It's a common tactic.
It's been two weeks since OceanGate's Titan submersible catastrophically imploded on the way to visit the wreck of the Titanic, killing all five passengers on board.
Since then, new details surrounding CEO Stockton Rush, who was on board during the tragedy, and his controversial disregard for safety have continued to emerge.
And as it turns out, Rush took extreme measures to silence his many critics, resorting to strategic and mostly meritless lawsuits to threaten them with expensive and burdensome litigation, a practice that is often referred to as Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), as First Amendment and defamation lawyer Ari Cohn explained in a new piece for The Daily Beast.
In other words, Rush used a common tactic for influential individuals looking to stifle free expression — a strain of overconfidence and hubris that eventually may have even played a significant role in his death.
Moment of Silence
Rush's tendency to undermine the importance of safety is well-documented.
"We have heard the baseless cries of 'you are going to kill someone' way too often," Rush wrote in a poorly-aged email to Rob McCallum, expedition leader and former adviser to OceanGate, as quoted by Insider. "I take this as a serious personal insult."
According to Cohn, Rush threatened McCallum with litigation, but "to his great credit" McCallum refused to back down.
Rush also had a lawyer threaten David Lochridge, former OceanGate director of marine operations and chief submersible pilot, after he filed concerns with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The company eventually sued him, tried to destroy his reputation, and even accused him of immigration fraud, as the New Yorker reported earlier this month.
All told, Rush's formerly brash litigious nature is a shining example of how wealthy individuals use the law to systematically silence their critics. And despite every Congress since 2009 proposing anti-SLAPP laws, per Cohn, there are still no federal laws forbidding the practice.
"SLAPPs have terrible — but not usually deadly — consequences," Cohn wrote in his piece. "This tragedy should serve as a wakeup call to state legislatures and Congress alike that they must do more, and soon, to prevent powerful interests from silencing speech they find inconvenient, uncomfortable, or embarrassing through abuse of the legal system."
More on OceanGate: OceanGate Ceases Ocean Exploration Following Submersible Disaster
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