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Documentary tells story of woman who won $14M judgment against neo-Nazi

I never thought anything like this could happen to me – and then it did.

I’m a real estate agent and a mom of two boys who lives in Whitefish, Montana, and follows the Jewish faith. Before December 2016, I’d say I lived quite an ordinary life in a small town where just about everyone knows everyone. Then, unwittingly – and seemingly overnight – I became the target of a two-and-a-half-year online “troll” campaign organized by the publisher of a neo-Nazi website.

This is the heart of my story, and I’m excited and a little nervous to say that the world can see what my family and I experienced, and the lessons we’ve learned from it, in the documentary “Troll Storm,” which premiered last month at the Big Sky Documentary Festival in Montana.

"Troll Storm," a documentary about Tanya Gersh's two-and-a-half-year ordeal as the target of a harassment campaign by neo-Nazis, premiered last month.

My life has never been the same since my family and I were for years threatened and ridiculed by neo-Nazis and other extremists. There were many sleepless nights.

When the website launched a campaign to hold a hateful march in my community, I feared for the lives of my family and my community members. Now, when I look back, I think those trolls gave this Montana mom an opportunity to make a big difference.

The Southern Poverty Law Center helped me beat the trolls in court. A federal judge in 2019 ordered the neo-Nazi website’s publisher to pay more than $14 million in damages to me for orchestrating the relentless barrage of antisemitic threats and messages from his followers.

Through that process, the SPLC became like a family to me, offering invaluable support as I tried my best to stay afloat during that traumatic time. With their support and the kindness of my community, I grew into someone that I didn’t know was inside of me, a social justice advocate. My heart opened, and my very naïve mind was alerted to the pain and suffering of marginalized groups across this country.

The troll storm stole my pride, my sense of security and my rose-colored ideal of what it meant to live freely as an American. Going through this painful experience and coming out on the other side has taught me an invaluable lesson: Complacency when encountering injustice is dangerous.

I refuse to look the other way, and I encourage others to advocate for social justice, too.

Photo at top: Tanya Gersh won a $14 million judgment after two-and-a-half years of harassment by a neo-Nazi website and its followers. (Credit: Dan Chung)