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November 22, 2019

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Larry Flynt vs. the Donald: Publisher talks civil liberties in the age of Trump

Larry Flynt

Katy Winn / AP File

Larry Flynt speaks April 30, 2011, in Los Angeles, Calif.

Larry Flynt fiercely opposed Donald Trump during the 2016 election, going so far as to offer a $1 million bounty for scandalous video of Trump similar to the “Access Hollywood” recording.

Although the Hustler publisher failed to keep Trump out of the White House, Flynt said he’d be watching the president-elect closely, especially for any attempt to restrict First Amendment freedoms.

“If he wants a fight, I’m ready,” Flynt said.

At 74, Flynt has been fighting First Amendment court battles for decades. His most renowned case, Hustler Magazine vs. Falwell, ended with Flynt winning a ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, which clarified that public figures could not recover damages for emotional distress based on parodies. The case, which was re-created in the 1996 hit film “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” stemmed from a lawsuit filed against Flynt by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, based on a cartoon in Hustler that suggested Falwell’s first sexual encounter was with his mother in an outhouse.

Flynt’s other free-press actions included a 2004 suit against the Department of Defense, alleging a Hustler reporter had been barred access to U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan. That case was thrown out, with the judge saying the reporter had been placed on a list of journalists who were granted conditional access to travel with troops.

During this year’s presidential campaign, Flynt accused Trump of hypocrisy in his treatment of women, and especially took exception to Trump’s claim that “nobody has more respect for women than me.”

Although Flynt has faced extensive criticism for his own treatment of women — including that images published in Hustler promoted sexual violence — Flynt contended during the campaign, “I have always celebrated women.” He said the way Trump had treated women was “disappointing and unbelievable.”

Flynt has been a Las Vegas business operator since 2010, when he opened Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, at 6007 Dean Martin Drive. He recently opened a second Hustler Hollywood sex shop (in addition to one inside the club), at 620 E. Sahara Ave.

After the new store’s grand opening, Flynt discussed business, Trump and civil liberties.

Why did you expand in Las Vegas?

The market’s very good, so I thought the Sahara location looked like it would turn into something pretty good. ... I think Las Vegas is definitely on its way back. It may be a while before more casinos go up in Vegas, but I think other businesses are going to continue to thrive.

What’s your perspective on Donald Trump’s election and potential effects on free speech?

You would have to remind me of that carnival barker. I don’t think he’ll be around long. But even if they are able to impeach him, we’ll still be stuck with (Mike) Pence, and Pence is worse than he is.

I was fighting all those First Amendment brush fires across the country in the ’70s and the ’80s, and I thought we’d been there, done that. But who knows with Trump what you’re going to get.

Are you prepared to go to court again to fight for the First Amendment?

You have to. Freedom’s very fragile. It can be lost as easy as it’s gained. That’s what people fail to realize. Standing up for free speech or democracy in general is very, very tough to do. You know, you’re often fighting battles that are not necessarily shared by other people. But if you’re going to make progress, you have to.

What indications are you getting that there may be a fight on the horizon?

My attorney knows some people in the Justice Department, and they told us that it will be part of the agenda to go after obscenity. They can’t keep our streets clean, but they want to keep our minds pure, you know?

Do you think we could be on the verge of reverting back to the ’70s and ’80s?

The pendulum always swings back and forth. So as long as you have the arbitrator of morality out there trying to tell people how to live their lives, you’re going to have censorship. You’ve just got to deal with it the best you can.

Why do you feel so strongly about Trump?

Call 20 psychiatrists and see if you can get any one of them to say he’s sane. He’s nuts. He’s a narcissist. He’s constantly repeating himself. He tells one lie after another. I don’t think he even realizes how much he’s lying.

What’s your biggest concern?

That somebody will start a nuclear war. That should be everybody’s concern.

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