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Colorado judge rules defamation suit against Joe Oltmann, FEC United can proceed to trial

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Colorado judge rules defamation suit against Joe Oltmann, FEC United can proceed to trial

May 13, 2022 | 6:19 pm ET
By Chase Woodruff
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Colorado judge rules defamation suit against Joe Oltmann, FEC United can proceed to trial
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Joe Oltmann, center with his hand to his chin, is seen during a hearing on Oct. 13, 2021, at Denver’s City and County Building. Attorneys for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and other members in conservative media requested the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems worker, Eric Coomer, who says he lost his job and reputation from being targeted through a false conspiracy to rig the 2020 election. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun, pool)

A Colorado judge has ruled that a defamation lawsuit by a former employee of Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems against a network of far-right conspiracy theorists tied to former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign can proceed to trial, rejecting the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case.

In a 136-page ruling issued Friday, Judge Marie Avery Moses of the Denver District Court wrote that evidence presented in the case shows that the defendants engaged in “the deliberate spread of dangerous and inflammatory political disinformation designed to sow distrust in democratic institutions.”

More than a dozen individuals and organizations are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed by former Dominion employee Eric Coomer in December 2020. The defamation case centers on a conspiracy theory spread by Douglas County resident Joe Oltmann, founder of far-right activist group FEC United and host of the “Conservative Daily” podcast.

In November 2020, Oltmann began to make unsubstantiated claims that he had infiltrated an “Antifa conference call” prior to the election, in which a man he alleged was Coomer — a Denver resident who had posted anti-Trump sentiments on Facebook — made statements about perpetrating widespread election fraud. Oltmann has consistently refused to provide evidence or answer key questions about the alleged call, and Moses’ ruling makes note of his inconsistent accounts and recollections of the incident, characterizing his claims as “malicious disinformation.”

“The entire story appears, on its face, to be manufactured around Coomer’s Facebook posts, and deliberately crafted in a way to make it impossible to be verified by anyone attempting to investigate the veracity of Oltmann’s outlandish claims of Coomer’s involvement in the Antifa conference call,” Moses wrote.

Right-wing media organizations and figures at the highest levels of Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign latched on to Oltmann’s conspiracy theory, and Coomer’s lawsuit also names the campaign and two of its attorneys, Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, as defendants, along with FEC United, One America News Network, The Gateway Pundit, Colorado Springs commentator Michelle Malkin, and others.

Defendants filed motions to dismiss the case last year under a new Colorado statute known as an anti-SLAPP law, but Moses denied the motions in full in her order Friday.

“There is prima facie evidence rising to the standard of clear and convincing evidence that all Defendants published false and defamatory statements about Coomer with actual malice,” Moses’ ruling concludes.

A former digital marketing executive, Oltmann quickly rose to prominence in conservative organizing circles during protests against COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. Current Colorado Republican Party Chair Kristi Burton Brown served as FEC United’s president, and Oltmann himself was briefly nominated for governor at the party’s state assembly last month. He declined to pursue the nomination but used his floor speech to rally support for fellow election conspiracy theorists like Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a candidate for secretary of state, and state Rep. Ron Hanks, a U.S. Senate hopeful.

In December, Oltmann repeatedly called for his political opponents, including Republican U.S. senators and Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, to be publicly executed. He has continued to spread baseless conspiracy theories about a wide range of topics, from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the inclusion of LGBTQ topics in school curricula.

“Coomer has put forward prima facie evidence that Oltmann (and) FEC United … agreed to invent a fictional story to defame Coomer as part of Oltmann’s pledge to ‘die on this hill’ that Joe Biden would never be president,'” Moses wrote in her ruling. “The object to be accomplished was to spread dangerous and inflammatory political disinformation designed to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.”