A Portland jury ruled against right-wing media figure Andy Ngo Tuesday, Aug. 8 in a lawsuit seeking damages from antifascist activists for two separate attacks.
After nearly a week of hearing testimony from witnesses, watching video footage and hearing from defendants, jurors concluded there wasn't enough evidence to fault them for the attacks.
Ngo is a prominent right-wing social media personality and editor at large for the Canadian-based Post Millennial website, which has often featured conspiracy-laced stories and been accused of spreading disinformation. He filed a civil complaint in 2020 seeking damages from Portland activists for their alleged role in two separate assaults of Ngo that he said ultimately aimed to suppress his media coverage. The complaint was later amended to include additional claims and plaintiffs.
Ngo's antics have landed him on the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch lists, which describes him thusly:
"What Ngo has portrayed as his journalistic work largely consists of publishing anti-antifa, Islamophobic and transphobic tweets and articles to his sizable Twitter following, along with disseminating the arrest records and personal details of left-wing demonstrators."
Ngo’s lawsuit for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress laid the blame on six people, as well as Rose City Antifa. The lawsuit initially included a RICO claim against Rose City Antifa, but the charge and defendant were dismissed from the case after it was determined the group isn’t an organized legal entity subject to being sued. Ngo initially sought $900,000 in damages, to compensate for medical bills, lost income, and emotional distress.
In court, Ngo said he grew up in Portland and later moved away to attend UCLA. He moved back and started work on a graduate degree at Portland State University, where he joined the staff of the PSU Vanguard student newspaper and took an interest in journalism. Ngo was later terminated from the Vanguard for alleged ethical breaches. He told the jury he wanted to platform voices that were often ignored in mainstream media.
Around 2018, he began reporting on the city's protest movement. He eventually began accompanying right-wing groups like Patriot Prayer—a group known for instigating violence against antifascist protesters. Ngo said he eventually became a direct target of assault.
“I’ve been the victim of an ongoing campaign of hate and death threats because of my reporting on violent extremists in the United States organizing their political ideology,” Ngo told the jury.
Attorneys for the defendants named in Ngo's lawsuit noted Ngo is known for driving online hate and harassment toward antifa protesters and activists, often by posting their names and mugshots online for scrutiny and potential doxxing.
Ngo alleged the people named in his lawsuit were directly or partly responsible for physical attacks on him–one of which took place at a gym in May 2019 and another which took place after a gathering in downtown Portland in May 2021, on the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
With three named defendants defaulting in the case, and one settling out of court, a jury found the two remaining defendants, John Hacker and Elizabeth Richter, not liable for the attacks on Ngo.
The trial, which lasted nine days, was marked by unusual security measures and privacy protocols. Ngo could be seen roaming the court’s hallways with a plainclothes private security guard, wearing glasses and a mask anytime he left the courtroom.
Citing ongoing security concerns, Judge Chanpone Sinlapasai barred the public from being able to observe the case inside the courtroom, ordering them to instead watch a live recording in a separate area. An attorney in the case said the judge also barred both legal teams from discussing even basic facts about the trial to anyone until long after the trial was scheduled to conclude.
Attorneys for Ngo argued Richter and Hacker were among a group that despised Ngo for his coverage of Portland protests and sought to suppress his coverage. Defense attorneys for Richter and Hacker noted Ngo’s reporting has led to the local activists, including Richter and Hacker, being doxxed and threatened.
In court, Richter’s attorney, Cooper Brinson, characterized Ngo as “a provocateur that manufactures controversy.”
Brinson argued Ngo was a polarizing, controversial figure who was recognizable, particularly to activists who blame him for stoking conspiracies and misinformation.
Ngo’s legal team argued Richter and Hacker were partly responsible for causing assaults on Ngo, one of which left him badly beaten and hospitalized in 2021.
Hacker, a Portland-based activist who told jurors he often attended protests to observe police, film and photograph, described an incident in 2019 at a 24 Hour Fitness center in Portland. Hacker spotted Ngo and poured water on him while standing near a stairwell above Ngo. He confronted Ngo over what he said was distasteful and irresponsible media coverage of a recent protest that left an acquaintance seriously injured by a known white supremacist. Ngo pulled out his cell phone to record the interaction with Hacker, against gym policy, and Hacker smacked the phone out of Ngo’s hand.
