"These are children who did something beautiful to serve as an example and inspiration, and Trump chose to cavalierly and wantonly demolish that example," an attorney for the plaintiffs says

By Virginia Chamlee
September 18, 2020 03:54 PM
President Donald Trump

Two New York City couples have filed suit against Donald Trump, his campaign and a conservative Kansas city social-media personality alleging emotional distress and humiliation following the president’s re-post of manipulated footage of their young children, PEOPLE confirms.

The complaint — filed Thursday in New York Supreme Court — is on behalf of Michael Cisneros and Alex Hanson, parents of a 3-year-old child, and Daniel and Erica McKenna, parents of another 3-year-old.

Those children — one white and one Black — were initially featured prominently last year in a widely-shared clip that shows them running toward one another to embrace before taking off down the street together.

Initially, the moment was shared by outlets who highlighted its heartwarming nature, but it took on new life this summer after being edited and re-shared by pro-Trump meme maker Logan Cook, according to the suit.

Cook, who went by the Twitter handle @carpedonktum before the social media platform froze his account, describes himself as a "Sarcastic Memesmith specializing in the creation of memes to support President Donald J. Trump" on Instagram, where his account remains active.

In the manipulated version, only the final nine seconds of the original footage is seen, depicting the two boys running above a fake (and misspelled) CNN headline: "Terrified todler runs from racist baby" [sic].

Later, the caption changes to, "Racist baby probably a Trump voter."

The president, 74, shared Cook's snide clip on his own Twitter account on June 18, with the Trump campaign retweeting it the following day.

Twitter added a warning that the video contained “manipulated media" and, within a day, the video had been removed from both Facebook and Twitter, with Cook banned from the platform.

According to the suit, Cook has also shared the video on Instagram and other social media platforms.

The suit states that, with Trump amplifying Cook's meme, it was "viewed over 20 million times."

Cook, according to the complaint, "manipulated and adulterated the Plaintiffs' video, cut it down in size, and knowingly used a portion of it out of context, sending out an extremely distorted and false message" and "misappropriated the pictures" of their children.

Trump and his campaign, the plaintiffs argue, misappropriated the kids' images and used them for their own financial gain.

Michael Lizzi, an attorney representing the McKennas, equates the doctored video to "throwing red paint over something sublime," and says a substantial body of case law supports the families' claims.

"[The families] had a right to control a video they created and to be protected and free from the invasion of privacy that resulted from the fictionalization and falsification of it," Lizzi tells PEOPLE.

Calling their suit against the president a "David and Goliath scenario," Lizzi says both the attorneys and their families are prepared for a fight: "These are children who did something beautiful to serve as an example and inspiration, and Trump chose to cavalierly and wantonly demolish that example."

The suit seeks unspecified damages, an injunction barring Trump, his campaign and Cook from using the video and an accounting of all proceeds derived from the video's use.

Neither the Trump campaign nor an attorney for Cook have responded to PEOPLE's request for comment on the suit.