MyPillow is suing Dominion Voting Systems for $1.6 billion, seeking to shift the legal ground in a fight between its lightning-rod chief executive, Mike Lindell, and the maker of voting machines.
The Chaska-based pillow manufacturer filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Minnesota and, along with Lindell, asked a court in Washington to dismiss a $1.3 billion defamation suit Dominion Voting Systems filed against them several weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Lindell, who has repeatedly claimed the outcome of the November presidential election was fraudulent and been kicked off social media platforms as a result, tried to launch a social media business of his own. Called Frank, the new business had problems during its debut Monday that prevented people from creating accounts and accessing its features.
Instead Lindell initiated a 48-hour video livestream on the website featuring other right-wing figures, including Michael Flynn, who was national security adviser in the early days of the Trump administration, Ben Carson, who led the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Trump, and many others.
Dominion has sued other critics of the election outcome, including Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Fox News, for defamation in claiming that its machines rigged the results.
With its legal filings Monday, MyPillow's team presented a starkly different defense from, for instance, Powell, who argued no reasonable person would believe the claims she was making about election fraud.
"Mr. Lindell knew all his statements regarding Dominion to be true when he made them and continues to know them to be true today," his attorneys wrote.
Truth is generally regarded as a defense against claims of libel and, often, defamation.
"Both [the suit and motion to dismiss] are designed to take it out of the courts and into the marketplace of ideas," said Alan Dershowitz, the noted criminal defense attorney and retired Harvard law professor who is advising Lindell's attorneys. "Both of them are designed to protect the First Amendment."
Dominion's legal counsel Stephen Shackelford of Susman Godfrey LLP said in a statement: "This is a meritless retaliatory lawsuit, filed by MyPillow to try to distract from the harm it caused to Dominion."
MyPillow is being represented by Minneapolis-based Parker Daniels Kibort and D.C.-based Lewin & Lewin LLP. Lead lawyer Andrew Parker did not respond to a request for comment.
The new lawsuit filed by MyPillow attempts to portray Dominion as a "governmental actor" since it was a contractor for states as they administered the election. In doing so, MyPillow's lawyers argue that Dominion's lawsuits against critics amount to suppression of free speech.
MyPillow also said Dominion harmed its business relationships and silenced its constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments.
"Fearing retribution in the marketplace, many of MyPillow's commercial suppliers and buyers have as a direct result of Dominion's crusade terminated longstanding relationships with MyPillow which were projected to grow," the lawsuit said.
Lindell's new social media business arose after he was banned from Twitter and YouTube for spreading debunked election fraud claims. Several retailers stopped selling products from his company, Chaska-based MyPillow. Last month, he told the Star Tribune that Frank would combine the features of YouTube and Twitter.
"It's YouTube, but 100 times better technology than YouTube. It's the best technology ever in this world," he said. "There's no bots and trolls; you can't hack into it. It is foolproof."
But when Frank encountered technical troubles Monday, Lindell said the business was enduring a massive cyberattack.
The same law that allows Twitter to ban him allows Lindell to create his own social media platform, said David Greene, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit organization that advocates for civil liberties online.
Lindell criticizes the power technology companies have to place limits on users, but he has already described ways that Frank will limit content. Profanity, pornography and taking God's name in vain will not be allowed, he has said. As well, Frank users also won't be allowed to tell "a complete lie about someone, to defame him," Lindell recently told a podcast host.
EFF believes the more platforms available, the easier it is to avoid centralized power. But even the largest social media companies in the world struggle to consistently enforce standards for banned content. "Other than a list of dirty words, every decision is going to be difficult," Greene said. "Even pornography is not clear-cut."
Automated filtering often fails — missing posts that should be blocked or removing those that are harmless. And the ability to screen content for lies about other people takes a lot of manpower.
"You can't have a policy that says 'no lying' unless you are prepared to have a mechanism to determine what is a lie," Greene said.
"He is going to have his own view of what is true and false and that's what his site's going to reflect — the same way that every other site that tries to do this does," he said. "[Lindell's] complaint is that he disagrees with Twitter's assessment of what is true or false. Fair enough. He is now going to have people disagreeing with him about what's true or false."
Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767