Daniel Gonzalez, a 17-year-old rising senior at Miami Lakes Educational Center, found an email from a lawyer in his inbox Monday afternoon. If Gonzalez didn’t remove a series of posts he had made the previous day on Twitter, he could get hit with a defamation lawsuit, the letter said.
The posts in question featured photographs Gonzalez had taken at a rally Sunday in Miami Lakes, where supporters of President Donald Trump had organized a caravan in response to a Black Lives Matter protest that was happening in the same location along Northwest 154th Street. Gonzalez tweeted dozens of pictures from the rally, showing the faces of attendees sitting in their cars. Each one featured the same hashtag: “#RacistsofMiamiLakes.”
Hundreds of people retweeted them.
“You have published false and defamatory statements on Twitter regarding D.F., G.B., F.M., and others,” attorney Douglas Jeffrey wrote in his letter to Gonzalez, saying he represents “several individuals” whose photographs were shared. “D.F. is a minor, and G.B. and F.M. are both prominent, well respected members of the Miami Lakes community. They are not racists.”
In addition to the three people referenced anonymously in the letter, Jeffrey said he is representing Julio Martinez, a former interim mayor of neighboring Hialeah from 1990 to 1993. Martinez also ran for mayor of Hialeah in 2013. He responded on Twitter to the photograph Gonzalez shared of him, highlighting his military service.
“I am a Cuban American US Army Veteran who served to protect our Country from communism and could care less what tag you try to give me,” Martinez wrote. “If it wasn’t for folks like myself you wouldn’t be allowed to make such an idiotic statement. See my 25th Infantry Div.Cap and American flag.”
Former Miami Lakes councilman Frank Mingo is also pictured in one of Gonzalez’s photographs. Jeffrey declined to comment on whether Mingo is one of his clients.
In his letter, Jeffrey demanded that Gonzalez delete his posts by 8 p.m. Monday and issue an apology. Otherwise, he said, his clients would “pursue all legal remedies,” including potentially suing not only Gonzalez, but also his parents “for vicarious liability and negligent supervision.”
Shortly after 7 p.m. Monday, Gonzalez posted a screenshot of the letter from Jeffrey on Twitter, along with the message: “Imagine suing a 17 year old high school student. I photographed some Trump supporters I didn’t know that were counter protesting a #BLM protest in Miami Lakes and called them racist. Their lawyers told me that they’re not. I guess I’ll take their word for it. Sorry.”
Gonzalez subsequently deleted most of the posts, although at least seven remained on Twitter as of around 11 p.m. Monday. They had all been deleted shortly before midnight.
He told the Miami Herald he had intended to delete all of them after a friend who is a lawyer told him it wasn’t worth the risk of getting sued. But other lawyers reached out to him via Twitter, he said, and told him they thought the rally attendees “had no grounds” to sue him.
One person wrote: “Mr. Gonzalez: I help people threatened with bogus defamation suits find pro bono legal help. This threat is unusually frivolous and thuggish. Feel free to reach out for help.”
After Gonzalez had deleted most of the tweets, someone else on Twitter posted a link to a page where 21 of Gonzalez’s photos had been uploaded. Gonzalez retweeted the post but said he wasn’t behind the move.
Gonzalez, who is the photo editor for his high school newspaper but wasn’t working for the paper Sunday, said he decided to post the photographs as he thought about reports of police tracking Black Lives Matter protesters, possibly by using images of their faces. Opponents of the movement are really the ones who ought to be publicly exposed, Gonzalez argued.
“How come the same thing isn’t being done for the counter-protesters?” he said. “If you want to [counter-protest], that’s fine, but then show that to everyone else. If you’re gonna do something, at least own up to it.”
Gonzalez added that he didn’t understand why Sunday’s pro-Trump caravan had been organized in response to a Black Lives Matter protest. In a message circulated privately, the caravan organizers, led by a group called Cubans4Trump, said they would be riding “on opposite side of the street of a BLM sit in.” They asked people not to announce the event publicly, but word got out after someone posted it on Twitter.
“Black Lives Matter isn’t a movement against Trump. ... They see it as a way to reform the police,” Gonzalez said, noting that he believes fellow Hispanics — like many of the people who attended Sunday’s caravan — who support Trump are racist.
“The person that they’re supporting has openly discriminated against them, yet they still support him,” he said. “If you’re Hispanic and you’re supporting Trump, then you’re racist as well.”
Jeffrey, the Miami Lakes attorney who contacted Gonzalez, told the Herald on Monday night that he had not yet seen Gonzalez’s response to his letter on Twitter, but that he was told “the apology was insufficient” and that Gonzalez hadn’t taken down all the photos.
“I haven’t decided what course we’re gonna pursue yet,” Jeffrey said. “He disparaged a bunch of good citizens who are not racist, who he did not know, who he’d never spoken to.”
The word “racist,” Jeffrey added, “is a very bad word where I come from.”
“There’s nothing racist about waving an American flag and being proud of the United States,” he said.
Jeffrey said he wasn’t aware that the caravan had been planned in response to a Black Lives Matter protest, and that he believed some people who attended were only told it was a pro-Trump rally and in support of the police.
He pointed out that he has represented victims of police brutality and discrimination in the past. But in this case, he said, social media posts were sullying the “excellent reputations” of members of the community.
“How do you call someone a racist if you don’t know them?” he said. “It’s unfortunate because it’s upending people’s lives.”