The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against the founder of a neo-Nazi website who led a campaign of harassment against a Jewish woman in Whitefish.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula, the lawsuit says Andrew Anglin coordinated a “repulsive, threatening campaign of anti-Semitic harassment directed at Tanya Gersh, a Jewish real estate agent living in Whitefish, Montana.”
The 63-page lawsuit asserts claims for “invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of Montana’s Anti-Intimidation Act. It seeks unspecified general damages, as well as special, compensatory, consequential, nominal and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees and court costs.
It was filed by Helena lawyers John Morrison and Robert Farris-Olsen, working with three lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center, including Morris Dees, a co-founder of the SPLC and its chief trial counsel.
The lawsuit said the “terror campaign, known as a ‘troll storm,’” was launched by Anglin, “a well-known neo-Nazi operating out of Ohio.” The suit also identifies Anglin as the publisher of the Daily Stormer, “a neo-Nazi web site with hundreds of thousands of visitors each month that takes its name from the infamous anti-Semitic Nazi paper Der Stürmer. ”
Anglin, the lawsuit continued, “turned his horde of anti-Semitic fanatics loose on Ms. Gersh in a series of Daily Stormer articles he started publishing in December 2016. These articles caused his followers to overwhelm Ms. Gersh with hundreds of hateful and threatening anti-Semitic phone calls, voicemails, text messages, emails, letters, social media comments, and false online business reviews.”
The campaign started, according to the lawsuit, after Gersh became involved in efforts by residents of Whitefish to distance themselves from Richard Spencer, an “infamous white nationalist” whose mother, Sherry Spencer, is a part-time Whitefish resident and owns a multi-use building there.
Spencer gained a nationwide audience shortly after the election of Donald Trump, when he was featured in a video of a rally at which he celebrated Trump’s victory with shouts of “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”
Discontent with the Spencer family “had been simmering for years” among residents of Whitefish, the lawsuit said, but came to the fore after the video went viral. And because Sherry Spencer did not seem to have disavowed her son’s racist views and continued to support him, the suit continued, there was talk of protesting in front of the building owned by Sherry Spencer.
Some of those people asked Gersh, as a real estate agent, to get involved, and as a result, Gersh and others got in touch with commercial tenants in the building and warned them of the possible protest. One tenant suggested Gersh call Sherry Spencer, which she reluctantly did, according to the suit.
When Gersh did speak with her, Sherry Spencer “lamented the trouble her building was causing” and asked Gersh what she should do. Gersh, the lawsuit said, advised her to sell the building, make a donation “and issue a statement disavowing her son’s views.”
Spencer later got “cold feet,” the suit said, gradually backing away from personal involvement but allowing Gersh to go forward with trying to sell the building.
“About two weeks later, and without any warning to Ms. Gersh, Ms. Spencer published a blog post on the website Medium,” the suit said. There she accused Gersh of trying to threaten and extort her into selling the building and denouncing her son’s views.
A day later, Anglin began posting articles on the Daily Stormer, “parroting Ms. Spencer’s allegations against Ms. Gersh and calling for a troll storm against her. This first post by Mr. Anglin immediately triggered the deluge of threatening, hateful, and harassing communications Ms. Gersh has endured.”
Much of the rest of the lawsuit goes on to detail the threats made against Gersh, as well as threats against her husband and her 12-year-old son, called by Anglin a “creepy little faggot” and a “scamming little kike.”
“As soon as Mr. Anglin’s December 16, 2016 article went live,” the suit said, “Ms. Gersh and her family began to receive hundreds of threatening communications, including phone calls, voicemails, text messages, emails, letters, social media comments, and malicious Christmas cards. At last count, Ms. Gersh had received more than 700 instances of harassment against her family as a result of Mr. Anglin’s troll storm.”
“These communications contained countless slurs and threats designed to inflict maximum emotional damage on Ms. Gersh,” the suit said. “'[O]ven-dodging Christ killer,’ ‘Worthless fuckin kike,’ and ‘slimy jewess,’ appeared among scores of other repugnant epithets.”
In a press release, Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, applauded the filing of the lawsuit.
“Anglin doesn’t represent the values of equity and inclusivity that most Montanans displayed when they chose to support the people of Whitefish who were targeted by this hate,” Carroll Rivas said. “Montanans also value justice, and this suit seeks justice for the Gersh family and people of Whitefish.”
The lawsuit included a quote from Will Randall, board chair of Love Lives Here and the Human Rights Network.
“While we are working on the ground to counter hate and inequality, kudos to SPLC for taking it to the courts.,” he said. “The people of Whitefish, Jewish people, human rights supporters and all those targeted by hate deserve justice and peace.”