What should have been a joyful day at a family wedding for Joel Vangheluwe and his dad, Jerome, turned into a nightmare.
A right-wing website identified them as owners or drivers of a car that killed a woman during the racist “alt-right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017.
The two men, who live about 45 miles outside of Detroit, were nowhere near the scene of the deadly gathering and they sued the website, GotNews.
Now, the site and its editor, Charles C. Johnson, have settled a lawsuit brought by the father and son.
Under the terms of an agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan, Johnson will pay $4,990 to Joel and Jerome Vangheluwe each. And, GotNews will pay Jerome Vangheluwe $19,990.
That settlement ends the defamation litigation against Johnson and the website, but not against others named as defendants.
The Vangheluwes alleged that the two are private individuals and not public figures and named 22 defendants including Freedom Daily and its writers Alberto Waisman and Jeffrey Rainforth; Gateway Pundit’s editor Jim Hoft, and Washington Times columnist Shirley Husar.
Also named defendants are Jonathan Spiel, who operates Studio News Network and a YouTube site; David Petersen, of the Puppet String News website, and Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media and founder of the hate group Proud Boys.
The suit also names seven Twitter account users, including Paul Nehlen, an antisemitic Wisconsin congressional candidate. He was banned from Twitter last year after posting a racist image.
A notice filed by Nehlen’s attorney, Kyle Bristow of Clinton Township, Michigan, says settlement negotiations were held, but failed and they have no desire for future talks to be scheduled.
The lawsuit was one of several stemming from the Unite the Right rally. Multiple alt-right groups have agreed to refrain from protesting in the future in Charlottesville. And, a federal judge is weighing whether to allow a lawsuit to go forward against multiple alt-right figures involved in the rally.
On the day of the rally, the Vangheluwes had no reason to know as they got ready for the wedding that GotNews, a self-described alt-right website with the slogan “President Trump reads us. You should too,” had falsely accused Joel Vangheluwe of driving the Dodge Charger that struck and killed 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer and injured 19 others during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Other alt-right websites picked up the story and the bogus report rocketed across Twitter and Facebook.
Other defendants falsely claimed that Jerome Vangheluwe owned the car at the time. He did at one point own the car but sold it years earlier. It had been resold several more times before 21-year-old James Alex Fields, Jr., took possession of it.
Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, was later arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He is scheduled for trial in December.
Before Fields was publicly identified by police, the alt-right social media was afire, falsely focusing on the Vangheluwes.
The Vangheluwes received death threats as the story spread across the Internet. The family left their home and went into hiding for their own safety.
Joel Vangheluwe, who’s an artist, lived at the time with his father, who works in the finance industry and neither man is politically active.