The far-right news site GotNews filed a petition for federal Chapter 7 bankruptcy on April 24, court records show.
The now-defunct site and its founder, Charles C. Johnson, were sued in federal court last year for misidentifying an innocent teenager as the driver of a car that killed Heather Heyer during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017; the bankruptcy petition is mentioned in court documents connected to the case. The petition lists GotNews’ total liabilities as between $500,000 and $1 million.
Recently referred to as a “race-baiting troll” by the Boston Globe, Johnson’s GotNews was a hive of misinformation, and outlandish, often provably false claims. Over time, both the site and Johnson’s personal Facebook page— now also deleted— were increasingly filled with addled racist propaganda and Holocaust denialism; among other things, Johnson questioned whether six million Jews really died during the Holocaust and said on Reddit that he agreed “about Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real.”) Johnson was also the first person banned for life from Twitter after he tried to raise funds to “take out” black civil rights activist DeRay McKesson, comments which both the site and McKesson took as a threat. (Johnson also sued Gawker Media, the former parent company of Splinter’s sister sites, for defamation in 2017, over two stories written about him. Univision, deleted several posts, including one about Johnson, after it purchased Gawker Media.)
What was more outlandish than any of Johnson’s claims, however, was his increasingly less-fringe place in Washington D.C. political circles. A Trump official met with Johnson and another far-right internet figure, former tech founder Palmer Lucky, in 2017 to discuss border security. Also in 2017, someone in Trump’s inner circle evidently put an article from GotNews on his desk. In 2018, Johnson attended the State of the Union, invited by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz. Earlier this year, two Republican congressmen met with Johnson, apparently to discuss “genetic testing and DNA,” though both later claimed to the Daily Beast that they were unaware of Johnson’s many unsavory affiliations. The Boston Globe’s story about Johnson last February suggested that he’d managed to “secure himself a foothold” in D.C., and perhaps an increasingly influential place in political circles that would, in any decent era, have nothing to do with him.
At the same time, though, Johnson’s legal issues were mounting: he was sued in February 2018 along with a number of other far-right sites and figures, including Gavin McInnes and Paul Nehlen, over claims that a Michigan teenager named Joel Vangheluwe was the driver of the 2010 Dodge Challenger responsible for killing 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer during the Unite the Right Rally, as well as injuring 19 others. (Some reports also falsely identified Joel’s father Jerome as being involved.) The car was actually driven by James Alex Fields, Jr., who had been marching with the white supremacist group Vanguard America that day. Fields was found guilty of Heyer’s murder and sentenced to life in prison in December.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that Johnson agreed to pay the Vangheluwe family a settlement in July 2018 — Johnson agreed to pay $4,990 each to Jerome and Joel, per the SPLC, and GotNews agreed to pay another $19,990. GotNews abruptly went offline in September of that year. (The suit against other far-right figures who misidentified the father and son is ongoing.) It’s unclear whether Johnson or GotNews ever actually paid that settlement; attorney Mark Randazza filed a notice of the bankruptcy petition to the court in the Vangheluwe lawsuit at the end of April. (We’ve contacted Randazza for comment and will update should we hear back.)
Johnson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Splinter. In our last communication, in 2017, Johnson told me, “There are no reporters at Gizmodo Media Group, only serial harassers who fabricate stories for attention.” It’s unclear what he’s up to these days.
Court records also show that GotNews has failed to properly file several forms related to the Chapter 7 petition; the company has two weeks to do it right or the case will be dismissed.