AG Letitia James defends provocative letter to ReAwaken hosts
In covering a lawsuit filed by organizers of the Batavia-based ReAwaken America Tour against Attorney General Letitia James, The Batavian reached out to James for comment Monday and did not hear back before the story was published.
We wanted to know why she felt it necessary to involve herself — a state official — with a religious/political event; what she was hoping to accomplish by issuing the warning; and how she intends to defend her stance given that the event did not include any visible threats of violence as predicted.
An AG office spokesperson said that "As the top law enforcement officer in the state, it is our job to remind any organization or individual about the laws in our state, especially those that protect New Yorkers against racially motivated violence or harassment.”
“The letter from our office served as a basic reminder of those very laws and to suggest otherwise is incorrect,” the spokesperson said.
The office also included a copy of the letter, which The Batavian already had, and included portions in its published story. The full letter can be read below, and outlines the attorney general’s concerns and the foundation upon which organizers Pastor Paul Doyle and Clay Clark, in collaboration with their attorney, used to file the lawsuit against James for defamation, libel and impinging their First Amendment rights, to boil down the lengthy scope of litigation material.
To sum it up, event organizers sued the attorney general, alleging defamation and a violation of their civil rights. She, in turn, is standing by her letter, suggesting it is her right as the state's “top law enforcement official” to send such letters to private citizens.
Here is the letter in full, dated August 3, 2022, sent to General Michael Flynn and Clay Clark, care of Cornerstone Church in Batavia:
General Michael Flynn and Clay Clark:
As New York’s top law enforcement officer, I have significant concerns that the ReAwaken America Tour’s upcoming event at the Cornerstone Church in Batavia, New York on August 12 and 13 could spur extremist or racially motivated violence.
These concerns center around the event’s proposed dates, which coincide with the five-year anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and past extremist statements made by yourselves and the other featured speakers on the tour.
I am especially concerned about featured speakers’ regular allusions to white nationalist ideals connected to the “Great Replacement Theory,” a conspiracy theory that warns of white genocide and efforts to replace native born Americans with immigrants. The theory is frequently linked to violent actions, including the racially motivated mass shooting that killed 10 people at a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo.
Especially in light of this racist mass shooting, and other recent episodes of racially motivated violence in New York and throughout the country, the Office of the Attorney General is concerned that such rhetoric could contribute to violent or unlawful conduct at the ReAwaken America Tour’s upcoming event.
The Office of the Attorney General writes to remind you that New York law prohibits racially motivated violence, harassment, or interference with another person in the exercise of their civil rights.
New York Civil Rights Law § 79-n empowers the Office of the Attorney General to investigate acts of violence, intimidation, threats, or harassment directed at people based on a belief or perception regarding an individual’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability, or sexual orientation. In addition to actual damages, any person who violates this statute can be held liable for $5,000 in penalties for each violation.
Additionally, New York Civil Rights Law § 40-c prohibits discriminating against another person in the exercise of their civil rights — including their right to peacefully protest — based on similar protected characteristics.
Finally, New York Executive Law § 63(12) empowers the Office of the Attorney General to take action against any business engaged in significant fraud or illegality — including the violation of New York’s civil rights laws.
The Office of the Attorney General has a duty to protect New Yorkers from extremist and racially motivated violence. We stand ready to investigate any violation of the laws above and, if necessary, to enforce them to the fullest extent available.
You are therefore instructed to take all necessary steps to ensure that the event complies fully with the requirements of New York’s civil rights laws and all other applicable state and federal statutes.
Your cooperation in ensuring a peaceful and law-abiding event will be greatly appreciated.
New York State Attorney General
CC: Cornerstone Church
Photo of NYS Attorney General Letitia James from her website.