The messiest fight on the right is between the lawyer for a prominent “Western” nationalist group and a man who has previously faced allegations of supporting the Ku Klux Klan.
Attorney Jason Lee Van Dyke represents the Proud Boys, an all-male, self-described “Western chauvinist” organization. Thomas Retzlaff is a Texas man trying to get Van Dyke disbarred in the state for racism. But Van Dyke, who is now trying to sue Retzlaff for $100 million, says the case isn’t what it seems, pointing to a major 2014 lawsuit in which a plaintiff unsuccessfully attempted to prove that Retzlaff posed as a KKK member online.
Van Dyke’s tangle with Retzlaff began in March 2017. Van Dyke, who practiced law privately, had just accepted a felony prosecutor role in the district attorney’s office in Victoria County, Texas. But shortly before Van Dyke was slated to start work, Retzlaff lodged a complaint with the D.A.’s office.
“I live in San Antonio, and Victoria County is right next to where I live,” Retzlaff told The Daily Beast in a phone conversation. “When I found out Van Dyke had got the job there, I had some communications with the district attorney and said ‘this guy is a crazy person, why would you hire him? Didn’t you use Google?’”
A Google search would have revealed Van Dyke’s troubled past.
Van Dyke was expelled from Michigan State University in 2000 after he was arrested for domestic violence, possession of a banned weapon, and firearm safety violations, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in 2007. The charges were later dismissed. A campus police search of Van Dyke’s dorm reportedly found “extremist literature, including the race war fantasy novel The Turner Diaries and the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
In his law practice, Van Dyke has coordinated with Kyle Bristow, a lawyer who represented white supremacist Richard Spencer and, until March, led the alt-right group Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas.
Online, Van Dyke threatened physical violence. The legal blog Popehat previously documented a sample of Van Dyke’s threats on Twitter, where he has threatened to bash in the teeth of someone he also threatened to sue. In 2014, Van Dyke tweeted a picture of a noose at Twitter enemy. “Look good and hard at this picture you fucking n****r,” he wrote. “It’s where I am going to put your neck.”
Popehat also detailed a popular online theory: that Van Dyke goes by “WNLaw” (short for “white nationalist law”) on the white supremacist forum Stormfront. Since least 2011, WNLaw has described himself as a Texas lawyer named Jason with an interest in firearms, all characteristics the poster shares with Van Dyke. WNLaw has also posted links to articles about Van Dyke, and a link to an anti-Dianne Feinstein petition launched by someone with Van Dyke’s initials.
Van Dyke told The Daily Beast he thinks Stormfront is “despicable” and that he never posted on the hate forum. He theorized the posts stem from “an identity theft problem back in 2014, which appears to be when a lot of these things were posted ... As far as I know, someone created it to discredit me.”
When alerted that most the posts in question were from 2011, Van Dyke said, “I have no idea. I haven’t read these things. I know nothing about Stormfront, but suffice to say, I’ve made a lot of enemies with a lot of people over the years.”
After Popehat posted about Van Dyke’s history in July, Van Dyke emailed the post’s author Ken White demanding he retract the article or face consequences.
“I have a picture of you,” Van Dyke wrote in an email White posted to Twitter. “I am going to put it on my mirror at home, near my desk, and in my truck. My pure and absolute hatred for you will be unprecedented ... I will make you so miserable and treat you with such extreme and unprecedented cruelty that you’ll either kill yourself or move yourself and your family to the most remote part of the world you can afford to escape my wrath.”
When the Victoria County district attorney’s office rescinded Van Dyke’s job offer after Retzlaff’s complaint, Van Dyke sued the office to learn who targeted him.
But Reztlaff did not stop lodging complaints against Van Dyke, and in December 2017 filed a grievance with the State Bar of Texas accusing Van Dyke of posting as WNLaw on Stormfront and “posting online that he is going to murder me because I am the one who cost him his jobw ith [sic] Victoria County … You all need to disbar this retard ASAP.”
Retzlaff said a person with Van Dyke’s views had no place in a DA’s office.
