A Golden Calf Lawsuit? Controversy Erupts Over Doctored Photo of Republicans Praying At Trump Statue

A picture has been circulating on the Internet among Democratic and liberal posters that purportedly showed Republicans praying at a gold-colored statue of former President Donald Trump at the 2021 Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC). The statue was mocked by critics as “the Golden Calf.” Figures like Joel Stein, who wrote for the Los Angeles Times, proclaimed that “the fall of Rome was this embarrassing.” Former Democratic congressional candidate Adam Christensen circulated the photo as did others with similar mocking notations. Another poster Mo Bella wrote Caption “this photo taken today of CPAC’s evangelical leaders. Yes, they are praying to a golden statue of their holy insurrectionist.” The problem is that the photo was fake. The question is whether those depicted could sue for false light in such a depiction.

The original photo was taken with the “Evangelicals for Trump” group dated Jan. 3, 2021 and included evangelical figures like Pastor Paula White-Cain. The posts were later flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed.

Stein acknowledged his re-posting of a fake picture and promised to take it down but stressed the the statue itself was real — evading the obvious point that he was ridiculing these (also real) people as worshipping Trump in the literal sense. Instead, he simply noted “The statue is real. It is difficult but important to stick to facts amid the insanity of American politics.”

Even that degree of recognition seemed beyond the ability of figures like Christensen who admitted later that the photo was fake but insisted that the “intent” in the photo was “clear.” He then attacked Trump supporters again: “White Evangelical support is near an all time high going into CPAC and after the event rolling this idol into the conference it’s clear that their ‘support’ is close to going to the next level.” That sounds a lot like “sure it was a fake but it is really true, right?” There is a great deal of difference, particularly for religious people, between praying with Trump and praying to his golden idol.

Many of those re-posting this image are the same people pushing to ban others from social media for spreading “fake news” or “disinformation.”  Christensen showed how easy such hypocrisy can be addressed. He insisted that the photo was a “visual representation of what I see in Conservative media circles as well as those that I grew up with.”

The problem however is that while the picture was fake the people in the picture were not.  The photo suggests that these individual religious leaders prayed to a golden image of Trump — a clear reference to the Golden Calf in the Old Testament. As discussed in Exodus, Israelites had a change of heart after Moses went to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. In direct defiance of God, they built a “molten calf” and they declared: “‘This is thy god, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:1–4). They “offered burnt-offerings  and other gifts. Moses pleaded with God to spare them for such sin.

It is a defining passage for many religious people — the line between faith and sin; between worship and idolatry. To show not just religious persons but religious leaders praying to a Golden Calf is the ultimate insult and defamation.

In many states, any lawsuit would be framed as defamation. They are not named in the photo but they are all widely recognized public figures.  As such, they would fall under on Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 352 (1974) and its progeny of cases.  The Supreme Court has held that public figure status applies when  someone “thrust[s] himself into the vortex of [the] public issue [and] engage[s] the public’s attention in an attempt to influence its outcome.” A limited-purpose public figure status applies if someone voluntarily “draw[s] attention to himself” or allows himself to become part of a controversy “as a fulcrum to create public discussion.” Wolston v. Reader’s Digest Association, 443 U.S. 157, 168 (1979).

The Supreme Court mandated a higher standard to protect freedom of speech and the free press. The standard for defamation for public figures and officials in the United States is the product of a decision decades ago in New York Times v. Sullivan. The Supreme Court ruled that tort law could not be used to overcome First Amendment protections for free speech or the free press. The Court sought to create “breathing space” for the media by articulating that standard that now applies to both public officials and public figures. In order to prevail, they just must show either actual knowledge of its falsity or a reckless disregard of the truth.

However, a more direct claim (if recognized in a given state) would false light. That tort requires a publication that puts a person before the public in a false light that is highly offensive to a reasonable person. It also requires a showing that the poster or publisher knew of or acted in reckless disregard as to the falsity of the publicized matter.

Obviously, the person who created this image knew it was false.  That person may have meant the picture as satire and made the meaning clear (Note there can still be appropriation of a person’s image or likeness for commercial purposes). It is not clear where this image originated.

The use of such a picture is a common peril in the age of social media. Many people knowingly post false stories or picture knowing that they will be replicated and reposted. As more people post an image, the more it appears genuine.  For others, there is little desire to confirm whether it is true or not if it fits a narrative. There is an old expression in the media that there are certain “facts too good to check.”

I have written about such mythologies in the law that are repeated for years without question.

