Friday, June 5, 2015

Settlement in Kolfage lawsuit with alleged trolls

Two years ago, the conservative internet community was in the midst of a campaign of harassment by a group of liberal “trolls” who called themselves “goats.” “Trolling” is an internet term that essentially refers to cyber-bullying, harassing people online and, sometimes in the real world as well. The secret group was led by a shadowy figure known as “Busta Troll.” Now the law may have caught up with some alleged trolls.

Last year, Senior Airman Brian Kolfage, a conservative activist and owner of, filed a lawsuit against seven of the alleged trolls. The lawsuit alleged assault, slander and libel against Kolfage. Kolfage, who lost both legs and one arm in Iraq in 2004, became a frequent target of the goats and trolls online according to The harassment allegedly even extended to harassment of the Kolfages and their relatives at home, school and work.

Kolfage declined to be interviewed for this article citing ongoing legal proceedings and court orders, but spoke last year to Fox 10 Phoenix, saying, “The same people would write stuff on my Facebook page, and the stuff they would write is just horrendous. They would say they wished I had died, they said I was a drain on the government system, just really nasty stuff. I started sharing the comments, and it went viral. Because I was just fed up with it.” He added, “And once they brought my family into it, and tried to do things against my family, and ruin my wife's career, I decided I needed to take legal action to stop it.”

Court documents reveal that five of the seven recently reached an agreement with Kolfage and his wife. The settlement agreement was reached between the Kolfages and Nathanial Downes of Puyallup, WA; Justine Grant of North Fort Myers, FL; Paul Loebe of Nashville, TN; John Prager of Wheeling, WV; and Kenneth Vanderzanden of Beaverton, Oregon. Three of these defendants are reportedly bloggers for Addicting Info, a popular liberal site.

Two defendants, Louis Caponecchia of Toledo, OH and Darren Remington of Nashville, TN, did not join in the settlement. The lawsuit against these defendants is still proceeding.

As a result of the agreement, the lawsuit was dismissed while keeping in place an agreement that required both sides to not “disparage one another going forward in the future and that they won't take action through third parties to disparage one another. And that to the extent that they have the power to affect, they will, in good faith, attempt to remove anything that is disparaging that's within their control” from the internet. The agreement stipulates that all parties would call the settlement “equitable.”

An additional agreement between the Kolfages and Paul Loebe requires Mr. Kolfage to write an acknowledgement for publishing the personal information of Jan Vrotsos in retaliation for her alleged post calling him “a worthless fake hero” among other things. Mr. Kolfage also agreed to express regret for anything said or done to Vrotsos as a result. This acknowledgement will be delivered to Mr. Loebe by June 30. Ms. Vrotsos has since been shown to be innocent of posting the remark.

A blogger pointed out that some of the defendants may have violated the terms of the agreement with posts after the lawsuit was dismissed, but these posts have since been deleted. At this point, seems that both sides are trying to live up to the settlement agreement.

An attempt was made to contact the defendants and the Kolfages for more information about the case. The first response was from Darren Remington, whose case is still pending. Remington alleges that it was Kolfage who aggressively stalked and intimidated critics online. He and his partner have filed a suit against the Kolfages, their attorney and another conservative blogger, Scott Kuhnen. Remington denies that he has ever been a “goat” or a “troll” and says that he is a “registered conservative Republican.”

Louis Caponecchia also denies being a goat or a troll, saying, “I never hid my identity.” He also claims to have been the victim of harassment by conservative fans of Kolfage, who he says, “purchased a background report on me, called my military service fraudulent, he and his father and others prank called my father, mother and sister, as well as my cell phone dozens of times a day.” He alleges that the Vrotsos post was fabricated and asserts a willingness to debate at any time. According to Politichicks, Kolfage stated in 2014 that he had also come to the conclusion that Vrotsos was innocent.

Caponecchia says, “Kolfage will never win, nor get one penny. And when its [sic] over, I'm going to punch Brian Kolfage in the face numerous times, and laugh as he flails his one arm around, screaming for help.”

Paul Loebe, who also denies being a goat or a troll, calls the settlement fair and says that he has offered Kolfage the “opportunity to help me amend, retract, or correct any mistakes in the new article. He has tacitly refused my offer and sent my wife threatening messages towards her and my daughter as a result.” When asked for details, Loebe declines to comment, but says, “I would like to resolve this without court proceedings if at all possible.”

Loebe also discusses the case in a May 31 article on Patheos, two days after the final order in the case. In his blog, he alleges that the lawsuit “did not appear to be a way to stop the bullying he stated he was receiving. Instead, it gave the appearance as a way to quell any dissent.” Loebe claims that he did not know the other defendants until they met through the lawsuit.

Nathaniel Downes also denies being a troll, saying he has a “prejudice against trolls in general” after having been trolled himself. He calls the settlement “a meeting of the minds.”

“I may not agree with the Kolfages' politics or positions,” Downes says, “but remember your Heinlein, ‘I never learned from a man who agreed with me.’ I wish them luck in their future endeavors and a long, peaceful life.” Downes says that he is writing a detailed book about the lawsuit.

John Prager also denies being a goat or a troll. It should be noted that all of the defendants denied guilt in the harassment of Kolfage and his family. The court did not determine guilt or innocence of the parties.

A blogger pointed out that some of the defendants may have violated the terms of the agreement with posts after the lawsuit was dismissed, but these posts have since been deleted. At this point, seems that both sides are trying to live up to the settlement agreement.

The best lesson from the lawsuit may be that people should remember that they are dealing with real people when they argue online. Tempers flare and, in the anonymity of the social media world, people say and do things that they would not in a face-to-face confrontation. This is especially true of those who use fake online personas. As the legal world catches up to technology, it is likely that there will be more cases involving cyber-bullying and stalking. People will be forced to pay a price in time, worry and legal fees to defend things that they said or did in online rants. The best answer is to think before you type.

Last year, Kolfage’s lawyer, Logan Elia, told Fox 10, “He did everything he could beforehand to get these people to stop. He begged them to stop online, he attempted to clear his own reputation. Nothing he did led them to backing off, in fact they just became more aggressive in their pursuit of him.” If Kolfage’s goal was stop the harassment and to have the defamatory posts removed, the lawsuit can be judged a success since both sides seem to be enjoying a fragile online peace.

DISCLOSURE: David Thornton’s Examiner articles are republished on Brian Kolfage’s

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