A couple that joined the Trump Train following a Biden–Harris campaign bus on a Texas highway in 2020 has spent $80,000 defending themselves against a lawsuit claiming voter intimidation under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.
Joeylynn and Robert Mesaros of New Braunfels, Texas, told The Epoch Times they did nothing wrong.
They believe that the civil suit filed against them in 2021 by supporters of President Joe Biden was designed to punish political opposition and chill free speech.
"While their plan is ultimately to bankrupt us in this process, we know that money is replaceable," Joeylynn Mesaros wrote in an email. "We are focusing our attention on being joyful in our family, our health, and other things they cannot take from us."
Videos of Trump Train members surrounding the bus as it traveled on Interstate 35 near Austin, Texas, went viral and drew praise from then-President Donald Trump.
The couple's ordeal started eight months after they joined the caravan of trucks and cars decorated with Trump stickers and flags.
They were shocked to find out about the lawsuit when a friend alerted them to a CNN story that detailed the case. They weren't sure the suit was real until they were served with papers four weeks after the media reported it.
"It's been crazy, like something you never expect to happen," Robert Mesaros said. "It blew my mind. We didn't know what to do."
Multiple attorneys at the Texas Civil Rights Project, Protect Democracy Project, and the international firm of Willkie Farr and Gallagher out of Washington filed the lawsuit against Trump Train participants and a similar lawsuit against San Marcos, Texas, law enforcement for failing to offer a police escort for the bus.
The firms represent Biden campaign staffer David Gins; former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat who once ran against Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, a Republican; and bus driver Timothy Holloway. The fourth plaintiff is campaign volunteer Eric Cervini, who drove a car in front of the bus, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Besides the Mesaroses, defendants named in the lawsuit include Eliazar Cisneros, Hannah Ceh, and Dolores Park. The defendants appear to have been identified by license plates. They've hired different attorneys.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Western District of Texas, claims that on Oct. 30, 2020, Trump supporters "terrorized and menaced" Biden supporters and conspired to suppress their right to vote.
The complaint alleges that the Trump Train participants drove within inches of the bus and tried to force it off the road. At one point, Trump supporters swerved in front of the bus, slowing it to a crawl on a major highway, the lawsuit claims.
In an attempt to tie the case to the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol, the complaint states that relatives of one defendant had been at the Washington protest that day. The same 150-year-old KKK law was used to sue Trump after Jan. 6, 2021.
Joeylynn Mesaros thought conservatives would come to their defense. But after calling some 50 different groups and law firms, they realized they were on their own. It left them with little choice but to empty their retirement accounts and their child's college fund for their defense.
"We're a single-income family," Joeylynn Mesaros said, noting that her husband works as a plumber and that she's a stay-at-home mom. "It feels like they're just having fun. It's abusive."
The plaintiffs demanded every Facebook post and email concerning politics they made from 2019 forward as part of discovery. That means her husband sometimes stays up to 3 a.m. to help her with documentation, she said.
To make matters worse, Joeylynn Mesaros said the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin used graphics of a hooded KKK figure standing next to an armed man carrying a Trump flag in their portrayal of the case online.
With little money, the Mesaroses decided to try fundraising to pay their legal costs. They created the Free Speech Defender website that raised $170,000 of the estimated $500,000 needed to defend themselves and possibly launch a countersuit.
They hope there's enough money after the lawsuit to reimburse their retirement and college funds. The couple decided to keep the site going even after their lawsuit to help others faced with litigation over political speech.
"We want to hang in the game and believe God called us to do this for a victory for free speech," she said.
The couple's Houston attorney, Jerad Najvar, told The Epoch Times that the case is moving forward after Judge Robert Pitman, an Obama appointee, denied a motion to dismiss this spring.
The same judge granted the plaintiffs' motion for a protective order that prevents disclosing much of the information they receive during discovery, said Najvar, who specializes in political law.
So while the plaintiffs could get their side out to the public for months and use it for fundraising, the defendants' couldn't entirely tell their side, Najvar said.
"It's very unusual—not only unusual, but completely inappropriate," Najvar said of the protective order.
"Wild accusations" in the lawsuit have defamed his clients for exercising their First Amendment rights, he said.
Najvar intends to pursue sanctions against plaintiff attorneys for what he characterized as deliberately misleading statements in the lawsuit.
In a June letter to the plaintiffs' attorneys, he called the allegation that the Mesaroses dangerously cut off the bus a "fabrication contradicted by the plaintiffs' own video."
"The video showed the bus pulled up behind his clients, who stopped on the shoulder and honked incessantly. Robert Mesaros slowly and safely reentered the right lane and pulled away," Najvar said.
Lackland Bloom Jr., a Southern Methodist University law professor and expert in constitutional law, told The Epoch Times in an email that he believes the case will eventually be dismissed.
To prevail, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought under the KKK Act must allege that the state was involved in the denial of constitutional rights, he said. Simply alleging that the state failed to provide protection would be insufficient.
Najvar said his clients will win. He believes the lawsuit stemmed from embarrassment at the show of support Trump generated in Texas, especially near the border.
"Ultimately, we're going to be fine because the facts and law are on our side," he said.
Representatives for the Texas Civil Rights Project, Protect Democracy Project, and Willkie Farr and Gallagher didn't return calls seeking comment.