It might shock you to learn that conservative judicial puppetmaster Leonard Leo, a man who loves free speech rights for corporations, does not universally support the First Amendment. This is the earth-shattering conclusion of comments Leo recently made regarding a protest outside one of his several lavish homes—a protest that resulted in an arrest, a lawsuit, and, now, a settlement.

Back in July 2022, shortly after Leo’s Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, pro-choice protestors stood on the street outside Leo’s mansion on Mount Desert Island, Maine, to register their dissent. Leo recognized one of the people as a man who had yelled at him from a moving car earlier that day and called the cops. The man, 23-year-old Eli Durand-McDonnell, had called out from the passenger seat, “You’re a fucking fascist.” (His mother, the driver, had also shouted, “‘You’re a fucking asshole, you’re going to hell, your whole family is going to hell,” but that didn’t seem to bother Leo as much.)

After police arrived, Durand-McDonnell was arrested on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, handcuffed, and taken to jail. Hancock County District Attorney Robert Granger later dismissed the charges because he had a backlog of “far more serious cases” to focus on. Durand-McDonnell then filed a lawsuit in federal court that accused two officers of the Mount Desert Police Department of perpetrating a “retaliatory arrest to silence Durand-McDonnell’s free speech,” while acting “at the direct behest of Leo.” 

This claim is based on audio from the arresting officer’s body camera in which Leo told police that Durand-McDonnell had been harassing him and his family for weeks. “I think it’s time for us to press some charges,” Leo said, adding, “The man looks unstable. He looks hateful.” Durand-McDonnell denied that he’d harassed anyone to Jane Mayer at the New Yorker, who first reported the lawsuit, but said he did blow kisses at Leo’s security guards. Durand-McDonnell’s lawyer, Matthew Morgan, found the whole situation absurd. “You have the head of the Federalist Society getting a guy arrested for carrying a sign in front of his house,” Morgan told Mayer. “It’s quite an irony.”


That brings us to Friday, when the Bangor Daily News reported that Durand-McDonnell reached a $62,500 settlement with the two MDPD officers in order to settle the dispute. (Mount Desert’s insurance company will pay the settlement, because cops are never actually responsible for their own actions.) 


Neither Durand-McDonnell or his lawyer responded to the News’s request for comment, but Leo definitely had time! “Getting more than one and a half times Maine’s per capita income for harassing and verbally assaulting a young girl and her parents while walking down a public street, and then waiting for them outside their home,” he told the newspaper. “Nice work if you can get it.”

What a rich text this is. To Leo, someone calling you a fascist is not criticism, but “verbal assault.” And Durand-McDonnell didn’t wait around for family like some kind of stalker—he showed up at a public protest, which took place on public property. By criticizing the fact that Durand-McDonnell got cash as a result of this debacle, Leo ignores that he’s the one who initiated this sequence of events by calling the cops on a guy participating in nonviolent protest. Plus, the basic economics of liability insurance means that paid-out claims can trigger higher rates in the future. So, if anything, it’s Leo who might be costing Mount Desert money.

His faux appeals to populism are just the cherry on top. The three Trump justices handpicked by Leo have ruled against labor unions, student debt cancellation, and abortion rights, all of which disproportionately affect working people. And since the Court granted free speech rights to corporations in its 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, Leo has grown fabulously wealthy: In 2018, he paid off the mortgage on his Virginia home and, just three months later, bought a $3.3 million, 11-bedroom mansion in Mount Desert. In 2021, he bought a third home for $1.65 million, also in Mount Desert. Forget about sixty grand for an unconstitutional arrest: What’s actually “nice work if you can get it” is coordinating a $1.6 billion dark money donation to sink into your vast non-profit network and/or your for-profit consulting firm.

It’s quite telling that Leo—whom Justice Clarence Thomas once jokingly (?) referred to as the “number three most powerful person in the world”—framed a twentysomething calling him a fascist as a “menacing attack” and a “verbal assault.” Conservatives like Leo have a nasty habit of weaponizing grievance in their quest to remake society to favor the rights of Christians. They cry religious persecution and distort the First Amendment to argue that businesses have a right to discriminate, but turn around and say protests targeting justices and judicial activists go too far. In 2022, Leo warned that the church is under attack from “vile and immoral current-day barbarians, secularists, and bigots,” whom he dubbed “the progressive Ku Klux Klan,” even though thanks largely to his efforts, religious conservatives control the Supreme Court and have vast power to shape life in the U.S.

People like Leo exaggerate their status as victims so they can run into court and erase other people’s civil rights. It seems like they are merely deflecting about who is harming whom.