KENOSHA — A jury will decide this week if accusations of racism rise to the level of defamation.
Kevin Mathewson filed the defamation suit claiming his reputation and standing in the community were damaged by Raymond Roberts, of Sturtevant, who repeatedly referred to Mathewson as a racist and white nationalist on Facebook.
Mathewson also claims Roberts endangered his family by publishing his address, though no actual threat materialized, and further injured his standing at his children’s school by claiming Mathewson was training his children to be suicide bombers.
The trial began Monday in Kenosha County Circuit Court. There is no dollar figure attached to the complaint.
A call to arms
Mathewson is the person who created the “Kenosha Guard” Facebook page that put out the call for armed citizens to respond to Kenosha following civil unrest that ensued in the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake, by Officer Rusten Sheskey, in August 2020.
One of the people who responded to Mathewson’s call to arms was 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two people and injured a third. He was later acquitted of homicide on grounds of self-defense.
Mathewson claims he was the target of multiple verbal attacks by Roberts following the events of August 2020.
Challenges for the plaintiff
The challenge for the plaintiff is separating alleged damage by Roberts from the fallout connected to actions taken by Mathewson himself.
Multiple newspapers were put into evidence on Tuesday in which Mathewson was described as a “divisive” figure in Kenosha County.
In addition to his business as a private investigator, Mathewson also runs the blog Kenosha County Eye, which is not associated with the Racine County Eye. From the stand, he described himself as “a citizen journalist.”
Mathewson uses his controversial website to express his opinions and react to actions taken by the government.
He acknowledged from the stand his reporting includes his personal opinion but said it was labeled as such.
“I’m opinionated; it’s one of my faults,” he said and later admitted he’s not always nice about how he expresses his opinion.
In one letter to a public person, Mathewson wrote, “You might just be dumber than I thought.”
He also used leaked documents from law enforcement to suggest a public person should be investigated for drug use after her husband suffered an overdose. He argued from the stand that he used the word allegedly when suggesting she might also be a drug addict.
Representatives called to testify for jury
Although Mathewson claimed his reputation was damaged by the accusations of racism, two public officials testified on Tuesday they already had a negative view of Mathewson long before Raymond’s comments.
Kenosha County Supervisor Andy Berg told the jury it was his opinion that Mathewson was a divisive figure in the community and his reporting for the Kenosha County Eye was biased.
Berg described himself as a friend of Roberts.
Berg has known Mathewson since at least 2013 and there was “nothing positive” in their interactions since he was elected county supervisor.
“I let him know anything I had to say would not be said to him,” Berg said when asked how he responded to Mathewson when he reached out for comment.
Because Berg is an elected official, he was also allowed to give his opinion on the consensus of the public toward Mathewson.
“It’s not positive,” Berg said.
He added while he had “thick skin” in terms of what Mathewson has written about him, he also believed people were hurt by the accusations Mathewson has made on his website and with social media.
“I’ve seen him verbally assault people in our community,” Berg said while adding Mathewson used his website to make accusations and call people names.
When asked by the defense if he thought Mathewson was a dangerous person in the community, Berg responded, “I do.”
Alderman Anthony Kennedy, of the Kenosha Common Council, also testified that he had a negative opinion of Mathewson that predated the allegations of racism made by Roberts.
Kennedy described Mathewson as “an extremely difficult person to deal with.”
Kennedy continued and said Mathewson could be intimidating and frustrating to work with. He described Mathewson as a bully who uses his media platform to intimidate and hurt people in the community.
Mathewson testifies on his own behalf
Mathewson took the stand and testified on Tuesday. He reminded the jury that in addition to being a media personality, he was twice elected to the Kenosha Common Council.
He described himself as a person with “thick skin” who understood “half the people are going to love you and half are going to hate you.”
Mathewson said sometimes he has to “get stern” with public people to get information and documents he needs for his website.
“Sometimes I come off as rude, especially when I don’t get the answers I’m looking for,” he said.
He also acknowledged he was sometimes perceived as “a jerk.”
Changes at school
Mathewson was especially upset that his family was pulled into the comments made by Roberts. He cried from the stand as he described the concern he felt for his family, which included their address being published online and comments about children suicide bombers.
“My family is my number one priority,” he said.
Mathewson described himself as someone who was very active at the school his children attend and volunteered whenever he could.
“Whatever they were interested in, I would help,” he told the jury.
Previously, people at the school would socialize with him, but that ended, and Mathewson said he felt it was because Roberts alluded to his children being trained as suicide bombers.
“It was clear to me what was going on,” Mathewson told the jury.
In court documents, the reference to suicide bombers was described as exaggerated rhetoric, an allusion tying Mathewson to nationalist activities.
The trial in Kenosha County continues on Wednesday.