But Randazza does more than simply believe in and protect the rights of his new clients. One of the open records cases he’s litigated for Cernovich involves Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting prostitution and procuring a person under 18 for prostitution. Epstein’s alleged sexual abuse of minors has been for years extrapolated into a wide-ranging conspiracy theory on the right regarding a child sex ring that involves the Clintons, Hollywood executives, and the financial elite. Cernovich, who promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy, has consistently pushed pedophilia conspiracies. In pursuing open records cases for him, Randazza appears to be furnishing Cernovich with fresh ammunition. (Both men point out that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief, signaling their support, in the matter.)
Beyond providing his noxious clients material aid and comfort in the disinformation wars, Randazza’s critics say, he’s failed to maintain a barrier of professionalism between himself and their rhetoric. Unlike the stoic ACLU lawyers who argued for the First Amendment liberties of neo-Nazis in the 70s in Skokie, for someone doing a supposedly solemn duty, Randazza sure seems to be having a blast. He attended the January internet-right party “A Night for Freedom” in DC. He regularly appears on Infowars to discuss First Amendment law. He’s made the bizarre, seemingly tongue-in-cheek argument that his client Andrew Anglin shouldn’t be responsible for coordinating the harassment of a Jewish real estate agent because he doesn’t believe the Holocaust happened. Whether or not it’s part of a vigorous representation, Randazza appears to have bought into some of his clients’ bullshit. In a July column titled “Just Because You’re Defending Nazis Doesn’t Mean You Have to Be a Prick About It,” Above the Law editor Elie Mystal lambasted Randazza, with whom he is friendly, for publicly stating that Alex Jones has compassion for the Sandy Hook parents:
“If you are going to make your career along the lawyerly duty to give the most disgusting among us a competent legal defense, then stick to the law. If you have a First Amendment argument, MAKE IT, and leave the rehabilitation of Alex Jones’s character to Donald Trump. … Court is the place where we have stylized arguments about the technical legality of proposed atrocities,” wrote Mystal.
Indeed, in the anti-snowflake right, Randazza seems to have met his rhetorical tribe, a group of offense-giving white guys who relish backlash. Recently, the subject of North Korea’s large untapped gold deposits came up on a conference call between Randazza, Anglin, and Randazza’s partner, Jay Wolman, who is Jewish. Randazza impersonated Eric Cartman from South Park and repeated that character’s joke about Jews knowing where gold is hidden. Anglin asked Randazza if he was red-pilled. Randazza laughed and said of course not.
“I have an affinity for people who stir shit,” Randazza said. “I’ve been stirring shit since I learned how to stir shit.”
People who stir shit: While we were sitting in his office last month, Randazza received a call from Dennis Hof, the Nevada pimp who is the Republican candidate for state legislature in his district. Nye County had just revoked Hof’s brothel license, which Randazza said was an act of political retribution. (Randazza also has an office in Las Vegas, and he represented Hof in a successful First Amendment case against the county, which took down some of his campaign signs.) On the call, Randazza referred repeatedly to a county employee as a “cunt,” as the men plotted how to take revenge.
“I’m going to bring the fist of fury and I’m not going to cover it in the most comfortable lubricant, Dennis,” Randazza said.
Like his clients, Randazza relishes shocking speech. No matter how much his political views diverge, he shares with them a tone, which in 2018 has become a form of politics all its own. And judging by his tweets bemoaning outrage culture and wokeness, he sees threats to that tone as a threat to American free expression, even if those threats have nothing to do with the First Amendment.
“Absolutists to their discredit mow the lines between these two,” Mystal told me. “Most of the First Amendment absolutists think political correctness has been a scourge on America. It crosses the line from defending a principle to defending the idea that anybody can say anything to anyone else with no repercussions.”
The problem with this kind of conflation, Mystal said, is that it reorients the threat to liberty from the government to the threat to liberty posed by callout culture. It’s a misdirection of the “don’t tread on me” impulse focused on cultural authority instead of government authority — hence the concept of cultural libertarianism. That’s how President Trump, the most powerful man in the world, can present himself as the target of a powerful conspiracy to his base.
“If you’re going to put your whole flag on the First Amendment,” Mystal said, “That flag needs to be firmly planted against the government.” Randazza’s defenses of Jones and Anglin don’t involve government action; they’re lawsuits filed by private citizens whose lives have been irrevocably altered by speech.
Mystal’s point echoes one long popular among liberal First Amendment thinkers. In his famous survey of freedom of speech in America, A Worthy Tradition, Harry Kalven arrived at one central meaning of the law: that “seditious libel cannot be made the subject of government sanction.”
Neither the Trump administration nor state governments are censoring conservatives, who hardly pose a seditious threat to the government. Indeed, it’s hard to say that there’s a proper First Amendment threat to conservative speech at all. In fact, it’s probably easier to make the opposite case. Unlimited corporate money has been protected as political speech under the First Amendment since Citizens United v. FEC. The Supreme Court, moving ever rightward, recently ruled that labor unions cannot compel nonmember workers who benefit from union protections to pay dues, on the grounds that doing so violates their free speech rights. In her dissent in the case, Janus v. AFSCME, Justice Elena Kagan accused her conservative colleagues of “weaponizing the First Amendment.”
Still, Randazza and other First Amendment advocates argue that it’s impossible to separate the cases against Jones and Anglin from other future censorship that could result from judgments against them — a precedent that could eventually be aimed at more vulnerable political groups.
“That’s fencing off in an unrealistic way the impact of cases involving Nazis,” Ken White told me. “A case against an asshole does not have an impact limited to assholes.”
It’s a tough message to deliver in a time when it seems like the assholes are winning. Do they really need the help? Ask Randazza why he’s defending people whose entire raison d’être is triggering the libs, and he throws up his hands. The principle is the thing that has got us this far, he says, and it’s the thing that he’ll continue to fight for.
“It’s like evolution. I’m not smart enough to say where’s it going. I’m not smart enough to tell you where the marketplace of ideas will lead us. Maybe the apex animal is the cockroach or the rat. Maybe that’s where the marketplace leads us.”