It seems unlikely that a lawsuit would emerge against these posters, but the controversy does show how the campaign to bar individuals for disinformation is often selective and biased in its applications. That was the subject of my recent testimony in the House on efforts to curtail cable access and mandate other forms of media censorship.


144 thoughts on “A Golden Calf Lawsuit? Controversy Erupts Over Doctored Photo of Republicans Praying At Trump Statue”

  1. Don’t you understand that the religious right use the blood of the children of the left to make the wafer for their communion. Something must be done.

  2. Oh happy day. The left gets to attack Trump and the religious all in one day. It’s justified even if we have to make it up they exclaim. Even if we leave out the part about condemning white supremacy in North Carolina or patriotic protesting at the Capitol we are justified in by our hatred. Happy day. Happy day. Happy day.

      1. Thank you JoeFriday. Which part did you like the most. Was it the part about doctoring the photo. If so, Amen! to that.

        1. How do you compare that photoshop to the one Trump tweeted of himself, shirtless and buff? Close call I think, but both are hilarious.

  3. Imagine if this cartoon showed Muslims and a calf caricature of Muhammed. Or if it showed women and a phallic caricature of Cuomo. Then see where you stand with this.

    1. The gold statue of Trump is real.

      You won’t find Democrats making a gold statue of Cuomo, and you won’t find Muslims making a gold statue of Muhammed.

      1. Well yeah, there is that to consider, anonymous at 11:27.but I do think the FBI should be checking to be sure Antifa and BLM didn’t roll that Fatboy calf into the hall. They’re really tricky!

      2. Anon, the golden statue to Cuomo was made every day by the N.Y. Times, CNN, MSNBC in there idolization of how he handled the Corona Virus. He was the Corona Virus golden god and their exclamations of worship were made for months. He was indeed their golden boy and he stood as tall as their building in N.Y. City. The golden statue of the Muhammad is made up of the body parts of the homosexuals thrown from the roof tops. These golden statues are real.

          1. AnonJoeFriday, no mention of my reference to golden boy Cuomo and his nursing home deaths and no reference to the idolization of Muhammad by throwing homosexuals off of roof tops. I appreciate your heartfelt concern. Not funny indeed.

  4. Hey, this is one column I hope JT repeats every other day. Great satire and let’s continue to publicize the Fatboy Golden Calf at CPAC.

    So brilliant in fact that I would suspect Antifa and BLM rolled it into the hall.

    Maybe Chris Wray knows something about it.

  5. Have you read any of the statements from pastors who claimed to have spoken to god and god told them Trump is president in heaven and on earth or that not obeying Trump is not obeying god. The golden statue of Trump was welcomed to CPAC like a idol. I saw the picture I knew it was fake as I had seen the original but I thought it was a fair comment on what these so called Christians were doing …..they worship Trump.

    Christ and his Dad clearly have a case against these false prophets who use his name in vein. Of course the holy trinity has it own court of law so they won’t have to clog up our puny courts!

    1. Justice Holmes, please sight your source where religious leaders have claimed that Trump is President in heaven. You see, one little exaggeration is the destruction of your argument and reveals your personal prejudice. If a religious leader was to say that Trump is equal to God he wouldn’t have his church for ten minutes. Rather than having any concern for those who might see the photo and the twisting of their minds by its presentation you attack the religious. You should petition your representatives to remove the part in the bill of rights that allows for the free exercise of religious belief. Are there other guarantees that you might put your eraser to? Please continue to enlighten us.

      1. Thinkittrough, “ Evangelicals told Trump he was “chosen” by God. Now he says it himself”

        “ Wayne Allyn Root, calling Trump the “King of Israel” and “the second coming of God.” Later that day, when speaking to reporters, Trump embraced the prophet identity again, calling himself “the Chosen One,” in response to a question about trade dealings with China.”

        “ As journalist Katherine Stewart, who covers the religious right, explained in a New York Times article last December, the gist of the white evangelical view of Trump is “that he is a miracle sent straight from heaven to bring the nation back to the Lord” and “that resistance to Mr. Trump is tantamount to resistance to God.”


  6. Sleazy so-called journalists have completely given up on finding the truth behind any picture or story concerning conservatives. They know it is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission.

  7. To show not just religious persons but religious leaders praying to a Golden Calf is the ultimate insult and defamation.

    Nah. It does reflect poorly however on those that posted it.

    1. Whoever made the picture was making a point about the hypocrisy of evangelical leaders idolitary fascination with Trump. The fact that the entire crowd at CPAC chanted “we love you!” Multiple times reinforces that clear distinction.

