Ashley Morgan Smithline, who previously sued Marilyn Manson for sexual assault, recanted her previous allegations and now claims that actress Evan Rachel Wood and others “manipulated” her into speaking out against the singer. The about-face comes in a declaration submitted by Manson’s lawyer, Howard King, in a suit the musician, whose real name is Brian Warner, filed against Wood and Wood’s friend, Illma Gore. “I succumbed to pressure from Evan Rachel Wood and her associates to make accusations of rape and assault against Mr. Warner that were not true,” Smithline now claims.
Smithline sued Warner in 2021, alleging sexual assault, sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, human trafficking, and unlawful imprisonment, among other allegations. She claimed Warner enticed her to move from Bangkok to Los Angeles to act and that they started a relationship, which turned dark. She alleged that she woke up one day, bound, and realized Warner was penetrating her. Among other allegations, she claimed he choked her, ignored her pleas of “no,” and carved his initials into her skin with a knife. “On yet another occasion, Mr. Warner threw a Nazi knife at Ms. Smithline, only barely missing her face,” the lawsuit alleged. Warner denied the accusations; the suit was dismissed last month.
In the new declaration she provided on behalf of Warner’s lawsuit, Smithline now claims that in 2020 she was contacted by either Warner’s former assistant, Ashley Walters (who also filed a lawsuit, since dismissed, against Warner) or Gore. One of those people, she claims, invited her to speak with other women who’d had “relationships or experiences” with Warner. She spoke on a group call and took part in an in-person meeting, which was filmed for the documentary Phoenix Rising about Wood’s allegations of sexual abuse against Warner.
“I remember [Wood] asked me whether I had been, among other things, whipped, chained, tied up, branded/cut, assaulted while sleeping, beaten, or raped,” Smithline claims. “She said all of these things happened to Ms. Wood and others, and that when Ms. Wood was with Mr. Warner every moment was a moment of survival. When I said, ‘No, this did not happen to me and this was not my experience,’ I recall being told by Ms. Wood that just because I could not remember did not necessarily mean that it did not happen.”
Smithline now claims that as she thought about Wood’s allegations, she began to wonder herself if she’d experienced any such abuse. Wood and other women, she says, questioned whether she were repressing memories to get through the day. “Eventually, I started to believe that what I was repeatedly told happened to Ms. Wood and Ms. [Esme] Bianco [who also sued Warner] also happened to me,” she wrote. (Bianco and Warner reached a settlement last month, ending her lawsuit against him. Through her lawyer, Jay Ellwanger, Bianco declined to comment.)
She alleges that in anticipation of the day that Wood named Warner as her alleged abuser, Gore encouraged her to post something similar. “Ms. Gore drafted the statement, and I gave her my password to post it,” she writes. “The narrative ultimately posted to my account on or around February 1, 2021 contained untrue statements about Mr. Warner, including that there was violence and non-consensual sexual activity in our brief relationship, and that I had repressed memories of the same.” She also claims now that Warner did not carve “MM” into her skin, though she previously posed for a photo in People showing off what she said at the time were scars from the alleged incident. (A rep for Gore did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)
A spokesperson for Wood vehemently denies Smithline’s claims to Rolling Stone. “Evan never pressured or manipulated Ashley,” the rep says. “It was Ashley who first contacted Evan about the abuse she had suffered. It’s unfortunate that the harassment and threats Ashley received after filing her federal lawsuit appear to have pressured her to change her testimony.”
In her statement, Smithline further claimed that Ellwanger, who represented her in her suit against Warner, did not allow her to review the filing before he submitted it. “The complaint contained untrue statements about Mr. Warner, including that there was violence and non-consensual sexual activity in our brief relationship, and that I had repressed memories of the same until meeting with Ms. Wood, Ms. Gore, and others in 2020,” she now says. “Leading up to the filing of the complaint, I felt pressured by Mr. Ellwanger to go on a press tour, which included an interview on The View and an interview and photoshoot with People magazine.”
“My response is constrained by ethical obligations regarding client confidentiality, even to a former client,” Ellwanger tells Rolling Stone in response to Smithline’s accusations against him. “But what I can say is that the specific allegations regarding my representation of Ms. Smithline are categorically and verifiably false.”
Smithline says she will not be refiling a civil case against Warner, nor will she pursue criminal charges. “Looking back, I feel I was manipulated by Ms. Wood, Ms. Gore, Ms. Bianco, and Mr. Ellwanger to spread publicly false accusations of abuse against Mr. Warner,” she says.
“As we have always said, the coordinated campaign of #MeToo lies against Brian Warner is going to go down as one of the greatest hoaxes of all time,” Warner’s attorney, Howard King, said in a statement. “Vulnerable women were manipulated by unscrupulous individuals seeking to build their own brands and pursue their own vendettas. This sworn testimony proves it.”
Warner filed a lawsuit against Wood and Gore last year for defamation, emotional distress, and “impersonation over the internet,” among other charges in March 2022. The filing alleged the two women led “a conspiracy” against him, impersonating FBI agents to convince women that authorities were investigating Warner, so they’d feel comfortable coming forward with their own allegations. The filing claimed that Gore “swatted” Warner by convincing police to visit Warner’s home under false pretense.
Wood responded to the lawsuit in an appearance on The View while promoting Phoenix Rising. “I am very confident that I have the truth on my side and that the truth will come out,” she said. “This is clearly timed before the documentary. … I have to let the legal process run its course, and I’m steady as a rock.”
Warner still faces lawsuits from two women, who have both filed anonymously as Jane Doe. The first Jane Doe alleges that Warner raped her in his home in 2011; the lawsuit was dismissed over the statute of limitations but she refiled in 2021. In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, the second Jane Doe claims Warner abused her when she was underage and continued to “groom, harass, and sexually abuse” her as an adult. Through his lawyer, Warner denied the allegations in both suits.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department conducted an investigation into criminal charges against Warner and have turned its findings over to the L.A. district attorney. The D.A. has yet to announce whether or not it will press charges against Warner.
In 2021, Smithline spoke with Rolling Stone as part of an investigation into her and the other accusers’ claims against Warner. She accused Warner of “Brainwashing 101” and said Warner took advantage of her vulnerability, locking her in a confined space he called the “bad girls’ room” as punishment. “I started to [feel] smaller and smaller and quieter and quieter,” Smithline said. “When you’re silenced or locked in a box where no one can hear you, you really start to think about how small and unimportant you are. I just didn’t want to speak anymore.”