Gym staff eventually intervened and revoked Hacker’s membership.
In court, Hacker said he’s been the frequent target of doxxing by Ngo, which has led to threats against him and his family, as well as photos of his home published online. At one point, Hacker said one of Ngo's followers obtained his child's phone number. He said Ngo’s reporting over the years has caused harm to him and many activists in Portland.
Hacker admitted he reacted out of anger that day at the gym, telling the jury he regretted his actions.
“I don't think it was appropriate. I wasn’t thinking,” Hacker said. “I was just like, ‘I hate this guy. Fuck this guy.’”
Hacker said the gym incident was “a ridiculous way to resolve grievances” and apologized to Ngo in court.
While Hacker acknowledged his role in the 2019 incident, he and his attorneys said he doesn’t seek violence against political foes and wasn't responsible for a group that jumped Ngo in 2021.
“He works on progressive causes. He feeds the hungry. He protests ICE…” Michelle Burrows, Hacker’s defense attorney, told the jury, describing a man who’s overcome a near-death crash that left him severely burned and now fights for causes he believes in.
Hacker said he sees himself as anti-fascist, but doesn't identify as antifa, calling it "a pejorative used by far-right movements to discredit the movement."
Ngo’s legal team argued the attacks made him unsafe and diminished his ability to continue providing on-the-ground coverage of Portland protests, thus interfering with his ability to draw revenue.
Defense attorneys noted records documenting Ngo’s income were incomplete, but showed he drew about $462,000 in royalties from a 2018 book deal and continues to draw $5,000 to $6,000 a month from a Patreon account. Ngo has also amassed paid subscribers to his Twitter page and maintains a legal fund with the Center for American Liberty that had “at least $200,000 in it” at one point.
Regardless of damages sought, attorneys said the defendants didn't provoke or engage in Ngo's assault in 2021.
On May 28, 2021, Ngo showed up to a gathering downtown at Chapman Square, where activists were commemorating the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death. Ngo attempted to blend in with the antifascist crowd, to gain access for filming and reporting. He showed up in black bloc attire, with goggles and a Black Lives Matter flag. At some point, Ngo was recognized and called out.
He was then chased by a group of people and punched, kicked, and beaten, eventually getting away and seeking cover in The Nines hotel nearby. Richter later caught up with Ngo at the hotel and taunted him, attorneys said. The assault was reported to police, who later testified that a lack of evidence prevented criminal prosecution of any suspects involved.
Lawyer says political climate fueled tensions
While defense attorneys condemned the 2021 attack on Ngo, they said neither Hacker nor Richter took part in the assault, nor did they instruct others to attack Ngo.
“She wasn’t there. She didn’t follow him. She didn’t hit him… touch him,” Brinson, Richter’s attorney, told the jury.
Hacker said he spotted Ngo that night in 2021, but had no part in the attack, and had moved toward a different block when Ngo was being assaulted.
“My client is not responsible for the bad things that happened to Mr. Ngo that day,” Burrows, Hacker’s attorney, told the jury.
Burrows said the harm caused to Ngo and the targeted online harassment faced by parties in the lawsuit can be traced to the current American political climate.
“I’m having a hard time in this case, wondering, who took the high road here? Who really is the villain?” Burrows said. “What the real villain is, I think, is what we’ve become in this country, that we can’t anymore, have different viewpoints on anything, so instead of just yelling at each other, or having combative politicians waving the flag in Congress, we have people go out in the street, and we have people throwing tear gas, spraying bear spray, and having to wear gas masks."
Immediately following the jury's verdict, Ngo's legal team moved to have the verdict dismissed, on the grounds that Hacker acknowledged his 2019 interaction with Ngo and apologized for it, but the judge didn't allow it.
It's unclear whether the judge will order Ngo to pay the legal fees of the defendants he tried to sue.
Ngo took to social media and his Patreon fundraising account later Tuesday, calling the verdict "disappointing."
"Though I am deeply disappointed in today's verdict, I am considering my legal options," Ngo stated.