You just can’t get away with attacking the internet anymore. In the ongoing saga of stupid that is Illinois bus company Suburban Express, a company that ferries college-aged customers to and from schools in the Midwest, then sues them, then un-sues them, then sues them again, one thing that is very clear is that company head wind-bag Dennis Toeppen doesn’t think much of the internet. And it isn’t just his campaign against online critics like Jeremy Leval that make me reach that conclusion, nor is it the use of his company’s horrifically ugly website to prominently display their lawsuits (since altered in the last day or so) against their customers (because, hey, that’s obviously smart business). It seems Toeppen doesn’t think much of large swaths of the internet, or its ability to bring like-minds from far distances together for a cause.
Though, if Ken “Popehat” White has anything to say about it, Toeppen may be mightily disabused of that last notion now that the Popehat Signal has gone out against Suburban Express. He details what the company has been up to: reviving their small claims case against Leval, suing a woman in Champaign County (where University of IL is located) for a defamation injunction for asking if people would really want Suburban Express to have their credit card information, threatening a Reddit moderator over the title of their Reddit thread, and continuing the threats against one unhappy customer and online critic that started our reporting above. In addition to all that, White repeats past accusations that Toeppen, or other Suburban Express employees, have been anonymously altering the company’s Wikipedia page and commenting in several online forums in favor of the company. When questioned about this by White, Toeppen doesn’t exactly push back as hard as you’d expect were he innocent.
Ken: So, it’s your position that you didn’t write that?
Dennis Toeppen: You didn’t send me a url.
Ken: You need a url to tell me whether or not you wrote that?
Dennis Toeppen: If I were your client, would you advise me to answer a question about something I have not seen? I imagine not. So shoot me the url.
Even simple questions go unanswered, about which you can draw your own conclusions, but if those conclusions aren’t that Toeppen obviously was behind the asshattery, then you may need your head examined. Later, Toeppen claims that the company has WiFi and it was likely just some drifter-by that decided to go all pro-Toeppen on these sites. Again, draw your own conclusions, as long as you conclude that Toeppen is almost certainly a liar. But if you really want to see the simultaneous disdain for anonymity coupled with a complete evasion of a question, here’s how Toeppen answers when White asks if any Suburban Express employees are involved in anonymous online attacks against Reddit critics:
I think anonymity online leads people to do things which they would never do out in public. I would like commenters to be compelled to provide their real names. I would support legislation which seeks defeat anonymous online commenting. I am willing to spend my own money in support of that goal. Nevertheless, I support off-the-record interactions between legitimate journalists and sources.
In other words, I hate anonymity except when I’m the anonymous one, in which case it’s totally sweet. At one point during their correspondence, Toeppen snidely told White that he could help “those schmucks if you want to,” those “schmucks” being anyone Toeppen is currently suing. White has happily taken up the offer by putting out the Popehat Signal for help in the areas of the cases in question.
First, the defendants in Dennis Toeppen’s existing and threatened suits in Cook County need representation. They are students and don’t have money. If you are a lawyer in Cook County [edited to add: or Champaign County], please consider helping out, as many past responders to the Popehat Signal have done. Lawyers in other states may want to back up locals with research, writing, and advice. People like Dennis Toeppen succeed in using litigation as a weapon of censorship because a defense is ruinously expensive to average people; a team of pro bono lawyers can probably make short work of him and his lawyers, and eviscerate his competitive advantage…Second, if anyone is close to Ford County tomorrow and can observe and report on the hearing on his request to revive his cases, your help would be appreciated…Third, spread the word. Actions do, and should, have consequences. If more people knew the way Suburban Express acts, they might not use it, and Dennis Toeppen would face the consequences of his conduct.
We’ll see who ends up winning in the battle of Suburban Express vs. The Internet, but I think I know which way the odds makers in Vegas would weight this one.