Has Also Enlisted A First Amendment Attorney
The Caledonian-Record, April 27, 2020
Posted with permission
A Dalton man being sued by Casella Waste Systems for what the company alleges is his defamation of Casella has launched a fund-raiser to cover legal expenses that after three days after being online raised $6,000 toward a $10,000 goal.
On Friday, Jon Swan, a critic of Casella’s proposed 180-acre landfill beside Forest Lake State Park, set up his “Protect free speech and Forest Lake from Casella” campaign on gofundme.com.
On Monday, he said he now has his own attorney who has “a lot of experience with First Amendment cases.”
Swan, founder of the landfill opposition group Save Forest Lake, said he is not surprised by the $6,000 raised so far.
“It’s similar to Northern Pass, and I think this company’s reputation precedes it,” he said.
In his fund-raising campaign, Swan called Casella’s litigation “a PR stunt from a very desperate company … and a “frivolous SLAPP [Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation] lawsuit meant to harass and silence those opposed to their plans and presence.”
Casella’s lawsuit filed April 14 at Merrimack Superior Court in Concord also names as defendants the Forest Lake Association and up to 20 unnamed people in that group as well as in SFL.
The company alleges the intent of Swan’s campaign is to “disparage [Casella’s] reputation” by publishing false statements of fact” about the company and to prevent it from doing business in New Hampshire, and it alleges Swan made false statements “with the intent and effect of lowering Casella’s esteem in the community” and damaging its reputation in state government, and doing so with “ill will, hatred, hostility, or evil motive …”
As a result, the company alleges it “suffered harm to its reputation and business” and is entitled to a court declaration stating it has been defamed, damages for general harm to reputation without specific proof, and special damages for present and future damages.
The lawsuit was filed one week after Swan created what he called a parody video, titled “Casella Waste Systems CEO Gets Bad News,” using a 4-minute segment from the 2004 German film “Downfall,” about the last days of Adolf Hitler’s life inside the bunker when he learned the Nazis had lost the Second World War.
In Swan’s video, which uses subtitles he wrote for the characters, Hitler is depicted as Casella CEO John Casella and Nazi military officers as several Casella employees.
In a bunker office where the characters are acting, Swan wrote a subtitle for one officer saying, “Mr. Casella, our situation in New Hampshire has become dire. We may have to ship trash to New York instead. This longer route will be costly. Word has gotten out about our bad reputation and we cannot fool anyone anymore.”
“What about Dalton?” Swan wrote for Hitler as John Casella. “They have no zoning. They are a small rural town.”
A tense moment passed between officers, before the Hitler character is informed Dalton voted for temporary, emergency zoning.
“You told me not to worry about the North Country!” Swan wrote in the subtitle for the Hitler character. “You said Ingerson and Gilbody had Dalton under control! You said Cliff Crosby could handle Bethlehem! The board of directors will be furious! Do you know how much money we will lose? John Gay, you said the lot line adjustment would be approved! And Kevin Roy, you said Bethlehem was under control! New Hampshire is supposed to be the center of our garbage empire!”
“But Mr. Casella, we did not know about Jon Swan,” said the first officer.
“Who the hell is Jon Swan?” Swan wrote for the Hitler character. “That sounds like a made-up name!”
“Sir, he rallied the people and formed Save Forest Lake,” said the first officer.
“Then start throwing false promises around and offer money!” Swan wrote in the subtitle for the Hitler character. “I want Forest Lake! These people mean nothing to me! We need a place in New Hampshire for Massachusetts trash! Do you know how much money we make from garbage? Send more mailers and have Cliff Crosby start another petition campaign! Host more family barbecues with pony rides! It is my destiny to make New Hampshire the heart of my garbage empire! I don’t care how you do it, form a new phony grassroots groups with clever names if you have to. We have worked so hard to fool so many host communities.”
After the Hitler character calms down, Swan wrote Casella as saying, “What can we do now? That lake is not that special. We could sue the pants off them like we’ve done elsewhere. We have expensive lawyers who are not dummies. Get the hell out of here, I want to cry.”
Online are a number of “Downfall” parodies that have been created by others using the same 4-minute film segment and they are found on a number of web sites, including on YouTube’s Hitler Rants Parodies channel. One such video includes the New England Patriots winning over the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl 49 in 2015, to a fuming Hitler.
In an op-ed, John Casella said he has been in the solid waste management business for many years, but has never experienced “the kind of sustained, malicious attack on our company that Jon Swan of Dalton has carried out for nearly a year.”
“On April 7, though, Swan took his maliciousness to another level when he created and posted on the Internet a video portraying me as Adolph Hitler and Casella employees and other private citizens as Nazis,” wrote Casella. “This is not just tasteless, to stoop so low as to compare me to one of the greatest monsters in history and our company to the Third Reich, a regime guilty of the genocide of millions, all in an effort to win a community debate. This is the outright, vicious defamation of our organization and our people. It crosses the line into hateful, gutter politics.”
The company’s lawsuit states that Swan, who also goes by the name Jon Alvarez, has a “history of fomenting controversy through extreme and provocative public statements and conduct.”
The lawsuit states that before moving to New Hampshire, Swan lived in upstate New York, “where he formed what he called a ‘militia,’ held a contest on his talk radio program for best papier mâché pig made from the pages of the Koran, and posted a Facebook tribute to a pilot who flew a plane into a federal office building, killing himself and a federal employee.”
On Monday afternoon, Casella spokesman Joe Fusco was asked what the company thinks of Swan’s fund-raiser and Swan’s statement calling the company’s case a SLAPP lawsuit and was asked if Casella has any examples to date of how its business has been harmed by Swan’s statements, such as the loss of a contract or a loss or decrease in a revenue stream.
Fusco said the company has no opinion on Swan’s fund-raising, the legal action is for defamation and is not a SLAPP matter, and the company will present evidence of harm at trial.