A judge threw out a Colorado man’s defamation claim against a 9News anchor Monday finding that there was no evidence that the journalist included false information in his broadcast or that he acted “with actual malice,” according to his ruling.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Denver District Court, was dismissed after the judge ruled that Chad Burmeister, a self-described CEO from Littleton, was not likely to produce “clear and convincing” evidence showing that 9News anchor Kyle Clark produced his segment about Burmeister’s involvement in the Jan. 6 riot with malice or that he was aware any of the information used in the segment and accompanying article was false.
Burmeister accused Clark and his employer, Tegna Inc., of misrepresenting the fact that he “claimed to storm” the Capitol, that he was “boasting” or “bragging” about what happened on Jan. 6 and that his Facebook page was “full of QAnon conspiracies.”
He claimed that as a direct result of Clark’s broadcast, his business, ScaleX.ai, lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in contract cancellations and was forced to let go 50% of its staff, according to court documents. Burmeister also said that he “suffered insult, embarrassment, humiliation, mental anguish and suffering,” and lost business opportunities, like speaking arrangements.
But the judge found that any reputational damage was likely primarily caused by Burmeister’s decision to publicly post photos of himself outside the Capitol, with a caption that average members of the public understood to indicate he was proud of either being or being with “the first guy to storm the capital [sic].”
According to the lawsuit, Chad Burmeister posted a selfie to social media, showing him at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington D.C., when more than 2,000 people stormed and vandalized the U.S. Capitol building. In the photo, Burmeister is standing next to a man who is wearing a black hat with “Make America Great Again” stitched in white letters and with his left index finger extended. Both men are smiling.
“First guy to storm the capital [sic] today,” Burmeister initially captioned the photo, according to the lawsuit. He then edited the caption to read: “Peaceful march to the capital [sic].”
Following the riot, Colorado State Rep. Mark Baisley, a Republican from Douglas County, made a post on Twitter suggesting that those at the Capitol on Jan. 6 were not supporters of President Trump, but were by anti-Trump protesters affiliated with antifa.
9News anchor Kyle Clark rebutted Baisley’s comments on his segment, “Next with Kyle Clark” the following night, arguing that those who stormed the Capitol building were in fact Trump supporters and not antifa. The segment, which lasted 1 minute and 42 seconds, aired on Jan. 7 and was accompanied by an online article that paraphrased what Clark said during the broadcast. The article included statements and photos from Burmeister’s public Facebook page to demonstrate that pro-Trump supporters participated in the riot, according to the lawsuit.
Burmeister is quoted in the article: “Thank you for highlighting my peaceful march to the Capitol yesterday. It was an honor to live my First Amendment. Just to clarify, ‘storm’ for me was to march to the Capitol and be on the grounds. As I mention in my posts, I was there for a peaceful march, always respecting the laws of our land.”
People on Facebook commented on Burmeister’s photos, with one asking “Why are they proud of terrorism,” while another wrote, “You look very proud of yourself for being [the] first guy to storm the capital [sic],” screenshots included in the court documents show. Some called for his immediate firing and the boycotting of his company.
The comments, which were made before Clark’s broadcast, indicated that his involvement in the Jan. 6 events had already “been interpreted in a somewhat negative light by the public,” Denver District Judge Ross B.H. Buchanan wrote in his ruling.
Burmeister claimed that Clark’s statement that his Facebook page featured QAnon conspiracies was false, saying that he has “never been part of any organization such as the Three Percenters, QAnon, or other groups like them,” and that “he is a “law abiding citizen, a CEO of a technology company, a husband, and a father of two teenagers,” the lawsuit stated.
The court found that Clark’s statement was “merely a rational observation” of the content on Burmeister’s Facebook page.
Burmeister filed the defamation suit against Clark and his employer, 9News, in November.
The court found that the article accurately quotes Burmeister’s statement that he did not enter the building and that there is no evidence that Clark’s statements were based on undisclosed sources of information, but instead, viewers were merely made aware of Burmeister’s posts, his deleted caption that he edited after-the-fact, according to court documents.
Court documents show that Burmeister is seeking $5 million in damages in a separate defamation lawsuit filed against a California man who posted Clark’s segment to his LinkedIn page, encouraging his followers on the platform to sever their connection with Burmeister.
The lawsuit claims that the man, who is the chief marketing officer of a company that specializes in computer and network security, shared at least 100 LinkedIn connections with Burmeister and since the time he made the post, a client canceled a $250,000 order and stopped returning Burmeister’s calls.
The lawsuit says that Burmeister did not engage in the seditious takeover of the Capitol and was never investigated by law enforcement.
In Massachusetts District Court, Burmeister is seeking $7 million in damages after a CEO of a Massachusetts sales and training consulting company shared a link to Clark’s broadcast on multiple of his social media platforms along with additional defamatory statements, according to court documents.
Burmeister’s attorney was unable to be reached prior to publication.