Parler sued by co-founder Matze for ‘conspiracy’ to oust him

Malathi Nayak and William Turton

Parler co-founder John Matze sued the conservative social media site for wrongfully ousting him as chief executive and taking away his 40% ownership stake after it was temporarily knocked offline in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Matze claims Parler’s investors and co-founders, including Jeffrey Wernick and Rebekah Mercer, conspired to intimidate him with threats and accusations of misconduct to “bully and deprive” him of his personal property and legal rights. Matze is seeking “millions” of dollars in damages in a complaint filed in Nevada state court.

Parler CEO John Matze

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The suit highlights in-fighting at the media site amid allegations that it has failed to police violent rhetoric by users. Apple Inc. and Google suspended the Parler app on their stores and Amazon Web Services stopped hosting the site. That led Parler to terminate Matze, according to the complaint.

“John Matze, the founder of Parler and its former CEO, has commenced suit to vindicate his rights,” Todd Bice, a lawyer for Matze, said in a statement. “He seeks both compensatory and punitive damages pursuant to his claims.”

Parler, Wernick and Mercer declined to comment.

Mercer touted to business and political acquaintances that Parler, which was founded in 2018, was worth “hundreds of million of dollars, if not a billion dollars,” Matze said in his complaint. Matze’s relationship with Mercer turned “antagonistic” by December as she suggested his stake be diluted, while her 60% stake would remain unchanged, when securing additional funding, Matze said.

Matze’s proposal after the Capitol riot to bar groups such as QAnon and neo-Nazis from inciting violence and domestic acts of terrorism in response to Apple and Amazon’s concerns was met with Mercer’s “dead silence,” according to the complaint.

Mercer wanted to turn Parler into what she called the “tip of the conservative spear,” reflecting her brand of conservatism, Matze said in his complaint. “Simply put, Parler was now being hijacked to advance the personal political interests and personal advantages of defendants rather than serve as the free expression platform as originally conceived.”

More: Right-wing friendly Parler again sues Amazon

Conservative donor Mercer has been writing checks to fund Parler’s reboot, while the company’s leaders are trying to rally employees by saying they’re facing an existential battle against threats to the U.S. and free speech, Bloomberg News reported last week based on internal recordings of company meetings held in recent months. Mercer was an active supporter of Trump and served on his transition team.

Parler exploded in popularity last year after Facebook and Twitter started cracking down on false claims about election fraud and other misinformationdrawing criticism from some conservatives that they were being unfairly censored. Parler drew an estimated 13 million users before the site went down early this year, and reached the top spots in mobile app stores. The Parler website relaunched in February with support from cloud hosting company SkySilk Inc.

Parler, meanwhile, is suing Amazon, accusing the tech giant of bad faith after being banished from its servers. Parler claims Amazon conspired to undercut a new platform for conservative voices that would compete with Twitter Inc.

AWS has said there is no merit to Parler’s suit.