January 13, 2017

You’d think that anyone who could actually build a clock would know when his 15 minutes are up. But that doesn’t seem to apply to Ahmed “Clock Boy” Mohamed, or more precisely, to his opportunistic father, both of whom are back in the news this week. You might recall the 2015 incident in which the 14-year-old brought a digital clock he claimed to have built to his school in Irving, Texas (critics said it was actually a Radio Shack clock he’d simply dismantled and put into a pencil case, which gave it an alarming similarity to a time bomb.) When he plugged it in during class, a concerned teacher altered school officials. Police questioned Ahmed and found him unresponsive, but he was released after a few hours, after they determined the device wasn’t dangerous.

The incident garnered a bonanza of lucrative sympathy for Ahmed, from gifts of free computer equipment to scholarship offers to an invitation to the White House from President Obama to an offer to come live like honored guests in Qatar. But it also stirred widespread suspicion of his family’s motives. Even Bill Maher pointed out that in today’s dangerous climate, any teacher who was confronted with something that looked like a bomb would be negligent to just take a student’s word for it that it wasn’t.

His father, Mohamed Mohamed, squandered any remaining sympathy by demanding $15 million from the city of Irving and the school district. He later filed a defamation lawsuit against a number of conservative media figures who had suggested the whole incident might have been a hoax designed by the father to spark an incident that he could brand as Islamophobia and sue over.

Now, the update: this week, that case came to court. The judge asked Mohamed's attorney to cite any false or defamatory statements. After she spent what the defendants’ attorney called “a painfully embarrassing 15 minutes flipping through reams of paper” and coming up with nothing, the judge dismissed the suit against the media figures. A lawsuit against the mayor of Irving still stands, but she’s challenged it as well. Let’s hope that will also be tossed out, and we’ll never have to hear about this family again.

Still, before we let this blessedly slide into the dustbin of history alongside various old P.T. Barnum sideshow acts, it’s worth clicking the link to learn about a term you might not have heard before: a SLAPP lawsuit. It’s a tactic used by certain groups who abuse the legal system to try to silence critics and thwart the First Amendment through the threat of expensive lawsuits. You might be hearing that term a lot more often, but let’s hope all such lawsuits end up slapped down, the way this one did.

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