In response to claims made last year that have allegedly damaged his reputation, Boston Marathon victim Abdulrahman Alharbi sued radio host Glenn Beck in district court for defamation.
Filed on Friday, the defamation suit was prompted by a series of remarks made by Beck, the first of which was aired on The Blaze TV on April 22, 2013. In the clip, Beck questioned Alharbi’s link to terrorism and the government’s failure to take action.
“I believe that [Alharbi's] mission is to recruit fighters that are already in the country that way they can’t be tracked crossing international borders,” he said in the clip. “After recruiting, he can fund and provide the go order when the time came. His clan is heavy with Al-Qaeda links. He came to the country under a student visa. He could be around a lot of easily corruptible youths.”
Following the Marathon bombings, federal agents questioned Alharbi and searched his apartment. Ultimately, they determined he had no involvement in the bombings, but Beck continued to make comments indicating that Alharbi was a participant in the violence.
On May 8, 2013, Beck referred to Alharbi as the “money man” behind the Boston Marathon bombings, and he repeated this statement a number of times, the defamation complaint said.
“As a direct and proximate result of the statements made by Beck and published and broadcast by the Distributor Defendants, Alharbi’s reputation has been substantially and severely damaged,” said the defamation complaint. “Alharbi has received numerous messages, internet postings and other communications based on Beck’s false statements accusing him of being a murderer, child killer and terrorist.”
Alharbi is not commenting publicly on the case at this time. Peter Haley, Alharbi’s attorney, confirmed the status of the case but would not address the substance of the matter outside of court.
Walter Robinson, a member of the Board of Directors for the New England First Amendment Coalition, said he doesn’t know anyone who would defend someone’s right to ruin another person’s reputation when there is no evidence confirming the allegation.
“The only defense he has is if what he said is true,” he said. “Truth is always the first defense against libel and slander, but from what we know to put it mildly, that’s highly unlikely that what Beck said about this young man had any truth to it at all.”
Robinson said most civil lawsuits, such as this one, are settled out of court without going to trial, and all parties sign confidentiality agreements to not say anything bad about the other side.
Jack Beermann, a law professor at Boston University, said defamation cases against the media and public figures are not rare, and Alharbi is likely to win, whether the case goes to trial or settlement.
“This guy is not a public figure, but a private figure, so he only has to show that what Beck said was negligent,” he said. “If this person can prove what was said about him untrue [and] prove Glen Beck was at least negligent, then he would have a good chance of winning the case and collecting damages.”
Several residents said they sympathize with Alharbi in his case against Beck.
Holly Tokarz, 20, of Fenway, said it is racist and insulting to jump to conclusions and assume that people from out of the country, like Alharbi, had any connection to the Boston Marathon bombings.
“It’s insulting to the people who were affected by the bombing, especially him,” she said. “It comes to a point where [the comments] are too much and need to stop if someone is receiving death threats.”
Rick Burnes, 26, of Brighton, said Beck has a right to say what he wants under the First Amendment, but he should not have made the comments he did about Alharbi.
“I don’t agree with people coming up with circumstantial quotes,” he said. “[Also] I don’t agree with [Beck] throwing somebody under the bus like that.”
Emma Johnson, 27, of Brighton, said Glenn Beck needs to respect the evidence found that proves Alharbi’s innocence.
“I wouldn’t consider Beck a reporter, but he is a part of the media and the Fourth Estate,” she said. “He has a responsibility to protect innocent people. The evidence shows that he [Alharbi] wasn’t involved, and he needed to let it go.”