The world was so much easier for crazy people before the internet.
Let's face it — in the bucolic neighborhoods of pre-internet America, you could pretty much phone the crazy in. Spend a few minutes shouting at the geese on the town commons and make the occasional pronouncement about aliens at the school board meeting and you could call it a day. But now, with floor-to-ceiling media and all of the world's crazy people at your fingertips, the bar is terrifyingly high.
But Little Debbie clears it.
"Commentator" Debbie Schlussel is the stream of bat's piss that shines out like a shaft of gold when all around is dark. She is the manic and oddly-worded blog post in the darkness, the watcher of the malls, the fire that burns the homes of incorrectly-hued neighbors, the light that brings the truthiness, the shrill honking voice that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of the totally mental. Little Debbie stands out.
And apparently, as is common with floridly nutty people in public life, she's an aspiring censor. Go figure.
You might recall that we've discussed Little Debbie before. When she smirked and chirped over Lara Logan's sexual assault in Egypt we were there. When she worked herself into an unmedicated frenzy over an Arab-American Miss America we were there. When she lunged for her flag-shrouded fainting couch at the prospect of a black man portraying a white man we were there. When she rubbed her sweaty palms together gleefully at the prospect of North Korea imprisoning human rights reports we were there. When she explained that the real tragedy of a mass shooting at an immigration clinic was that immigration clinics are full of foreigners we were there.
So we're happy to be there for Little Debbie today as she erupts into a lawsuit-threatening tirade.
Much of Little Debbie's freakout happened on Twitter, the ideal platform for people who already communicate in word fragments, glottal clicks, and vaguely threatening grunts. I'm having trouble piecing together exactly what set her off on her Twitter feed. Perhaps it was mockery over her recent assertion that Snow White And The Huntsman should be read as Muslim propaganda. Perhaps it was criticism of her suggestion — apparently aimed at a critic who was a non-white doctor — that some doctors wouldn't be doctors without affirmative action.
At any rate, Little Debbie did not react well to criticism. She lashed out at critics, including attacking one for being a "fake convert" Jew and thus somehow inauthentic. When a few people suggested she had used twitter on the sabbath, she began to issue legal threats and demands, demanding retraction and threatening a defamation action, chortling that she would sue in Michigan to make things more expensive for her foes, suggesting that she would attack the careers of her detractors, threatening critical attorneys with bar actions, and ridiculing possible opposing counsel based on their sexual preference. Debbie repeatedly vowed that she knows the law, despite being under the false impression that prevailing plaintiffs in defamation cases get attorney fees. Perhaps she's confused about what country she's in. And, most of all, she pressed her theme that her detractors are just jealous of her awesomeness. [Note: If Little Debbie sends any of these down the memory hole, I have screenshots.]
Her threats were not confined to Twitter — she was also issuing legal threats and demands based on an article about her at Right Wing News. I'd quote it but the whole site is down as of the time of this writing, possibly because she ate it.
It's difficult to see how Little Debbie thinks she can prevail in a defamation action. She's a public figure, and she'd have to prove that her detractors acted with actual malice in saying that she tweeted on the sabbath. Even if she could do that, she'd have to prove damages. I ask you — how can you possibly make the reputation of someone like Debbie Schlussel any worse than it already is? Also, I must ask Debbie herself: you rant and rage about how Americans are insufficiently muscular and aggressive in the face of the various foes you perceive. Is this the sort of strength, the sort of bold Americanism, the sort of fighting spirit you are looking for — encouraging people to run to the courts to sue when someone is very mildly mean to them on Twitter? You sniveling pissant.
Many perceive Little Debbie as a buffoon. Certainly she's a foolish, pathetic woman, a freak who pushes hate to the ragged edges of dark self-parody. Perhaps it's all a marketing schtick, not that it matters for evaluation of her character. But even if she's a buffoon, and whether or not her behavior is an extended Andy Kaufman set piece, she's troubling. First, she's troubling because some media figures inexplicably treat her as a serious commentator. Second, she's troublesome because censorious legal threats, even when issued by the aggressively unhinged, chill speech. In fact, legal threats by the unhinged are particularly chilling of speech, because threatened people perceive (often correctly) that the unhinged will sue without regard to reason or legal merit.
Our legal system lets crazy people sue you for no good reason and inflict huge expense and disruption upon you, often with no recourse. We've seen that in the case of Brett Kimberlin, who abuses an incompetent legal system to silence critics. Schlussel looks like just the sort of person to do the same. What can we do about it? Well, as I've argued before, we can advocate and agitate until we have either a federal anti-SLAPP statute or an anti-SLAPP statute in every case. We can publicize behavior like Debbie's for two purposes: first, to invoke the Streissand Effect and ensure that any threat brings tenfold negative publicity, and second, to attract supporters who will take up the fight with the threatened. Those of us who are lawyers can offer pro bono help, as we at Popehat are able to do from time to time. Join the fight. Take up the cause.
I offer to anyone threatened by Debbie Schlussel what I've offered before — if she sues you, I will be happy to help find counsel in your jurisdiction through the Popehat Signal and through the First Amendment Lawyers Association. We've had excellent luck finding pro bono counsel to defend bloggers from deranged threateners. I'll also help personally however I can.
Debbie sees herself as defending America against a horde of enemies. Despite very occasional areas of agreement — for instance, my strong belief that censorious fuckwittery on the part of some Muslims is contemptible and must be defied openly — I find Schlussel to be a terrifying, bigoted lunatic. If she were, as she sees herself, the shield that guards the West from the Sharia hordes, then her behavior in this instance shows why we would be doomed to minarets and calls to worship everywhere — because her censorship shows her to be at heart a pathetic, narcissistic, coward.
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