This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent.
During a recent hearing on his bill to establish the “Stop Social Media Censorship Act,” state Rep. Jeff Coleman repeatedly referenced experts sitting behind him in the audience who would be better able to address questions about the legislation’s legality.
The first of these experts to testify was Chris Sevier, an Iraqi war veteran, Tennessee attorney and advocate who has pushed anti-LGBTQ and anti-porn legislation in statehouses across the country — and was deemed a “security concern” in the Missouri Capitol two years ago.
Sevier may be best known for suing states that wouldn’t recognize his marriage to his laptop — a move to protest gay marriage. He’s also made headlines for past legal issues, including being charged with stalking and harassing country music singer John Rich and a 17-year-old girl.
Sevier later pleaded guilty to reduced charges of misdemeanor harassment.
In 2011, Sevier’s Tennessee law license was moved to “disability inactive status” due to being “presently incapacitated from continuing to practice law by reason of mental infirmity or illness.”
Meanwhile, Sevier has been connected to controversial legislative efforts across the country for years — often leaving uneasy interactions in his wake.
Last month, Sevier was escorted by security out of the Oklahoma Capitol after an altercation with a lawmaker. Three years ago in Rhode Island, a state senator withdrew a bill pushed by Sevier, citing its “dubious origins.”
After Missouri Senate Administrator Patrick Baker sent an email to senators and staff with a photo of Sevier and the subject line “security concern” in 2019, Sevier filed a federal lawsuit against him alleging defamation. The lawsuit was dismissed the same month.
The “Stop Social Media Censorship Act” is the latest of his legislative initiatives to find its way to Missouri.
Social media posts and draft legislation uploaded online indicate Sevier has crafted versions of the bill, in addition to a handful of others, for all 50 states. He’s also been working to find lawmakers to sponsor his bills since the fall.
Coleman, R-Grain Valley, said Sevier first approached him in late October or early November after seeing Coleman’s public complaints about social media censorship.
The bill would allow Missourians whose political or religious speech is censored on large social media platforms to bring lawsuits against those companies. Opponents argue the legislation is unconstitutional and would impede platforms’ ability to remove objectionable content, while supporters say it’s necessary to give users a voice.
“He asked me to carry that bill, and I agreed to it,” Coleman said, later adding: “In general, I think it’s a very good bill, because we have to figure out something in order to stop what’s going on.”
When reached by phone by The Independent Tuesday afternoon, Sevier said, “You can kiss my ass,” before hanging up.
Coleman, who was elected in 2018, said he had previously never heard of Sevier.
“As a legislator, you’ve got so many things going on, so many bills you’re trying to keep up with, you really don’t have time to do a background check on someone,” Coleman said.
But after learning of Sevier’s past following his testimony at last month’s committee hearing, Coleman said he is moving forward without Sevier’s input and working to refine the bill.
“He seems like a nice enough guy. But there’s enough out there that’s a concern that we don’t have him helping us anymore,” Coleman said, later adding: “We don’t need those distractions, because this is an important issue. We want to make sure that that’s the issue, not him.”
Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, is also sponsoring a version of the “Stop Social Media Censorship Act.” Bailey could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.