“This isn’t about politics. I’ve been a lifelong member of the Republican party ever since Ronald Reagan. I’ve been a Trump supporter from the very beginning,” Retzlaff told The Daily Beast. “Van Dyke was just inches from being an assistant district attorney in Texas where they have the death penalty.”
Van Dyke in late March filed a lawsuit against Retzlaff, seeking $100 million in damages, and accusing Retzlaff of writing libelous blog posts calling Van Dyke a Nazi and a white supremacist.
But that’s where the legal spat grows more complicated. The blog, ViaView Files, is of dubious ownership, and was recently the subject of a different high-profile lawsuit.
In his conversation with The Daily Beast, Retzlaff denied owning the blog, which was initially dedicated to trashing James McGibney, the owner of a network of controversial websites including BullyVille and CheaterVille. The blog accused McGibney of hosting revenge porn on CheaterVille, and implied that McGibney was a pedophile. In a 2014 lawsuit, McGibney accused Retzlaff being one of several people behind a version of the ViaView Files blog, and of leading a campaign of harassment against McGibney and his supporters.
Some of those messages came from a person calling himself The Klansman. In a sworn affidavit in McGibney’s case, a legal blogger argued that The Klansman’s comments used the same IP address as an account associated with Retzlaff’s email. On his website, McGibney also shows that a YouTube account with the Klansman name uploaded a video in 2012 of Retzlaff’s son singing karaoke.
McGibney accused The Klansman of writing threatening messages. Retzlaff said he did no such thing. Offline, however, Retzlaff has been convicted of misdemeanor assault on his wife, violation of a protective order, theft, tampering with a government record, “display of harmful material to a minor,” and a felony weapons offense. On top of that, he was expelled from the University of Texas San Antonio in 2007 after a foreign exchange student accused him of harassment. Retzlaff violated an order not to contact her, and a school investigation found that he had misrepresented himself on his application, claiming to have performed military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan when he was actually in prison.
McGibney’s lawsuit also accused Retzlaff of using an email address that began with “YourAryanBrother” to inquire whether McGibney’s lawyer was Jewish, and to make references to the Holocaust. The lawsuit accused Retzlaff of repeatedly posting the addresses of McGibney and his colleagues with statements to the effect of “I sure hope the Aryan Brotherhood does not find” them.
The lawsuit included a signed affidavit from Retzlaff’s son, claiming to have seen Retzlaff logged into the website, where Retzlaff allegedly wrote articles. Retzlaff later obtained a new signed affidavit from his son recanting the first affidavit, and accusing McGibney of bribing and coercing his son into signing the first document. McGibney lost his lawsuit dramatically, after a court ruled that he had not produced sufficient evidence to tie Retzlaff to the blog or the accounts he was accused of using. McGibney was initially ordered to pay $1.3 million in sanctions and legal fees. (The payout was later reduced to approximately $450,000. In a Tuesday decision, a Texas appellate court reversed the sanctions against McGibney altogether.)
But the confusion might make its way into Van Dyke’s suit against Retzlaff. Van Dyke sent The Daily Beast a copy of the first affidavit in attempt to claim Retzlaff was behind the blog. “That’s baloney,” Van Dyke claimed when The Daily Beast noted Retzlaff’s denial of running the blog.
Both McGibney and Van Dyke’s cases note that Texas has flagged Retzlaff as a “vexatious litigant,” a person who files persistent, frivolous legal motions. On April 15, two weeks after Van Dyke filed suit, Retzlaff filed a new grievance with the State Bar of Texas, claiming Van Dyke sent him a series of threatening emails beginning March 28.
Retzlaff’s new grievance included the text of eight alleged emails from Van Dyke.
“Did you know that, when I strangle you, that you could be conscious to feel all of that pain for up to three minutes before brain death occurs?” one of the alleged emails read. “What kind of vegetable would you like to be for the rest of your life? How about a turnip?”
Van Dyke declined to comment on the emails.
Retzlaff expressed dismay that Van Dyke had found his way into so many legal jobs.
“Google has been around for many, many years,” he said. “I’m sure you Googled me.”