scammer, a professional vote scammer and hustler”, during the call.
Ms Freeman has said that strangers twice attempted to enter her home to “make a citizens’ arrest”, according to the lawsuit. It adds that Ms Freeman, after receiving guidance from the FBI, had to close her business and leave her home for two months.
“People have said the most vile and violent and racist things about me and my family – on the phone, on my social media accounts, on email, and in person. Things you wouldn’t believe,” Ms Freeman, who is Black, said in a statement, according to NBC News.
“The toll of all this on your life, day in and day out, it wears on you,” she added. “I go to church and I know that God is my keeper, so I’m keeping my head up. But the impact is still there. For example, when I’m out in public and I hear someone call my name, I jump. Just hearing my name scares me.”
Ms Freeman was first mentioned by The Gateway Pundit after Jacki Pick, a Trump campaign attorney, presented surveillance footage from a voting centre where Ms Freeman worked to the Georgia State Senate on 3 December last year.
Ms Pick said someone who “had the name Ruby across her shirt somewhere” discovered a “suitcase” stuffed with ballots from “underneath a table”.
Both the state’s Bureau of Investigation and the secretary of state said there was no such suitcase. Election workers had been told to leave for the night but were then informed that they should start counting votes again. Ms Freeman was just restarting her ballot-counting.
But the conspiracy theory had staying power on websites supportive of Mr Trump and on social media with QAnon influencers. Mr Trump then tweeted a video from OANN, the conservative cable news channel, that included claims made by The Gateway Pundit, which continued making claims about the plaintiffs in the spring and summer.
The legal team representing Ms Freeman and Ms Moss are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, and that the articles be removed. They also want statements saying that the site’s information was false.
Ms Freeman said she “can’t imagine ever going back to election work”.
“The times when I’ve decided to work for the county, I did so because I thought I could help and because I knew I could do the job well,” she added. “What I didn’t know was that it would turn out like this.”
The Independent has reached out to The Gateway Pundit for comment.