      Turley’s criticism mentions that it might be construed as satire, that is much more likely than intentional defamation. Evangelical leadership has already admitted they idolize trump.

      1. Svelaz, so when the crowds at Hillary’s rallies screamed their adoration they must not have been doing so in high adoration. Of course there was no idolization involved there. When she wasn’t elected they fell to there knees in despair. After all they belong to the church of “Anything Goes”. It was necessary to doctor the photo for the viewing of the faithful. I see that they are filling the pews at the Turley blog. Be exited, “soon another church will be justifiably burned” is the title of the sermon.

        1. Thinkit, glad you’re keeping this hilarious thread going!

          You’re problem is there are no golden statues of Hillary, and even worse, unlike Trump, who personally tweeted a photoshopped pic of himself shirtless and buff – who the F does that? – Hillary didn’t Tweet photoshopped pics of herself in a 25 year old curvaceous bikini pic. Unlike Trump followers, who carry posters of him wearing a head band and looking like Rambo with an AR 15 and the bandelaros , Hillary’s atheit commie followers – like me – don’t have posters of her in a Wnder Woman outfit holding Putin by the …..>

          Keep it coming man, this is great fun!

          1. JoeFriday, there is humor in the Trump photoshops. No one would really assume him to be Rambo. In my mind I see a picture of Hillary wiping her computer with a cloth and handing lawyers money to concoct a story about her political opponent peeing on a bed in Russia and I find no amusement. Of course different people have a different sense of humor. I am sure your rolling over laughing at Hillary’s illustrations of Trump. Your sense of humor can be strange sometimes Joe.

        2. Thinkitthrough, the distinction lies on the fact that the majority of Trump’s supporters are evangelical believers who often tout the virtues of adherence to their religious dogma as tantamount.

          Mocking the hypocrisy of their idolatry towards trump is fair game. They being “guardians of moral righteousness” due to the constant criticism of others for violating the tenets of the Bible clearly exposes the blatant hypocrisy.

          Hillary’s supporters are not so concerned about others not being moral or in violation of biblical mandates due to the acknowledgment that judging others is not what Jesus preached.

          Hillary didn’t demand multiple rallies so she could bask on her supporters adulation. Hillary wasn’t constantly surrounded by religious zealots making all kinds of claims as some sort of savior like Trump. There IS a clear distinction.

      2. Whoever made the picture was making a point about the hypocrisy of evangelical leaders idolitary fascination with Trump.

        For some unknown reason you felt the need to be redundant. The idiocy of your point is Christians don’t idolize Trump as a god, they love him as the President they believe we needed. That mortifies those on the Left because his conservative base is passionate about finally having a proven leader that puts their principles and love of country before everything else. The Left will mock Trump, satire him, do comedy sketches and all that does is energize his base. So by all means, keep it up. CPAC may even distribute awards for the in-kind donations.

        1. Olly, “ The idiocy of your point is Christians don’t idolize Trump as a god, they love him as the President they believe we needed. ”

          Christian leaders seem to confirm what i said.

          “ As Peter Montgomery of Right Wing Watch has monitored, Christian right leaders speak endlessly of Trump as a chosen vessel for God’s will, saying things like “God has picked him up” and that Trump is “literally splitting the kingdom of darkness right open” and that “the Lord has put His favor upon him”


          Clearly he’s being idolized.

          1. Well, since Christians believe everything is according to God’s plan, it would be consistent with our belief that God has chose wisely. And given that the Democratic party has openly abandoned it’s roots for a more sinister Leftist agenda, it’s an accurate assessment to say that Trump is “literally splitting the kingdom of darkness right open” and that “the Lord has put His favor upon him”

            Clearly he’s being idolized.

            <Idealized would be more accurate. As humans go, he’s an individual with flaws just like everyone else. As Presidents go, Christians and more importantly, Conservatives hold his accomplishments in high regard.

              1. It’s so prevalent that they don’t realize it.

                Yes, we’ve spent the last 4+ years not realizing many things that the Left has asserted to be prevalent. Given your track record of facts and evidence not meeting up with your version of reality, I’m going to just not realize this latest assertion. At least until you turn it around and get 1 in a row correct.

  8. Damn, that statue even looks like it was designed by whoever did the golden calf for the movie Dogma. This is how the antichrist sneaks past evangelicals- in plain view, with trumpets blaring.

