Lawyers for the Southern Poverty Law Center have sued the owner of a white supremacist website, accusing him of unleashing a “troll storm” of harassment on a Jewish real estate agent.
The lawsuit (PDF) was filed Tuesday against Andrew Anglin, publisher of the Daily Stormer neo-Nazi website. It claims he unleashed a “coordinated, repulsive, threatening campaign of anti-Semitic harassment” on Tanya Gersh, a real estate agent living in Whitefish, Montana. The campaign allegedly resulted in more than 700 threatening phone calls, voicemails, and e-mails.
At issue is whether a prominent publisher of a far-right website can be held legally liable for online “trolling” tactics his articles inspired. Lawyers for Gersh say Anglin violated Montana’s “Anti-Intimidation Act” and that he should be made to pay for Gersh’s emotional distress and loss of privacy.
Anglin has advocated for keeping hatred of Jews front and center as the self-described “alt-right” white-nationalist movement has gained increasing prominence over the last year. “I think there’s room for different viewpoints,” he said in one interview with a white-nationalist YouTube channel. “But when it comes to the Jews, this is something that’s non-negotiable. You have to focus on the Jews as the primary enemy.”
The 63-page lawsuit spells out Anglin’s months of online attacks on Gersh, laying out his virulently anti-Semitic writing in a chronology that begins in mid-December.
“Old fashioned Troll Storm”
In November, alt-right leader Richard Spencer hit the national spotlight after he hosted a conference in Washington DC that drew a few hundred white supremacists to town for a post-election conference. Images of Spencer shouting “Hail Trump!” and suggesting that white nationalists should “party like it’s 1933” went viral.
Spencer’s “think tank” listed a Whitefish, Montana, home owned by his mother Sherry Spencer as its main office. Some Whitefish residents believed that Sherry Spencer had not disavowed her son’s racism and that she may have been providing financial support for her son, according to the complaint. Local activists, including members of a human rights group Gersh was involved with called “Love Lives Here,” began discussing the idea of staging a protest in front of a mixed-use building also owned by Sherry Spencer.
According to the complaint, Gersh got in touch with the building’s commercial tenants to “warn them” about a protest that might occur outside the building. One of the tenants facilitated a phone call between Gersh and Spencer, during which Spencer “lamented the trouble her building was causing.” At that point, Gersh “wondered aloud why Ms. Spencer was keeping it” and suggested selling the building, and making a donation to a local human rights group.
The lawsuit says that Sherry Spencer considered selling the building, even asking Gersh to serve as her real estate agent. But in late November, Spencer apparently changed her mind, according to Gersh.
On December 15, Sherry Spencer penned an article complaining about the whole saga, entitled “Does Love Really Live Here?” Spencer described Gersh’s talk about protesters in front of her building as a threat, which would lower the value of her building, unless she agreed to sell it and make a specified donation. The building included vacation apartments and a rooftop garden, and “has nothing to do with politics,” Spencer wrote.
“Whatever you think about my son’s ideas — they are, after all, ideas — in what moral universe is it right for the ‘sins’ of the son to be visited upon the mother?” she asked. “All I wanted to do with the building was help Whitefish.”
The following day, Anglin published an article on the Daily Stormer accusing Gersh and other Jews of “harassment and extortion.”
“This is the Jews for you, people,” wrote Anglin. “They are a vicious, evil race of hate-filled psychopaths.”
Anglin’s article went on to ask his “fam” to “hit em up,” asking: “Are y’all ready for an old fashioned Troll Storm?”
The article goes on to post phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and Twitter handles for Gersh, her husband, and Love Lives Here, which Anglin calls a “Jew terrorist group.” The article also posts a street address for the Gersh’s business. Anglin published the Twitter handle of Tanya Gersh’s 12-year-old son, Jacob, calling him a “scamming little kike.”
The article encourages readers to “let these people know what you think!” It goes on to enjoin readers to call or send “a quick message,” but not “make any threats of violence and certainly don’t do anything violent.”
“Just make your opinions known,” Anglin wrote. “Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda to attack and harm the mother of someone whom they disagree with.”
Neo-Nazi march “armed with machine guns”
Gersh’s lawsuit chronicles the “tsunami of threats” that followed after Anglin’s article was published. Gersh, her husband, and her son, were subjected to a deluge of anti-Semitic death threats and Holocaust references by e-mail, social media, and voicemail.
“We are going to ruin you, you Kike PoS [piece of shit] . . . You will be driven to the brink of suicide. & We will be there to take pleasure in your pain & eventual end,” read one e-mail to Gersh’s personal account. Others read:
“Ratfaced criminals who play with fire tend to get thrown in the oven.”
“You filthy & depraved Jews never learn… thousands of Goys are learning of your true nature by the day.”
“Gersh, you slimy jewess, do you honestly believe you can force a woman to sell her property for ‘the lowest commission you can manage’ by threatening to call in your local kike ‘tolerance’ groups?”
One e-mail sent to her work e-mail account simply repeated “Death to Tanya” over and over. Over 700 messages were received in all.
“Is your wife still persecuting Sherry Spencer?” said one anonymous voicemail left on Gersh’s husband’s phone. “Cuz if it is, well, I’m fucking… rein that bitch in… Your fucking business is going to go down.”
Others tweeted at Gersh’s 12-year-old son, including one who said “psst kid, there’s a free Xbox One inside this oven.”
The deluge wasn’t all sparked by Anglin’s first article. He allegedly went on to publish 30 articles about Ms. Gersh or Whitefish on the Daily Stormer, many of which urged further harassment, according to Gersh’s lawyers. His articles included pictures of Nazi-era propaganda and historic photos of Nazi troops on parade. Anglin also began promoting a march through Whitefish that would include armed white nationalists from around the globe.
“Currently, we have 178 skinheads being bussed in from the Bay Area on 6 large buses,” wrote Anglin, in a lead-up to his purported march on January 15. “We will have a total of around 225 people marching through the city, although only about a third will be armed with machine guns. Others may carry baseball bats or swords, we haven’t decided yet.”
At the last minute, Anglin “postponed” the armed protest but promised a “bigger” march in the future with “more guns and special guests.”
The campaign has caused Gersh panic attacks, her lawyers say. Gersh “goes to bed in tears, wakes up crying, startles easily, feels anxiety and discomfort in crowded places, has had trouble leaving her home, and fears answering her phone,” write Gersh’s lawyers. Her physical symptoms reportedly include weight gain, joint pain, and hair loss.
Harassment ultimately caused Gersh to take down her personal website, tanyagersh.com, as well as deactivate her Facebook and YouTube accounts.
Gersh’s lawyers claim that Anglin “acted in an extreme and outrageous manner,” making him liable for an invasion of privacy. The lawsuit also claims Anglin violated Montana’s Anti-Intimidation Act.
“Andrew Anglin knew he had an online army primed to attack with the click of a mouse,” said Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen in a statement about the lawsuit. “We intend to hold him accountable for the suffering he has caused Ms. Gersh and to send a strong message to those who use their online platforms as weapons of intimidation.”
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