The founder of a major neo-Nazi website orchestrated a harassment campaign that relentlessly terrorized a Jewish woman and her family with anti-Semitic threats and messages. The Southern Poverty Law Center, along with its Montana co-counsel, filed suit in federal court on behalf of the woman, winning a more than $14 million judgment against the neo-Nazi leader.
The lawsuit describes how Andrew Anglin used his web forum, the Daily Stormer – the leading extremist website in the country – to publish 30 articles urging his followers to launch a “troll storm” against Tanya Gersh, a real estate agent in Whitefish, Montana. Gersh, her husband and 12-year-old son received more than 700 harassing messages between December 2016 and April 2017.
The intimidation began after Anglin accused Gersh of attempting to extort money from the mother of Richard Spencer. The younger Spencer heads the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist organization. Anglin and Spencer are both prominent leaders of the “alt-right” movement that rallied white nationalists behind President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Missoula Division, sought compensatory and punitive damages. It accused Anglin of invading Gersh’s privacy and intentionally inflicting emotional distress. It also outlined how his campaign violated the Montana Anti-Intimidation Act.
The Daily Stormer, which had established 31 physical chapters in the United States and more in Canada at the time of the lawsuit’s filing, has been designated a hate group by the SPLC. It took its name from the Nazi propaganda sheet known as Der Stürmer.
Gersh was targeted after she agreed to help Sherry Spencer sell a commercial building she owned in Whitefish, where both women live. There were rumors that the building would be a target for protests around the time that a video of Richard Spencer’s speech to a white nationalist conference in Washington, D.C., went viral. In the video, taken less than two weeks after the 2016 election, he declares, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” as white nationalists respond with Nazi salutes.
Gersh agreed to help sell the building after Sherry Spencer reached out to her. Anglin launched the troll storm after Spencer changed her mind and published an article attacking Gersh.
Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda,” Anglin wrote under the headline “Jews Targeting Richard Spencer’s Mother for Harassment and Extortion – TAKE ACTION!” The post included Gersh’s contact information. It also included photographs of Gersh, her husband and son. One was altered to include a yellow Star of David with the label “Jude” – an allusion to the emblem the Nazi regime required Jews to wear during World War II.
The threats took an emotional and physical toll on Gersh. She experienced panic attacks and feared answering the phone. She often went to bed in tears and woke up crying. She had trouble leaving her home and felt anxiety in crowds. She gained weight, lost hair and was in physical pain. She had been prescribed medication and had sought other treatment, including trauma therapy.
Anglin had claimed that his orchestration of the terror campaign was protected by the First Amendment – a claim that was ultimately rejected by the court, allowing the case to move forward.
During an evidentiary hearing, the SPLC presented its arguments on damages and emotional distress through witnesses, including Gersh, her husband and one of her therapists. The evidence detailed how the attacks and threats on Gersh, her family and the Whitefish community have had an extreme and life-changing impact on all of their lives.
In his findings, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch, whose recommendations were ultimately adopted, said that based on the testimony presented at the evidentiary hearing, Gersh is entitled to:
- Economic damages in the amount of $220,680 for past lost earnings, medical expenses, and other expenses.
- Economic damages in the amount of $821,758 for future lost earning capacity.
- Non-economic damages in the amount of $1 million for past pain and suffering.
- Non-economic damages in the amount of $2 million for future pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
In addition to those damages, Lynch found in his ruling that Anglin acted with actual malice and found that a punitive damages award in the amount of $10,000,000, which is the maximum permitted under Montana law. Christensen fully adopted all recommendations.
Lynch also recommended that the court should issue a permanent injunction ordering Anglin to remove blog posts encouraging his readers to contact Gersh, her family and, especially, her son, including all photographs and images of the family and comment boards associated therewith from his website. The recommendation was also adopted.
The law firm of Morrison, Sherwood, Wilson, & Deola served as co-counsel.