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Adrienne Lawrence

Legal analyst, law professor & award-winning author

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Rudy Giuliani verdict shows conspiracies have consequences

Dec 20, 2023

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On Friday, Dec. 15, a federal jury ruled that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani must pay a sum of $148 million to defamation victims Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. The two Georgia election workers were forced to flee their homes and hide their identities after Giuliani and others deliberately spread lies about them regarding the 2020 presidential election.

Giuliani has already indicated that he plans to appeal the decision.

Straight Arrow News contributor Adrienne Lawrence argues that this fight was worth winning, even if the defendants never see a dime. The ruling is crucial, Lawrence says, because it proves to Americans that conspiracies do have consequences and that knowingly spreading them carries severe legal risks.

And even though we have known of his claimed insolvency for some time now, it was nonetheless particularly important for those women to have proceeded with their lawsuit.

The more we make meaningful examples of those in our society who knowingly and unapologetically push disinformation campaigns, the better. It seems apparent that too many people in our society are particularly vulnerable to conspiracy theories, and it is costing us all greatly. And many want to brush aside the matter, assuming that these vulnerable conspiracy theorists are all simple-minded or maybe mentally unwell. And that may be so in some instances, but that’s not always the case.

According to a 2023 research study conducted by psychologists at MIT, people can be prone to believing in conspiracy theories due to a combination of personality traits and motivations, such as when someone relies strongly on their own intuition, or feels a sense of antagonism and superiority toward others, or maybe perceives threats in their environment.

Some of these individuals are college-educated, they’re community leaders. Average people partaking in conspiracy theories generally tend to have a strong psychological need to have control of their environment so that they feel safer, in addition to feeling like they are superior to others. Opportunists like Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump — they capitalize on these infirmities.

$148 million. That’s what a federal jury in Washington, D.C. determined Rudy Giuliani should pay for defaming two Georgia election workers, all in pursuit of advancing the Big Lie. Now that nine figures sum included $75 million in punitive damages, and rightly so. Former President Donald Trump’s former attorneys false claim that Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss added fake ballots to the totals and doctored computer tallies completely upended their lives. Now, while this verdict was a big, much-needed and much-deserved win for those women, it is highly unlikely that they’re going to see a dime of that $148 million. That is given numerous accounts that Giuliani is near broke. And even though we have known of his claimed insolvency for some time now, it was nonetheless particularly important for those women to have proceeded with their lawsuit. The more we make meaningful examples of those in our society who knowingly and unapologetically push disinformation campaigns, the better. It seems apparent that too many people in our society are particularly vulnerable to conspiracy theories, and it is costing us all greatly. And many want to brush aside the matter, assuming that these vulnerable conspiracy theorists are all simple-minded or maybe mentally unwell. And that may be so in some instances, but that’s not always the case. According to a 2023 research study conducted by psychologists at MIT, people can be prone to believing in conspiracy theories due to a combination of personality traits and motivations, such as when someone relies strongly on their own intuition, or feels a sense of antagonism and superiority toward others, or maybe perceives threats in their environment. Some of these individuals are college-educated, they’re community leaders. Average people partaking in conspiracy theories generally tend to have a strong psychological need to have control of their environment so that they feel safer, in addition to feeling like they are superior to others.

 

Opportunists like Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump, they capitalize on these infirmities. Just look at how they’ve communicated with their followers over the last eight years and some change. They stoke distrust of mainstream media with the fake news mantra, use dog whistles to leverage biases and gender, race, class, such as their attacks on Ivy League education and claiming all Mexicans are rapists. They amplify isolated issues to convince individuals of overwhelming threats such as claiming millions of caravans are crossing the border. They reinforce an ingroup sense of superiority with their MAGA movement. It’s as though they have all of the truth and everyone else is a fool. They know what they’re doing. And the end result is crafting cult-like zombie mindsets, many of which are geared toward harming others in pursuit of pushing a lie.

 

These conspiracy theories are persuading average Americans to lose their sense of reality and engage in behavior that is detrimental to our society. Like the parents of the slain children of Sandy Hook, and the government employees targeted on January 6, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that conspiracy theory-fueled harm. To have to move, change your number, hide your face, live in fear. They didn’t deserve any of that destruction generated by Rudy Giuliani’s drive to push the Big Lie. Even if those women never see a dime of their $148 million verdict, because of that verdict, our society will see that pushing conspiracy theories comes at a price, and that is a fact.

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