Bloggers on Trial in Maryland

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 12 2014 12:51 PM

Bloggers on Trial in Maryland

ROCKVILLE, Maryland—If the blog traffic is a little light today, there's a perfectly cromulent reason. I'm reporting on the trial of bloggers Aaron Walker and William Hoge, reporter Robert Stacy McCain, and Republican strategist/National Bloggers Club founder Ali Akbar. All are being sued by Brett Kimberlin, who was convicted for a rash of bombings in Indiana in the 1970s, and remade himself as a political activist.

Until his multiyear battle with the conservative bloggers started, Kimberlin was best known for claiming to have sold marijuana to a young Dan Quayle, and for organizing opposition to electronic voting machines after the 2004 election. But this is his life now—this lawsuit, a larger federal RICO case against more famous critics (like Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin), and managing the personal crises that years of online defamation cases can wreak.

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It's a gripping and strange courtroom scene. Kimberlin, who is representing himself, had to fight for the right to testify—the defendants argued that his 1973 perjury conviction made him unable to testify in Maryland. He's still trying to find a way for his oldest daughter to testify; in the meantime, he's cross-examining the bloggers who claim he's a pedophile, as his mother and youngest daughter watch from the back of the room. Akbar, who was shocked when Kimberlin earned the chance to testify, decided to represent himself pro se. Patrick Ostronic, who is representing the conservatives pro bono, gave a limited opening statement, while Akbar used his chance to stare down Kimberlin and ask the jury to end his "30 years" of war on free speech.

The trial is supposed to end today, though Kimberlin's first cross-examination, of Walker, went on so long that the judge reminded him that jurors have lives to get back to. (This was after Kimberlin's opening statement, interrupted dozens of times by objections, as he tied the case to Benghazi, the suicide of Robin Williams, and the motivations that spurred the 9/11 terrorists.)

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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