A white nationalist leader accused of assaulting a young African-American woman at a Donald Trump campaign rally filed a countersuit on Monday claiming the president directed him and other supporters to remove protesters.
Matthew Heimbach claims in his federal court filing that he “acted pursuant to the directives and requests of Donald J. Trump and Donald J. Trump for President” and that, if he’s found liable for damages, “any liability must be shifted to one or both of them.”
The legal fight stems from a March 2016 rally in Louisville, Kentucky, at which protesters were allegedly roughed up and ejected by Trump supporters after the then-candidate barked from the stage “get ’em out of here!”
The protesters filed civil assault and battery claims against Heimbach and two other Trump supporters and accused Trump of inciting his supporters.
Heimbach, a leader of the white supremacist Traditionalist Youth Network and a vocal Trump supporter during the campaign, can be seen in video from the Louisville rally pushing and screaming at a young African-American woman as Trump bellows “get out!”
The woman, Kashiya Nwanguma, joined two other protesters in filing the lawsuit against Heimbach, the two other Trump supporters, Trump and his campaign.
Heimbach, who is representing himself in the case, did not answer a phone call Monday afternoon, nor did he respond to an email message seeking comment.
The White House press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Heimbach’s Monday filing, he “denies physically assaulting” any protesters. But he also levies blame at the protesters, writing that they “provoked a response” by trying “to disrupt a free assembly and campaign event and to infringe rights of the defendants and other attendees to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to vote and other constitutional rights.”
He writes that he “acted, if at all, in self defense,” as well as “in reasonable defense of others,” while also contending he was acting at Trump’s instruction.
Noting that Trump is “a world famous businessman” who “relies on various professionals including attorneys and other professional advisors,” Heimbach writes that he “relied on Trump’s reputation and expertise in doing the things alleged.” Heimbach writes that he relied on Trump’s authority to order disruptive persons removed and that Trump was legally within his rights to ask other attendees to assist in defending their constitutional rights “against ‘protesters’ who were disrupting.”
Heimbach’s motion mirrors one filed Friday afternoon by another protester accused of assault in the lawsuit, Alvin Bamberger, a member of the Korean War Veterans Association who also was captured on video pushing Nwanguma.
While Bamberger’s lawyers in their filing said their client “admits only that he touched a woman,” he “denies that he assaulted that woman.”
But Bamberger’s lawyers stressed that “to the extent that Bamberger acted, he did so in response to — and inspired by — Trump and/or the Trump Campaign’s urging to remove the protesters.” They added that Bamberger “had no prior intention to act as he did” and “would not have acted as he did without Trump and/or the Trump Campaign’s specific urging and inspiration.”
The filings by Bamberger and Heimbach would seem to buttress the protesters’ claim that Trump was whipping up his supporters to act against the protesters, and to rebut a claim by Trump’s lawyers that his calls to “get ‘em out of here” were directed at his security, not at his supporters.
Trump’s lawyers also have argued that his calls were protected by the First Amendment, but the federal judge hearing the case in a ruling late last month rejected that argument, as well as the claim that Trump didn’t intend for his supporters to use force.
Trump’s lawyers in a Friday afternoon federal filing added a new defense — that he cannot be sued for inciting his supporters to hurt protesters because, as the president of the United States of America, he is immune from civil lawsuits.
Trump’s lawyers have asked for a jury trial in the case, which is one of at least two winding their way through federal courts brought by protesters who allege they were roughed up by Trump supporters.