St. Louis-based Gateway Pundit accused of using bankruptcy to derail defamation suits

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Jim Hoft, author at The Gateway Pundit, talks with Stephen K. Bannon while appearing on an episode of Brietbart News Daily on SiriusXM Patriot at Quicken Loans Arena on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM) Jim Hoft;Stephen K. Bannon

Jim Hoft, founder of The Gateway Pundit, talks with Stephen K. Bannon while appearing on an episode of Brietbart News Daily on SiriusXM Patriot at Quicken Loans Arena on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. | Photo for Missouri Independent by Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM

The right-wing conspiracy website Gateway Pundit is accused of abusing the bankruptcy process to escape accountability in defamation lawsuits stemming from its false claims about the 2020 election. 

Gateway Pundit, founded in St. Louis by brothers Jim and Joe Hoft, filed for bankruptcy in April as it was facing defamation lawsuits in Missouri and Colorado.

In 2021, Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea Moss sued Gateway Pundit in St. Louis after the site published debunked stories accusing them of election fraud that resulted in threats of violence, many tinged with racial slurs. Former Dominion Voting Systems employee Eric Coomer sued the site in Colorado in 2020 after it falsely accused him of being part of an effort to overturn the presidential election.

Lawyers for Freeman, Moss and Coomer this week asked a Florida judge to dismiss the bankruptcy filing, calling it a “pure litigation tactic” designed to derail their lawsuits. 

Hoft has previously been accused of purposely delaying discovery in the Missouri case to impede a jury trial. That, Freeman and Moss’ attorney contends, is the true purpose of the bankruptcy.

“To date, the defendants’ strategy in the Missouri litigation has had one goal: delay,” wrote David Blanksy, Freeman and Moss’ attorney. “This chapter 11 filing is just the newest effort — in a long line of failed tactics — to prevent (plaintiffs) from proving their claims in a court of law.”

Vincent Alexander, Coomer’s attorney, wrote that the bankruptcy filing came just as the Hoft brothers were served with deposition notices in Missouri and soon after their motion to dismiss the Colorado lawsuit was denied

Hoft announced in April that his company was filing for bankruptcy because of “the progressive liberal lawfare attacks against our media outlet.” His attorney, Bart Houston, argues in court filings that the benefit of bankruptcy is “to consolidate disparate claims into a single forum for equality of treatment and distribution.” 

Gateway Pundit’s insurance policy, Houston wrote, isn’t large enough to cover all the expenses needed for two defamation cases.

“In this case, whichever one of the two pending litigations that reaches trial first will likely have depleted the policy and will get first shot at the remaining assets of the debtor,” Houston wrote. “The second place litigation will be left with nothing but a pyrrhic victory.”

If the plaintiffs in the defamation lawsuits are “dead set on depletion of the insurance policy, destruction of the debtors business operations and zero payment on account of their claims, then such a result will certainly occur in a dismissal or stay relief,” Houston wrote. 

The legal wrangling over bankruptcy echoes the fight between Infowars host Alex Jones and the families of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

A Texas judge ruled last year that Jones can’t use bankruptcy protection to avoid paying more than $1 billion to families who sued over his repeated lies that the school massacre was a hoax. But the bankruptcy filings continue to forestall efforts to get damages, with one family trying to collect assets from Jones’ company in a way that other families argue could leave them with next to nothing.

Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a multi-billion-dollar bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, the maker of the opioid OxyContin, cannot move forward because it shields members of the Sackler family, which principally owns the company, from liability for opioid-related claims.

‘Patient zero’

According to Business Insider, Jim Hoft admitted at a June 17 hearing in the bankruptcy case that he used the company to give himself an $800,000 loan to purchase a condo in 2021 in Jensen Beach, Florida. 

According to court filings, none of that loan has been repaid. 

Gateway Pundit, doing business as TGP Communications LLC, also owns a 2021 Porsche Cayenne worth about $54,000. Hoft said during the hearing he has used it as a “company car.” 

Hoft receives a salary from the company of $17,000 a month.

In the nearly two decades since its founding, Gateway Pundit has spread false conspiracies on a wide range of topics, from the 2018 Sandy Hook school shooting to former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. 

After years of existing largely in the fringes of the right-wing media ecosphere, its profile exploded under Trump, who granted the site White House press credentials

Hoft was allowed in 2022 to join a lawsuit filed by the Missouri attorney general’s office that argued the federal government violated the First Amendment in its efforts to combat false, misleading and dangerous information online. Then Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who now serves in the U.S. Senate, argued at the time that Hoft was “one of the most influential online voices in the country” who suffered “extensive government-induced censorship” over issues like COVID-19 and election security.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the lawsuit’s claims, concluding that neither Hoft nor any of the other plaintiffs were able to prove that social media platforms acted due to government coercion.  They also failed to demonstrate any harm, the court determined, or substantial risk that they will suffer an injury in the future.

In addition to their defamation lawsuit against Hoft, Freeman and Moss sued former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani over false allegations of fraud tied to the 2020 presidential election. Giuliani’s attorney tried to distance his client from the violent threats against the Georgia election workers by arguing Gateway Pundit was more responsible, calling the site “patient zero” in spreading the conspiracy theory.

In December, Giuliani was ordered to pay Freeman and Moss more than $148 million in damages.

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