A federal judge refused this week to throw out a lawsuit against neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer alleging it led a "terror campaign" against a Jewish real estate agent, Tanya Gersh, and the Southern Poverty Law Center tells the New York Times it expects civil case to now proceed to a trial.
The lawsuit accuses the Daily Stormer and its founder, racist troll Andrew Anglin, of mounting a coordinated harassment campaign against Gersh that eventually resulted in her family receiving over 700 messages including death threats and references to the Holocaust. Anglin filed for a dismissal of the suit on First Amendment grounds, but in a ruling on the motion, U.S. District Court Judge Dana L. Christensen wrote that Gersh is a private citizen rather than a public figure and that "the Court has thoroughly considered [Anglin’s] free speech arguments and finds that a decision for Anglin at this stage would, at minimum, be premature. "
The Times wrote that the lawsuit stems from an incident in 2016 in which Gersh-a real estate agent in white supremacist figurehead Richard Spencer's hometown of Whitefish, Montana-told Spencer's mother Sherry Spencer that she should repudiate her son's views and sell a building she owned there. According to legal documents, Sherry Spencer initially agreed with Gersh's advice before changing her mind, and Anglin later incited the Daily Stormer's readers to engage in a harassment campaign.
Per the Times:
… Ms. Spencer reversed course, and published a blog post on Medium, charging that Ms. Gersh had tried to threaten and extort her to sell the building and break with her son. Mr. Anglin then began writing and publishing his own articles calling for "a troll storm" against Ms. Gersh.
"Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda to attack and harm the mother of someone whom they disagree with," he wrote, according to the suit.
In the months that followed, the site published over 30 related posts-and the phone numbers, email addresses and social media profiles of Ms. Gersh, her husband and 12-year-old son, as well as friends and colleagues, the suit states … By the spring of 2017, the family had received more than 700 vulgar and hateful messages, including death threats, many referencing the Holocaust. Some phone messages consisted solely of the sound of gunshots.
Here's a sampling of those posts, by the Washington Post:
"Are you ready for an old fashioned Troll Storm?" Anglin wrote in a Dec. 16, 2016, post on the Daily Stormer website. The article, titled "Jews Targeting Richard Spencer's Mother for Harassment and Extortion-TAKE ACTION !," was the first of 30 about Gersh on the neo-Nazi site.
Anglin also relayed a set of instructions: "Just make your opinions known. Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda. "
"Anglin did not use speech about Gersh to raise awareness for issues consonant with the alt-right agenda," Christensen wrote in the ruling. "… Anglin explited the prejudices widely held among his readers to specifically target one individual."
Lawyer David Dinielli of the SPLC, which filed the case on Gersh's behalf in 2017, told the Times that the refusal to throw out the lawsuit "underscores what both we and our client have said from the beginning of this case-that online campaigns of hate , threats, and intimidation have no place in a civil society, and enjoy no protection under our Constitution. "
In a statement to the Post, he added: "There is no First Amendment right to call upon hundreds of thousands of readers to launch a public attack on a private individual with the intent of ruining her life."
Anglin's physical whereabouts have been unknown for nearly two years, the Times noted, and he has faced at least two prior lawsuits alleging similar tactics. A plaintiff in one of those suits, Muslim comedian Dean Obeidallah, told the paper Anglin never responded and his lawyers are preparing to file paperwork for a default judgment, though he does not expect to receive any money.[New York Times]