CHICAGO – A Chicago organization that specializes in helping people exit hate groups has filed a lawsuit against one if its co-founders who branched off to start a similar organization, saying the new group is infringing its trademarks.
Life After Hate filed the lawsuit against Christian Picciolini and Free Radicals Project Inc. in Chicago federal court on Oct. 17.
According to the lawsuit, the Chicago-based Life After Hate is a nonprofit organization also known as ExitUSA, helping people exit hate groups through education, interventions, academic research and outreach.
Defendant Picciolini, along with Arno Michaelis, Sammy Rangel, Angela King and Frank Meeink, were the five founding members of LAH Inc., according to the lawsuit.
“By February of 2014, after Angela King and Tony McAleer had been developing an assessment tool and transition program for over a year, LAH created an exit program called ExitUSA," the lawsuit states. “Indeed, in April of 2014, it filed for doing business as ExitUSA with the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office.”
The complaint states Picciolini purchased the domain name, www.exitusa.org, on behalf of LAH in 2015, then allegedly tried to steal the domain name after falling out with the group and deciding to start his own organization.
“On Nov. 13, 2017, defendant Picciolini attempted to fraudulently federally register EXITSUSA by submitting an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office,” the lawsuit states. “The USPTO refused to register defendant Picciolini’s mark and rejected his application, citing plaintiff’s identical mark for the same services.”
Since the second half of 2017, the suit states the defendants have operated a business directly competing with LAH’s services, while using the domain name to direct to their website and including the phrase “Life After Hate” prominently on the top of their website’s homepage, the lawsuit stated.
“Since that time, defendants have purloined plaintiff’s members and potential members and, as a result, have stolen tens of thousands of dollars of plaintiff’s income and completely usurped control over its goodwill,” the lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs said the court must enjoin defendants from using the domain name and prevent consumers from being deceived.
In 2018, again allegedly without the plaintiff’s authorization, Picciolini began using the domain name to redirect to his directly competing website, freeradical.org, the complaint adds.
“Defendants purposely chose to use plaintiff’s marks in order to purloin loyal members and potential members of plaintiff’s organization and to free ride off of plaintiff’s well-known brand,” the lawsuit states.
The attorneys representing the plaintiffs are Daliah Saper and Matthew Grothouse of Saper Law Offices in Chicago.