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Edwards v. Detroit News, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Michigan

October 31, 2017

JAMES EDWARDS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
DETROIT NEWS, INC., Defendant-Appellee, and BANKOLE THOMPSON, Defendant-Appellee.

         Wayne Circuit Court LC No. 16-004874-NO

          Before: Gleicher, P.J., and Fort Hood and Swartzle, JJ.

          SWARTZLE, J.

         The Restatement (Second) of Torts § 559 lists "membership in the Ku Klux Klan" as the quintessential illustration of a defamatory statement. In an opinion piece in The Detroit News, columnist Bankole Thompson asserted that radio show host James Edwards is a "leader" of the Ku Klux Klan. There is no record evidence to suggest that Edwards holds a formal leadership position in the Ku Klux Klan, nor is there any record evidence to suggest that he is even a member. Notwithstanding this lack of formal relationship, Edwards has espoused views consistent with those associated with the Klan and, equally as important, he has repeatedly and publicly embraced several individuals who are strongly associated with the Klan. Mindful of Aesop's lesson, "A man is known by the company he keeps, "[1] we hold that Edwards cannot make claims of defamation or invasion of privacy and affirm summary disposition in favor of defendants.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. THE CONTEXT-THE KU KLUX KLAN AND THE POLITICAL CESSPOOL

         To better understand the underlying dispute, it is helpful to review briefly the history of the Ku Klux Klan as well as James Edwards' radio show, The Political Cesspool.[2]

         1. A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE KU KLUX KLAN

         The Ku Klux Klan has a long, sordid history. From a secret club started by six young ex-Confederate soldiers, the Klan transformed itself into a terrorist force bent on turning back Reconstruction in the years immediately following the Civil War. The Klan's reputed first leader-"Imperial Wizard"-was Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. In response to the Klan's growing power, Congress held hearings and passed a strong anti-Klan law that, among other things, authorized the President to declare martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus. The Ku Klux Klan faded away in the late 1800s.

         The terrorist group experienced a rebirth of sorts during WW I, inspired in no small part by the silent film, The Birth of a Nation. During the decades that followed, the strength of the Ku Klux Klan ebbed and flowed, reaching its near-apex during the Civil Rights clashes of the 1960s. Again, in response, Congress held hearings and the Klan's visibility waned.

         During the 1970s, David Duke became the face of the modern-day Ku Klux Klan. Joining the Klan in the late 1960s, Duke eventually became the Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke later left the organization and started the National Association for the Advancement of White People, a white nationalist group. Duke currently hosts a radio show and is a frequent guest on The Political Cesspool.

         Stephen Donald "Don" Black succeeded Duke as Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Black was later arrested and convicted of trying to overthrow the small island Republic of Dominica. He later started a bulletin board system in the 1990s called Stormfront.org. The bulletin board remains active today as an online forum for white nationalism, white separatism, Holocaust denial, neo-nazism, and racism, among other topics.

         While its messaging and tactics have changed over the years, at its core, the Ku Klux Klan has remained a loosely organized movement fueled by racism, white supremacism, anti-Semitism, and nativism.

         2. THE POLITICAL CESSPOOL

         Edwards is the creator and host of The Political Cesspool radio show and website. He started the radio show in October 2004. Based in Memphis, Tennessee, the show went on a brief hiatus in 2008, but otherwise has been on the air continuously to present day. The radio show is currently carried on the Liberty News Radio Network.

         Edwards published his "Statement of Principles" on the show's website. Among other statements, Edwards proclaims the following:

"The Political Cesspool Radio Program stands for the [sic] The Dispossessed Majority. We represent a philosophy that is pro-White . . . ."
• "We wish to revive the White birthrate above replacement level fertility and beyond to grow the percentage of Whites in the world relative to other races."
• "America would not be a prosperous land of opportunity if the founding stock were not Europeans. . . . You can't have a First World nation with a Third World population."
• "Secession is a right of all people and individuals. It was successful in 1776 and this show honors those who tried to make it ...

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