A man says his career and reputation in the outdoor adventure industry were destroyed when a high-profile mountain climber sponsored by North Face falsely claimed on social media that the man directed racist comments at him in a bar, according to a Monday lawsuit obtained exclusively by The Daily Wire.
The lawsuit alleges that Johnathan Talbot, a former employee of outdoor apparel company Outdoor Research, lost his job after the climber, a black man named Manoah Ainuu, used social media to not only allege that Talbot made racist comments and tried to fight him, but also pressure Outdoor Research to terminate him.
It wasn’t until hours after Talbot and Ainuu had a conversation at a bar in Bozeman, Montana, that Ainuu posted at 3:00 AM on his Instagram with allegations that Talbot was a racist, the lawsuit from America First Legal states. The professional climber said in a series of videos that Talbot came up to introduce himself and asked questions about diversity in the sport, but that it became clear in the conversations that Talbot was a “racist.”
“I hope there are repercussions … ideally an extermination,” one post from Ainuu charges, also bemoaning Talbot’s alleged “gaslighting, toxic masculinity, and white guilt.” The post also alleges that Talbot attempted to fight Ainuu. “Reshare and tag [Outdoor Research] so this boy has consequences for his actions,” another post from Ainuu and reviewed by The Daily Wire read. “Our outdoor microcosm can’t have people like this.”
The posts tagging Outdoor Research called on all his followers to demand that Talbot be fired, and suggested that if they didn’t comply, they were racists too.
“Aye all my (majority) white followers/allies,” Ainuu wrote in text on one video. “This is your call out. My flesh really wanted to educate jon. Self-control is draining and exercised too often. Please help me take care of this boy. I can see if you watch and don’t share, whether from uncomfortability or apathy.”
The posts served their intended purpose, the lawsuit states. Dave Burleson, who was the Global Senior Athlete Coordinator for North Face at the time of the incident, shared Ainuu’s post and reiterated the call to cancel Talbot. “@outdoorresearch please hold your employee John that is in Bozeman right now accountable,” Burleson wrote, adding, “To the racists in the outdoor industry, we will find you and we will remove you.”
Just hours later, Outdoor Research ordered Talbot to leave Bozeman and return to company headquarters. The company also responded in a social media post of its own, writing that “it came to our attention that there was a verbal exchange last night in Bozeman, MT between @adreadedclimber and an [Outdoor Research] employee.” The company’s post said it “does not support or tolerate discriminatory conduct based on race or any other reason, and we take these matters very seriously.”
Talbot told The Daily Wire that the allegations against him are false, and that a later investigation by Outdoor Research confirmed it.
“I want to make it unequivocally clear that I neither engaged in offensive behavior nor made racially biased comments,” said Talbot, whose friends have resorted to a Go Fund Me fundraising campaign to help his family. “My actions were investigated thoroughly by my former employer, Outdoor Research, … and their findings affirmed that there was no basis for the accusations against me.”
Talbot was fired not because of any wrongdoing, but because of public relations, he says. “I was not terminated due to any proven wrongdoing; instead, it was deemed a measure to protect the company’s brand,” Talbot said.
Ian Prior, a senior advisor for America First Legal, says Talbot is the victim of a “smear campaign.”
“Until that fateful day in Bozeman, Montana, when Johnathan Talbot politely introduced himself to North Face-sponsored athlete Manoah Ainuu, he had a career, a reputation, and the belief that he would keep both,” Prior said. “Unfortunately, that single encounter led to the destruction of Talbot’s career and reputation, all due to a social media smear campaign launched by Ainuu based on a false and defamatory claim that Talbot had made a racist comment.”
Prior added that The North Face shares blame for the destruction of Talbot. “To make matters worse, this action is in line and was endorsed by The North Face, whose commitment to ‘social justice’ seems to lack an appreciation for either what is appropriate social behavior and what is justice,” Prior said.
America First Legal asserts that Ainuu was motivated by a desire to “increase his fame and advance The North Face’s social justice mission, even if it meant maliciously destroying the reputation and career of Mr. Talbot.” It also asserts that “Ainuu later admitted to Mr. Talbot’s employer that he did not say anything racist or offensive.”
Talbot is not the only individual who alleges that Ainuu levies unsubstantiated accusations of racism against those he’s come in contact with. Ari Novak, a movie producer and ice climber, told The Daily Wire that he’s known Ainuu for six years and has “personally observed him ‘race bait’ multiple individuals aggressively and then claim they ‘wanted to fight him.’”
“I found this behavior so disturbing that I asked him to move out of my home in 2020. There are many cases of Manoah threatening physical altercations and then claiming victimhood under the banner of racial bias,” Novak said. “As a highly paid outdoor athlete Manoah’s whole brand is rooted in racial confrontation.”
Novak highlighted a particularly disturbing incident that occurred at his house at a New Year’s Eve party in 2019, where “Manoah physically threatened to smash a person’s head into my fireplace because Manoah felt a comment about skiing was racist. Manoah had to be physically restrained at this incident.”
“Manoah got a loose brick out of the wall and the loose break was over the guy’s head,” Novak said. “The guy was down on the mantel, in front of the fireplace, and Manaoh was ready to smash his head with a brick and a bunch of people held him back.”
But Novak contends that this incident was part of a consistent pattern of behavior. At the 2020 Michigan Ice Festival, Novak says Ainuu engaged in similar behavior after being told that he should not climb in an area that was closed at night due to safety concerns.
“Manoah took this suggestion to be racially motivated and tried to engage in a physical altercation,” Novak said, adding that the behavior is encouraged by The North Face. “These are just two of many examples of a pattern of behavior that is both calculated and cultivated by his primary sponsor The North Face. He’s always trying to create a situation where he can have a fight over race.”
“It has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with him not being stable,” Novak said. “Literally anybody can bump into Manoah and suddenly he decides they’re racist, and they could lose their job,” Novak remarked before explaining that the outdoor industry has “gone woke” and contending that The North Face has established an incentive structure that encourages Ainuu’s racial agitation.
Ainuu did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit and Novak’s allegations. The North Face also did not respond to a request for comment.
Much of Ainnu’s public image appears to be built around his stated effort to diversify the sport of ice climbing, with one article highlighting his climb to the summit of Mount Everest with an all-black team as a feat that showed “the continued diversification of a historically white activity.”
He bemoaned the challenges of living in a predominantly white area, Bozeman, with CNN reporting that it “weighs heavily” on the young climber.
But the lawsuit asserts that The North Face has also pushed the diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda, pointing to a 2020 initiative called the “Reset Fellowship” that featured Ainuu and pledged $7 million to “organizations with the goal of building equity in the outdoors and creating opportunities for all.” It went on to claim that “communities of color are three times more likely to live in nature-deprived locations” and “often face racism and other systemic challenges when they do explore.”
Prior says Talbot’s case is part of a larger trend, in which public figures like Ainuu use their platforms to target anyone perceived as an ideological enemy for cancellation. Even if the efforts fail, there are no consequences.
“Somebody needs to draw a line in the sand and say this kind of behavior is not acceptable,” Prior said. “Especially today in the world of social media, these kinds of things can go viral in a very fast manner. There needs to be consequences for those that choose to use those platforms to destroy lives.”
Ari Novak is a producer on the recently announced Daily Wire production “The Pendragon Cycle.”