The screenshot of the retraction and apology issued by Jordan Hall and the Montana Daily Gazette to Adrian Jawort (Screenshot by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).
A conservative minister who seemed to be a darling of far-right politicians in the state has admitted that he fabricated a story about a transgender Native American lobbyist allegedly berating a state senator so badly that he sought the protection of the Montana Senate’s sergeant-at-arms.
In a libel case that has raged on for more than a year and involved threats of mounting an attorney’s head on the wall of the Pastor Jordan “JD” Hall’s study, a rocket launcher and statewide speaking tour, the conservative Sidney-based minister has admitted that he fabricated the story and apologized to Adrian Jawort, a lobbyist who testified on many issues related to Native Americans.
The settlement and a potential $250,000 claim was reached as Hall is going through the bankruptcy process, seeking protection from a libel case, as well as discharging attorney’s fees he racked up during the libel fight. Two weeks ago, Hall was arrested on charges of driving under the influence and illegally carrying a concealed weapon, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
The case began when Hall used a story in his online newspaper, The Montana Daily Gazette, to promote the now-discredited story about Jawort attacking Sen. Butch Gillespie, a Republican. Hall, writing under an anonymous byline, called Jawort, a lobbyist, a “transvestite Goth” who roamed the halls of the Capitol. In a story about Jawort, Hall said that she had attacked Gillespie during a hearing on a controversial bill regarding transgender athletes.
Hall now admits the incident never happened.
On the website of the Montana Daily Gazette, a publication Hall runs through a group he leads called Gideon Knox, he issued the retraction and apology:
“I apologize to Adrian Jawort. The information I published about Adrian was false. Adrian did not threaten or harass Senator Butch Gillespie. I regret the error and sincerely apologize to Adrian for publishing it.”
— Jordan Hall, Publisher Montana Daily Gazette
As part of the settlement, the statement will be on the website of the Montana Daily Gazette for seven days in a “prominent” place, and cannot be deleted from the site after that.
Hall’s attorney, Bret Allred of Billings, declined to comment. Hall was unavailable for comment.
As part of the settlement, Jawort will ask the state court to dismiss the charges of libel against Hall, but will be able to claim a $250,000 judgment against Hall’s estate in bankruptcy court. That case is still pending and it’s unclear whether Jawort will actually see any money from the proceeds.
“I am grateful that after a tumultuous year, Pastor Jordan Hall was final able to admit committing libel and bearing false witness against me. In this day and age when trans people like myself are targeted with political bullseyes on our backs, it was especially dangerous of him to falsely accuse me of bullying and harassing an elderly state Senator I’d never met to the point where the sergeant at arms had to pull me away,” Jawort said. “There are people out there who’d physically hurt me if they thought that was true and then saw me to take revenge.”
Gillespie, a Republican from Tooele County, recounted a confrontation in an affidavit filed with the court by Hall’s former lawyer. Gillespie said he was yelled at by a person he didn’t recognize. While Gillespie never named Jawort, he never withdrew or modified his statement.
“As I neared the main doors leading to the Senate floor, the person who had previously expressed his opposition to HB112 became very passionate,” Gillespie said in an affidavit signed on Sept. 30, 2021. “The person began yelling about HB 112 being unfair and against humanity.”
Jawort told the Daily Montanan watching Hall tour the state, fundraising, in part, on the lawsuit was a surreal experience.
“He mocked me and played victim by lying to crowds that I’d filed a lawsuit for anti-free speech reasons,” Jawort said. “I’ve even had someone from Great Falls wanting to confront me. This person also bizarrely claims I engaged in some Q-Anon type child porn cover-up theory. While I am glad he never found me, Hall must realize as a pastor people will take his word as literal gospel and act on it.”
Jawort told the Daily Montanan that a person showed up to a Billings business where he thought she worked to confront her.
Jawort’s legal tact in the lawsuit focused on the now-discredited incident in which Hall had alleged falsely that she had attacked Gillespie. Jawort told the Daily Montanan she never testified on the bill and wasn’t even in Helena when the incident happened. She said Hall published the story on May 4, 2021, asking her sometime during the morning if she would consent to an interview. Jawort told the Daily Montanan she was familiar with Hall’s work at discrediting the LGBTQ community and declined the interview unless Hall used the correct pronouns.
“Being trans in Montana, you build up a high tolerance for getting attacked by trolls,” she said. “You’re constantly in fear and you don’t want to give them more ammo.”
Within several hours, Hall had posted the story, “Who’s the Gothic Transvestite Haunting the Halls of the Montana Capitol?”
Jawort said that while the story contained many stereotypical characterizations of the transgender community, the incident with Gillespie stood out to her. She said that the thought of attacking an older, conservative politician could set her up for violence and ruin her reputation as a lobbyist.
Court records show that Jawort reached out within hours and asked for a retraction or correction for that portion of the story, letting other incendiary comments about her attire or even accusations of a five-o’clock shadow pass.
“You’re not going to mistake me,” Jawort said. “I am a six-foot tall trans woman decked out with heels and dressed fancy. You are not going to mistake me for anyone else.”
When Hall refused, Jawort said she had no other choice.
“I knew that this rhetoric is only going to get worse and they’re going to get worse,” Jawort said, who noted she was already being attacked as a pedophile or as someone grooming children.
Jawort says she still doesn’t know if the event with Gillespie happened and was a case of mistaken identity, or if it was concocted to silence the LGBTQ community.
For now, Jawort said she hopes to return to lobby at the Capitol for Native American issues, and that the case shows how extreme politics has gotten in Montana. She pointed to her record as a journalist for more than 20 years, and said she’s not against free speech, even the kind that mischaracterized her.
“Ignore the trolls. Ignore the trolls, but then you see lawmakers like Braxton Mitchell, Derek Skees and Theresa Manzella talking with JD Hall on his radio show. It’s not that those people would vote for things that I am promoting, but conservatives have been too afraid to disavow them. They’re cowardly and don’t want to upset them because those same people bully anyone who shows empathy toward people like me,” Jawort said.
Mitchell contacted the Daily Montanan and said he’s never been on Hall’s radio program.
However, Jawort, who is Native American, said that Montana has had transgendered people since time immemorial and that indigenous cultures have always accepted them under a “live and let live” doctrine.
“This case has showed who folks like JD Hall are – with their masks off and how they feel,” Jawort said. “And if folks disagree with them, then maybe they should distance themselves from it.”
Jawort points out that the settlement doesn’t necessarily bar Hall from exercising free speech, even if that’s against her. She’s used to the name-calling and the derogatory remarks, which include Hall’s church characterizing LGBTQ existence as “disease-ridden” and “child-molesting.”
However, Hall is barred from repeatedly insisting that she attacked Gillespie.
“The older members of the legislature seemed fascinated by me because I realize I am the first transgender person they’ve seen,” she said. “They found me kind of exciting and then they’d vote against my bills.”
She said she anticipates other forms of discrimination to emerge in the 2023 Legislature, including a version of the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill. And Jawort hopes she’s in Helena to provide a counternarrative.
“(The lawmakers) won’t be able to say they haven’t seen any anti-LGBTQ action in the state, because I’ll be there,” Jawort said. “Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: Is this the person they want to stand by, a person who bears false witness?”
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