HIV-positive activist sued for criticizing AIDS denier online
In 2013, it’s hard to imagine someone taking to the Web to spread the dangerous misinformation that HIV does not cause AIDS. It’s harder still to believe that this someone would dare to bring a lawsuit against a scientifically precise critic—but only after threatening his mother.
That’s story of Clark Baker. A disgraced former LAPD officer turned “private investigator,” he heads the bombastically titled Office of Medical and Scientific Justice, Inc., an agency “specializing in military, criminal and civil cases that involve medical and/or scientific corruption, incompetence, retaliation and fraud.”
What that means, in practice, is that Baker believes “as many as 90 percent of all HIV-positive diagnoses” are false positives, the result of pharmaceutical company kickbacks to greedy physicians. “Since 2009,” his website boasts, “OMSJ has successfully defended dozens of criminal and military defendants who were wrongly accused of exposing others to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).”
The active denial of decades of empirical data is bound to attract attention, and sure enough, Jeffrey Todd Deshong, an activist for LGBT and AIDS-related causes who happens to be HIV-positive himself, took action.
In response to Baker’s “HIV Innocence Group,” Deshong registered the domains hivinnocencegrouptruth.com and hivinnocenceprojecttruth.com to debunk the organization’s hoax science. This “trade name infringement” forms part of Baker’s subsequent lawsuit.
According to Deshong, his sites intend to “provide the general public, and attorneys seeking Baker’s help, and any interested parties, the proof that Clark Baker’s Innocence project, now called the Innocence Group, is a useless tool of AIDS denialist propaganda.”
That refutation, of course, is what Baker’s actually angry about, and so his lawsuit necessarily spells out his sprawling, demented conspiracy theory. In Baker’s mind, Deshong is simply the propaganda wing of a cabal that includes big pharma, “prominent physicians from both Cornell and Harvard,” and Dr. Robert Gallo—the biomedical researcher who discovered HIV.
Sounds like a reputable bunch, doesn’t it? Still, Baker’s convinced that everyone involved has a “vested interest” in their version of the medical fact. Insofar as their version is the correct one, and should be imparted to the world at all costs, he’s correct: They advocate for the truth because it’s the truth, not to cynically line their pockets with research grants.
Such moral motivations are beyond Baker’s reasoning, and Deshong’s more strident criticism is nothing compared to Baker’s vitriol when firing back.
“As a 45-year-old single man who has no meaningful or spiritual life, assets, profession, or prospects, Jeffrey lives alone with his mother in her small Texas rental,” Baker wrote. “Like the unloved target of a child molester, Jeffrey was easily seduced and exploited by Moore and other goons who reward Jeffrey with the love and respect he cannot find in normal healthy relationships. In return, Jeffrey attacks and disrupts forums and participants – poisoning the well and making those who argue with him look silly.
That Deshong lives with his mother is not insignificant. As Ken White reported for popehat.com, she was directly targeted by Baker for intimidation.
“She told me about how Mr. Baker called her out of the blue and ranted at her,” White wrote. “Mr. Baker angrily denounced her son, and told her that, as a police officer, he knew about dangerous people, and that Ms. DeShong should fear that her son would kill her in her sleep. He also threatened that he was arranging for doctors Mr. DeShong had criticized to sue him for defamation.”
White’s post about the risible lawsuit solicited legal help for Deshong as he prepares to fight Baker in federal court in Fort Worth, Texas. The suit also brings allegations of “defamation” and “business disparagement," and presses for injunctive relief. The strongest of Deshong’s language cited is a blog post title: “Why the HIV Innocence Group is sick and evil bullshit.”
In other words, a comment as worthy of legal action as a one-star Yelp review.
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