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ACLU criticizes Taylor Swift for threatening to sue website over white supremacist comparisons

A letter by Taylor Swift's attorney called an

A letter by Taylor Swift's attorney called an unsigned article by Meghan Herning "a malicious attack." The ACLU shot back: "All of this is core political speech that cannot possibly be defamatory." Credit: AP / Invision / John Salangsang

In a six-page letter, the American Civil Liberties Union has chastised an attorney for Taylor Swift, who had demanded that a website remove a political column the lawyer said defamed the pop star.

“Much of the blog post [at the politics and culture website] is devoted to a discussion of the current resurgence of white supremacy and the fact that at least some white supremacists have tried to co-opt Ms. Swift and her music to serve their own ugly, racist purposes,” reads the Monday letter to William J. Briggs II, of the Los Angeles firm Venable LLP. “Another section of it discusses the history of the eugenics movement in this country and that movement’s continuing ill effects. All of this is core political speech that cannot possibly be defamatory because it is not even about Ms. Swift,” continued the correspondence, signed by three staff attorneys of the ACLU’s Northern California office and made public by them.

Briggs’ letter, also made public by the ACLU, was dated Oct. 25 and demanded PopFront remove the Sept. 5 column, titled “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation.” The attorney’s four-page letter called the unsigned piece by PopFront executive editor Meghan Herning “a malicious attack . . . that goes to great lengths to portray Ms. Swift as some sort of white supremacist figurehead, which is a baseless fiction masquerading as fact. . . . ”

The ACLU’s response broke down Briggs’ contentions in detail, and ultimately stated that because Swift is a public figure and because political opinion is protected speech, “none of them are actionable.”

The organization also noted “incorrect legal assertions that bear correcting,” including Briggs’ claim that PopFront could not make his letter public due to copyright law. “Intimidation tactics like these are unacceptable. Not in her wildest dreams can Ms. Swift use copyright law to suppress this exposure of a threat to constitutionally protected speech,” said ACLU attorney Matt Cagle in a separate statement.

Neither Briggs nor Swift’s spokeswoman or record-label publicists responded to Newsday requests for comment.

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