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KENOSHA — A controversial figure lost his defamation suit Thursday in Kenosha County Circuit Court after the defense successfully argued his reputation was the product of his own conduct.

Kevin Mathewson filed the defamation suit claiming his reputation and standing in the community was damaged by comments made by Raymond Roberts.

William Sulton, who represented Roberts at trial, argued during closing statements Mathewson had to prove the comments affected how the community viewed him. However, no one testified their view of Mathewson was diminished over the comments made by Roberts.

“It isn’t that Mr. Mathewson has a bad reputation,” Sulton said. “It’s that Mr. Mathewson has a controversial reputation.”

The defense also argued the comments made by Roberts were not defamatory because they were either true or he believed them to be true.

The defamation allegations

Mathewson and Roberts have engaged with one another on social media and with email correspondence for years.

Mathewson ultimately filed the defamation lawsuit where he claimed Roberts used social media to repeatedly describe Mathewson as a racist with white nationalist connections.

However, at trial, Mathewson could not directly argue he was defamed by Roberts’ allegations of racism and white nationalism because Judge Reddy ruled those were not defamatory statements.

Instead, Mathewson collected a series of statements made by Roberts he claimed was not true and hurt his reputation, which included an allegation Mathewson was connected to an extremist group, he was training his children to be suicide bombers and other comments generally relating to nationalism.

Defense argues no evidence Mathewson’s reputation was harmed

As explained by Reddy to the jury, a defamatory statement must include the following three elements:

  • The statement is false,
  • is communicated in writing to a third person,
  • tends to harm the reputation of another person as to lower the individual in the estimation of the community or deter others from associating or dealing with the person.

Sulton argued during closing statements that Mathewson himself cultivated his reputation.

Although Mathewson formerly served on the Kenosha Common Council, he is primarily known for his connection to the Kenosha Guard Facebook page and his controversial website, the Kenosha County Eye (which is not affiliated with the Racine County Eye).

Mathewson uses the Kenosha County Eye to publish his opinions on events and people, and he acknowledged from the stand he is not very nice about how he expresses those opinions.

He is also known as the person who created the Kenosha Guard Facebook page that put out the call for armed citizens to respond to Kenosha following civil unrest in August 2020 over the shooting of Jacob Blake by Officer Rusten Sheskey.

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.

The clash between the armed and unarmed, and the subsequent trial, put Kenosha in the national spotlight for a significant amount of time.

Sulton called the events of August 2020 and the fallout the “biggest event in (Mathewson’s) life” as he was interviewed by regional, state, national and international news.

“That’s how he got famous and he still trades on that controversy today,” he said.

Sulton further argued the opinions of many in the community were formed by his actions connected to the Kenosha Guard.

Mathewson’s interaction with the Kenosha community

However, there was also evidence submitted that Mathewson’s own treatment of people and behavior in public was damaging to his reputation.

Correspondence submitted as evidence showed he had a track record of insulting language, in one case he was quoted saying to the recipient, “I know you’re a dirt bag. I love to sue people for fun, and it would give me great pleasure to sue you.”

One of Mathewson’s claims was the people at the school his children attend began to shun him, which he attributed to the remarks made by Roberts that Mathewson was training his children to be suicide bombers.

However, Sulton countered there was the potential Mathewson was shunned for the way he treated the people in the district, including allegations he made that the head of the teacher’s union committed voter fraud.

In another instance, Mathewson responded to the district’s mask policy with an email in which he called the school board idiots.

“What this email shows is there are reasons for people in the school district and the school board to dislike Mr. Mathewson that have nothing to do with Mr. Roberts,” Sulton said.

There was no evidence presented, Sulton told the jury, that the issues experienced by Mathewson at his children’s school were connected to anything said by Roberts as opposed to his own conduct.

The defense also submitted newspaper articles in which Mathewson’s conduct did not put him in a good light. The articles included one from his time on the common council where he had an angry outburst, which occurred years before the comments that were part of the lawsuit.

The newspaper articles were also used to show the way public officials criticized Mathewson publicly for various behaviors, including one person who called for Mathewson to be charged with accessory to homicide for actions in August 2020.

All of this, Sulton concluded, could have taken its toll on Mathewson’s reputation.

Statements cannot be defamatory if they are true

Sulton also argued to the jury that statements cannot be defamatory if they are true.

One of the statements made by Roberts that was the subject of the suit alleged Mathewson was connected to the Boogaloo Movement, a right-wing extremist organization that includes elements of white supremacy.

Sulton reminded the jury of three separate emails that referenced the participation of the Boogaloo Boys in the call to arms issued by Mathewson in August 2020.

One of those emails was from the Department of Homeland Security, warning Kenosha law enforcement about the potential for violence.

“It’s not just substantially true,” Sulton said of the connection between Mathewson’s event and the Boogaloo Boys, “It’s true and it was reported, it was reported by national media.”

As for the references to Mathewson training his children to be suicide bombers, Sulton said Roberts heard something about it in the community, and he believed it.

Sulton said of the statements connecting Mathewson and suicide bombing, “I don’t believe they’re true, I’m not trying to prove they’re true, I don’t think they are, but it’s not defamatory because (Roberts) believes it.”

He noted people believe things all the time they can’t prove, but that is not defamation.

Sulton spoke of a woman he is acquainted with who believes the chief election official in Milwaukee “broke some rules or had some irregularities” that cost a politician an election. It is not provable, he continued, but a lot of people believe it.

“It doesn’t mean she’s defaming that election official,” he said.

Plaintiff argues Mathewson not on trial

Xavier Solis, who represented Mathewson at trial, reminded the jury it was Roberts who was on trial – despite the spotlight on the conduct of his client throughout the trial.

“I told you in my opening that my client was not on trial here,” Solis said, “It really seemed, however, like my client was.”

He dismissed the emails entered into evidence to demonstrate how Mathewson tended to communicate with people, noting those were politicians, elected to office.

“You might not agree with his opinions, but us Americans have every right to petition the government,” Solis added.

Although the defense put people on the stand who did not like Mathewson or agree with his politics, that was not necessarily a broad representation of the community, he added.

Solis pointed out Mathewson was elected to public office twice, the second time by a large margin, and just recently was appointed to a committee with bipartisan support, he said.

He noted that attorney Sulton might represent Mathewson as having a reputation “that could not get any worse,” and Roberts described him as a man “with no reputation,” but more than 200 people wrote emails in support of Mathewson’s nomination just a few months back.

“This trial is not about people who did not like my client,” he said.

Solis also reminded the jury of the way Mathewson described himself as persistent and passionate about his work, which “caused a few people to disagree with him and dislike him.”

This was also how he was described by a member of law enforcement.

“If he was my alderman, that’s the type of alderman I would want,” Solis said and added if he was hiring someone to get records for him, “that’s the type of person I would want working for me.”

Not statements of fact

Solis also took umbrage with the claim the statements made by Roberts were true or he believed them to be true.

“The statements made by (Roberts) were false, and he knew they were false when he published them and when he made them,” Solis said.

He noted the comment made by Roberts that Mathewson was training his children to be suicide bombers put him in the same category as the 911 terrorists.

He called the comments straight-out lies.

“Roberts wants you to believe they’re all true,” Solis said. “They’re not even close to being true.”

He told the jury Mathewson did not want to file the lawsuit, but once Roberts “crossed the line” and brought his children into the matter, he felt he had no choice.

Solis reminded the jury what Mathewson said while testifying: he just wanted to show the comments about his children being trained suicide bombers were false. He was not looking for money.