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Awake Illinois’ lawsuit threats expand, defied

Monday, Oct 3, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* This group threatened to sue US Rep. Casten last month. Now they’re going after a Facebook user and a letter to the editor writer. Press release

Two suburban residents today forcefully rejected threats of lawsuits from the group Awake Illinois if they continue to express their opposition to the organization and its agenda. Maggie Romanovich of Wheaton and Kylie Spahn of Downers Grove received letters from leaders of Awake Illinois in early September suggesting that Awake would file a defamation lawsuit against them if they did not “cease and desist” from such criticism and remove existing online posts.

Among other activities, Awake Illinois has urged school officials to remove LGBTQ-inclusive books and called for the cancellation of drag events in the Chicago suburbs, including a drag brunch at the Uprising Bakery in Lake in the Hills and a drag event at the Downers Grove Public Library. After Awake promoted their opposition to the Uprising event, the bakery was violently vandalized and forced to reschedule the event. Threats of violence against Library officials caused the Downers Grove event to be cancelled.

Awake Illinois officials have repeatedly used hostile epithets against those they disagree with, labeling them “groomers,” “hateful,” and “perverts.” Yet in the instance of the letters to Romanovich and Spahn, Awake seeks to curb the speech of others.

The ACLU of Illinois has authored letters to Awake Illinois on behalf of Romanovich and Spahn, the targets of the group’s actions. The letters reject the threatened lawsuits as groundless, noting that all of the material cited by Awake Illinois is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

“These letters from Awake Illinois are empty threats with zero legal basis,” said Rebecca Glenberg, senior supervising attorney at the ACLU of Illinois who signed the letters. “Awake Illinois and its members consistently use harsh and often offensive language directed against others to advance their interests, but now feign injury when our clients express strong feelings against them.”

“If they think these letters will stop our clients or others from speaking out against what they see as a dangerous agenda, they are wrong.”

Awake Illinois’ letter to Romanovich referred to her letter to the editor printed in the Daily Herald, which criticized a congressional candidate for his connection to Awake Illinois, opining that the group is appalling, extremist, homophobic, racially insensitive and otherwise objectionable. Such opinions are constitutionally protected and cannot be the basis of a defamation lawsuit, the ACLU of Illinois wrote.

The action comes shortly after a Member of Congress revealed that he had received a similar “cease and desist” letter from Awake Illinois. In mid-September, the Chicago Tribune reported that Awake Illinois sent the letter to Representative Sean Casten, a vocal critic of the group. Like Romanovich and Spahn, Casten rejected the group’s threats of a lawsuit.

“Our Constitution allows groups like Awake Illinois to express their views in the public square like anyone else. But they may not use the courts to suppress the views of others,” Glenberg noted.

You can read the letters to Awake Illinois on behalf of Romanovich and Spahn here and here.

Before they threaten anyone else, somebody might wanna tell these folks about the state’s SLAPP law. Just sayin.

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16 Comments
  1. - Mamacita - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 12:25 pm:

    Let them do their own research on SLAPP laws. That’s their preference.


  2. - SLAPP happy - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 12:28 pm:

    Rich, why tell them? They know everything. I know a few lawyers that would love these guys to sue just to file a SLAPP motion and start discovery on this group.


  3. - TheInvisibleMan - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 12:31 pm:

    The purpose isn’t to win the lawsuit. It’s to threaten the public into silence.

    Otherwise known as the “Chilling Effect”.

    But they are soooo bad at it.

    From what I can see, someone is trying to coach the Awake leadership, but the leadership just doesn’t understand the concepts and is constantly fumbling the implementations. It shows up most frequently in their cringey attempts to ‘turn a negative into a positive’ by pretending any publicity is good for them, no matter how bad it actually is.

    You don’t threaten to sue somebody. You either do it, or you don’t. Lacking the follow through is almost worse than losing the lawsuit. One makes you look inept and weak, the other makes you look guilty of the things you claimed were defamation.

    They are amateurs every sense of the word.


  4. - Ron Burgundy - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 12:34 pm:

    As Rich notes, a suit would be ripe for anti-SLAPP treatment, but they won’t sue. A serious letter would have specified the language complained of. This is just bloviating on paper.


  5. - MisterJayEm - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 12:37 pm:

    Between their book-banning, attacks on libraries and lawsuits threats to suppress political speech, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that right-wing extremists were very recently howling about “cancel culture”

    It’s a reminder that they don’t have actual principles, they only have tactics.

    – MrJM


  6. - ArchPundit - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 12:43 pm:

    In the letter to Casten they didn’t identify what they saw as defamatory and from reading the letters they probably didn’t in the Romanovich response it appears they did the same thing again.


  7. - Henry Francis - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 12:51 pm:

    Maybe the folks at Awake should review the defamation complaints filed against My Pillow Guy, Rudy, and Kracken, as those have been affirmed by all the courts that have reviewed them (most recently the US Supreme Court) as adequately stating a case for defamation.


  8. - H-W - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 12:51 pm:

    One would have to ask, “What would DeVore do?,” given that Awake IL is associated with the would-be Attorney General, and his legal campaign to end masking requirements. Would the next AG support such a case against those who speak ill of Awake IL in a public forum? Inquiring minds would like to know.


  9. - Amalia - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 12:58 pm:

    Huh. Am now fully expecting they will have seen other FB and Twitter warnings to people about AWAKE. We know how to countersue folks.


  10. - JS Mill - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 1:10 pm:

    Golly the Awake folks have sensitive fee fees. You would think that the organization with a self proclaimed ‘cowboy’ would have thicker skin than this. Especially when they are calling people groomers.


  11. - Norseman - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 1:23 pm:

    First amendment rights for me, but none for thee who disagrees with we.

    These folks who want to exert their beliefs on others and are willing to use threats to accomplish their goals. Threats they feel free to make because of their financial and political backers.


  12. - Jocko - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 1:37 pm:

    Next they’ll blame Casten for making them shave their heads and raise their right arm at a 45 degree angle.


  13. - Moe Berg - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 2:02 pm:

    Always the victim: key to authoritarian ideology and the justification for whatever acts its believers perpetrate.


  14. - JS Mill - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 2:10 pm:

    =Next they’ll blame Casten for making them shave their heads and raise their right arm at a 45 degree angle.=

    Don’t you mean shave their heads and wear an orange or saffron colored robes?

    I assume we will see them turn up at the airport singing and dancing too.


  15. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Oct 3, 22 @ 5:34 pm:

    It’s so tough with these folks and the idea they are a serious group to a discussion on anything… “free” to knowledge


  16. - Concerned Parent - Tuesday, Oct 4, 22 @ 12:57 pm:

    Looks like some pearls were clutched too tightly & oxygen was cut off. They now claim they were assaulted as well.


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