I am old and old-fashioned. I have been writing this column on Alabama government and political history for 20 years, and it appears weekly in more than 60 newspapers. Folks believe what they read in their local papers because local editors and journalists they trust act as a filter to provide them with the truth.
But technology has created a whole new breed of internet publications where lying is the standard and not the exception. One deranged person can sit in a dark room and pump out vicious lies and fabrications without any evidence – and there is no local editor standing up for the truth. I believe in the First Amendment to our Constitution, but having a website should not be a license to lie and slander people.
I do not pay much attention to the so-called “internet bloggers,” but the outlandish lies of one such blogger has gotten my attention. A convicted criminal named Donald Watkins has been blogging scurrilous, vicious, outlandish lies about some of our state’s and nation’s most outstanding leaders and companies. Watkins is posting these lies to the internet while serving a Federal prison sentence under the jurisdiction of the Federal penal system.
Donald Watkins was born in a world of privilege, the son of Dr. Levi Watkins, the President of Alabama State University. While Donald presented himself as a multi-millionaire, high-rolling investor, court documents show he swindled friends, celebrities, and an FDIC-insured bank out of more than $15 million. In 2019, a federal court sent Watkins and his son, Donald Watkins Jr., to federal prison.
Federal records show Watkins represented he was selling stock in an energy company called Masada and claimed he was the majority shareholder in the company. Watkins did not own any of the company stock. He claimed the company was associated with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Martin Luther King III. Both testified they had no connection with the company.
The vast majority of you have never heard of Donald Watkins. Some of you may remember him as the lawyer who helped Eric Ramsey attack the Auburn Football program landing the school on NCAA probation. He later defended other high-profile criminals, such as himself.
But basketball legend Charles Barkley will remember Watkins as the man who swindled him out of more than $6 million. Federal records show that Watkins and his son took money from investors and channeled that money to pay for extravagant lifestyles. Records show Watkins Sr. used the money to pay back taxes, alimony, living expenses for his girlfriend and for his own private jet. It is easy to see why a jury of hard-working, honest folks found him guilty on 10 counts in a New York minute.
Watkins and his son were convicted in federal court, and Watkins was found guilty on all 10 counts brought against him. He was sentenced to prison and ordered to pay more than $14 million in restitution. He was sued for defamation, for lying about someone and ordered to pay $1.5 million to those he harmed. But from a prison cell, Watkins continued to attack those he harmed, always claiming to be the victim and not the villain. Watkins claims he was railroaded as he continues spreading his lies across the digital landscape.
He blames scores of people for conspiring against him, including the Alabama Supreme Court, federal judges, federal prosecutors and the leadership of some of Alabama’s major corporations. Watkins even has the audacity to accuse Sen. Richard Shelby of some unspecified scheme to send Watkins to jail.
In 2017, Alabama businessman Joe Perkins sued Watkins for defamation. A circuit court ruled in Perkins’s favor and awarded a judgment against Watkins of $1.5 million. Watkins appealed all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, and on Feb. 27, the highest court in the land unceremoniously refused to hear Watkins’s ridiculous appeal.
So, why don’t more of Watkins’s victims sue him for his lies? As the old saying goes, you can’t get blood from a turnip. He owes his victims more than $15 million today. He is in such a deep hole that he cannot be stopped by more lawsuits.
Freedom of speech is one of the hallmarks of America’s creed. But that freedom in the hands of a proven liar and brazen, arrogant, non-repentant federal prisoner is not what our forefathers envisioned when they enshrined the First Amendment. This blogger is a threat to society and deserves further jail time.
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