Awake Illinois threatens to sue vocal critics

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Far-right group Awake Illinois has threatened to sue two vocal suburban activists if they keep opposing them.

On Monday, the ACLU of Illinois said that the two activists, Maggie Romanovich of Wheaton and Kylie Spahn of Downers Grove, received letters from the group threatening defamation suits if they did not stop criticizing the group and removed their posts. The two have refused to back down.

Awake Illinois has become one highest profile opponents to LGBTQ activities in Illinois, especially in the suburbs of Chicago. The opposed the Starry Night Drag Brunch at Lake in the Hills’ UpRising Bakery, which was latter the target of an anti-LGBTQ hate crime, and the Drag Queen Bingo at Downers Grove Public Library. That event was later cancelled after receiving threats.

The organization, which grew out of opposition to COVD-19 mitigation efforts, regularly uses terms like “groomer” and claims that drag threatens children. They’ve also regularly promoted anti-LGBTQ events such as the “What is a Woman” screening at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign later this week. They’ve cheered on efforts to demonize children’s hospitals that offer gender-affirming care on their social media and regularly boost content from far-right publications like Wirepoints and the Daily Wire.

Awake Illinois found and president Shannon Adcock is running for the for the Indian Prairie District 204 School Board.

The ACLU sent letters to Awake Illinois on behalf of Romanovich and Spahn.  The letters reject the threatened lawsuits as groundless, noting that all of the material cited by Awake Illinois is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

“These letters from Awake Illinois are empty threats with zero legal basis,” said Rebecca Glenberg, senior supervising attorney at the ACLU of Illinois who signed the letters. “Awake Illinois and its members consistently use harsh and often offensive language directed against others to advance their interests, but now feign injury when our clients express strong feelings against them.”

“If they think these letters will stop our clients or others from speaking out against what they see as a dangerous agenda, they are wrong.” 

Awake Illinois’ letter to Romanovich referred to her letter to the editor printed in the Daily Herald, which criticized a congressional candidate for his connection to Awake Illinois, opining that the group is appalling, extremist, homophobic, racially insensitive and otherwise objectionable.  Such opinions are constitutionally protected and cannot be the basis of a defamation lawsuit, the ACLU of Illinois wrote. 

“Our Constitution allows groups like Awake Illinois to express their views in the public square like anyone else. But they may not use the courts to suppress the views of others,” Glenberg noted. 

You can read the letters to Awake Illinois on behalf of Romanovich and Spahn here and here.  . 

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