A Texas plumber is suing a local Ford dealer who said his life was ruined after a photo of a pickup truck his company used to own was featured in an extremist propaganda video which went viral last year.
Mark Oberholtzer, of Texas City, filed a $1-million lawsuit last week against Houston’s AutoNation Ford Gulf Freeway accusing the dealer of failing to remove a decal on the truck for Oberholtzer’s Mark-1 plumbing company, which is clearly visible in several images posted online.
The picture was posted by the Islamic extremist group, Ansar al-Deen Front, which is fighting the Syrian government, according to a CBS News report. It shows his branded black Ford F-250 with an anti-aircraft gun in the bed being fired by an Islamic militant.
Oberholtzer told the Galveston County Daily News last year that he expected Auto Nation to remove the company label after he traded the truck to the dealer.
“They were supposed to have done it and it looks like they didn’t do it,” Oberholtzer said at the time. “How it ended up in Syria, I’ll never know.”
After photos of the truck surfaced online, the story was picked up by several media outlets and was even featured in the final show of the The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert, which drew 2.5 million viewers becoming the most-watched episode in the show’s history.
Oberholtzer claims he was immediately mistaken for a Jihadist sympathizer and flooded with more than 1,000 phone calls that “in large part harassing and contained countless threats of violence, property harm, injury and even death” the suit says.
The complaint claims Oberholtzer was forced to shut down his business for a week over the ensuing harassment and he started carrying a handgun “for personal protection.” The suit says AutoNation is guilty of negligent misrepresentation, gross negligence and invasion of privacy.
According to the suit, it’s still unclear how the infamous truck made its way to Syria. The truck was imported to Mersin, Turkey in December 2013, a few months after its initial sale, but the details about its path from there is murky, the suit says.
A spokesman for the company told the Huffington Post last December that “AutoNation was nothing but the pass-through for this vehicle” and denied any involvement with the final destination of the vehicle.
“AutoNation took the truck in a trade-in, we immediately sent it to an auction house, the auction house then took the title and sold it to a local used car dealer,” the spokesperson said,
Ford isn’t the only car company known for appearing in Islamic militant videos.
A report from ABC last October found militants with the so-called Islamic State driving several Toyota SUVs and pick-ups in propaganda videos.
The videos led to an inquiry by the U.S. Treasury Department into how so many of the Japanese automaker’s vehicles ended up in the hand of ISIS members.