  9. I did not read the entire story, or any of the comments, so this thought may have already been mentioned. Even if the picture was not doctored, just because they were praying at his statue does not mean they were praying TO him, but more than likely praying FOR him. I do that every day.

    1. One doesn’t need a statue to pray “for” anyone, unless it’s the Virgin Mary, Jesus, any random cross, or our esteemed lady of Guadalupe, etc, etc. Trump’s golden statue is just one more. Wasn’t it in the Ten Commandments that idolatry of anything is a sin?

      Most of these evangelical leaders are not followers of Jesus, they’re just zealous fans.

  10. The Loony Left will believe anything that supports or agrees with their world view….and do so without giving even the least bit of curiosity about its authenticity.

    That is why MSNBC and CNN can be so popular with them.

    Critical Thinking skills are not very common amongst our friends on the Left.

    Their penchant for emotion and feelings rather than facts and evidence is what trips them up with great regularity.

    Now back to reality…..I wish Professor Turley would hold forth on the upcoming SCOTUS review of the Arizona Election Case and whether the Constitution’s delegating the power to control Elections within the States to the State Legislatures of the States.

    Have State Legislatures failed to comply with the US Constitution by allowing others than the Legislature determine how Elections in those States must be conducted?

    Did the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrongly decide those cases that came before it?

    This is a very important Case coming up and it would be informative to hear what Professor Turley sees as being the legal issues at hand and how the Court might decide upon them.

    1. A quibble. In conventional usage ‘delegated’ powers are those exercised by Congress. Anything not delegated is exercised by state legislatures. The investiture of a function in the state legislatures is assumed unless Constitutional language indicates otherwise. At least that’s how it worked prior to 1937.

  11. Something we got a hint of at the time of the Stephen Glass affair at The New Republic. As a set, gentry liberals are, much more than ordinary people, abnormally bigoted. They’re comparatively easy to con if you play to their prejudices.

  12. I have long believed that the photos my friend sends me of naked women with huge breasts and tiny waists are fake.

  13. Here we go again, instead of waiving the Oath of Office loyalty contract to investigate “Violent Extremists” we lowered the bar to “Extremist” which can mean literally anything and anyone. By watering down the Fourth Amendment legal requirement, terrorism laws can be used on non-violent and non-terrorism cases. Somehow violating the Oath of Office is not extreme.

    This is a decades old tactic used against so-called “extremists” like Martin Luther King, Jr in violation of the American Oath of Office. The supreme loyalty oath prohibits government officials from becoming “domestic enemies of the US Constitution” – that includes national security officials (Title 5 US Code 3331).

  14. Seems more & more of those Imbeciles expose themselves everyday, like FBI Dir Wray just did with the no comments about the 200-400 Ahole Fascist Antifa/BLM Domestic Terrorist that commented crimes & infiltrated the Trump 1/6/21 1.5 million person Peaceful Protest :

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    Propaganda, an influential book written by Edward L. Bernays in 1928, incorporated the literature from social science and psychological manipulation into an examination of the techniques of public communication. Bernays wrote the book in response to the success of some of his earlier works such as Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and A Public Relations Counsel (1927). Propaganda explored the psychology behind manipulating masses and the ability to use symbolic action and propaganda to influence politics, effect social change, and lobby for gender and racial equality.[1] Walter Lippman was Bernays’ unacknowledged American mentor and his work The Phantom Public greatly influenced the ideas expressed in Propaganda a year later.[2] The work propelled Bernays into media historians’ view of him as the “father of public relations.”[3]


  15. Professor, when are you going to address and analyze the Smartmatic defamation lawsuit against your employer, Fox News, for its reckless promotion of the Big Lie that the election was stolen? Are you going to continue to ignore it even during the trial itself? Can’t you at least explain why you are prohibited from mentioning its existence?

  16. Ooooh, this outrage of mocking Trump cult followers must end! This shall not stand!

    Give me a f…. break. They wheeled out a Golden Fatboy and it wasn’t a joke.

    Crappy job you’ve got there JT. Do you really have to do this?

  17. So when are we going to close Guantanamo and apologize to our post-9/11 war crime victims? Unconstitutional-Authoritarianism, by executive branch agencies, is the greatest threat to America NOT Black Lives Matter protesters and NOT most Trump voters. Democrats have the power, let’s put first things first!

    1. apologize to our post-9/11 war crime victims

      Since you have a three-felonies-a-day approach to what constitutes a ‘war crime’, we should never apologize in any way that would give you a second of satisfaction.

        1. Art doesn’t know everything, but it’s hard for him wrap his big head around that fact.

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