December 8, 2017
Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin’s legal team plays the First Amendment card in defense of his harassment campaign against a Jewish family
by Alex Primiani
Earlier this year, after Donald Trump’s inauguration, several American cities and towns protested against the man and what he represented. Some went as far as rooting out the white nationalism in their neighborhoods… and one such place, Whitefish, Montana, very nearly succeeded.
But the story of Whitefish is more complex than most. For the residents of this small and otherwise welcoming tourist destination, the growing attention from white nationalists and neo-Nazis began a few years ago, with public squawking by notorious alt-righter Richard Spencer, who lives there. It hasn’t stopped.
Fast-forward to earlier this year, when Tanya Gersh, a Jewish real estate agent, and her family came under attack from a “troll army” directed by the Daily Stormer, an online neo-Nazi newsletter popular among white nationalists. Andrew Anglin, the Stormer’s founder and editor, took a particular interest in spearheading the hate.
Now, nearly a full year after the virtual attack, and after a lengthy attempt to find him, the Gershes, with support from the Southern Poverty Law Center, have sued Anglin for invasion of privacy and infliction of intentional emotional distress, as well as under the Montana Anti-Intimidation Act.
According to Tristan Scott of the Flathead Beacon, Anglin’s legal team filed a motion to dismiss the case two weeks ago, claiming he had a constitutional right to voice his opinions about this family, and asserting, “Even Nazi expression, no matter the psychic harm on Jewish residents, is nonetheless protected speech.”
Anglin’s threats to the Gersh family came as a whole litany of online attacks through the forums of the Daily Stormer, with Anglin himself even urging readers to head to the family’s home in person, Scott reports.
The lawsuit contends that Anglin coordinated the campaign of harassment by posting contact information for Tanya Gersh, her husband and the couple’s 12-year-old son, calling on his readers to drum up an “old fashioned Troll storm.”
“And hey — if you’re in the area, maybe you should stop by and tell her in person what you think of her actions,” Anglin’s initial post reads.
The SPLC has prevailed in numerous anti-harassment suits; what makes this one unusual, according to Scott, is that it “stands out as one of the first cases to go after someone who coordinated a campaign of online harassment.”
For Gersh’s lawyers, though, Anglin’s targeted and continued threats against the family clearly fall outside First Amendment protections. Scott interviewed Steve Freeman, legal affairs director for the Anti-Defamation League, who told him, “In my view, it is pretty clear that the First Amendment does not protect this kind of speech… These are communications directly fired at an intended victim that are designed to humiliate and embarrass and frighten, and that is not protected First Amendment speech.”
A December date has been set for a preliminary pretrial conference at the US District Court in Missoula.
Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.