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Racist trolls may want to think twice before they unleash any kind of harassment campaign against a private citizen.
A federal magistrate in Montana on Monday recommended that Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, should pay $14 million to a Jewish woman whom he targeted in a “troll storm.” The recommendation now goes to the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Montana for their approval.
In a post on his website published December 2016, Anglin directed his followers to harass Tanya Gersh, a realtor in Rocky Mountain resort town Whitefish.
“Are y’all ready for an old fashioned Troll Storm?” Anglin wrote. “Because AYO — it’s that time, fam.”
Anglin’s troll army heeded his call — and made Gersh’s life a living nightmare.
The lawsuit against Anglin, brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, described how Gersh, her husband, and their 12-year-old son were terrorized by nonstop threatening phone calls, emails, text messages and social media posts, many of which contained violent anti-Semitic language, death threats, and references to the Holocaust.
One voicemail contained the sounds of gunshots. When the SPLC, with the help of a law firm, filed their complaint against Anglin in April 2017, Gersh and her family had received more than 700 threatening and harassing messages. The harassment has continued through the duration of the lawsuit.
Gersh said she started to have panic attacks that left her breathless and even caused her to throw up.
“I was frightened to the point that we couldn’t think straight.”
“I was frightened to the point that we couldn’t think straight,” Gersh told reporters last week. “We talked about waking our children in the middle of the night — to run from Nazis.”
In early 2017, Anglin organized an armed march in Whitefish which he said would end at Gersh’s home. According to the lawsuit, Anglin promoted the march with a photoshopped image showing pictures of Gersh, her son, and two other Jewish residents of Whitefish, in front of the Auschwitz concentration camp’s gate.
The march never happened. But Anglin’s threat had its desired effect: Gersh’s husband, Judah, testified that they left town that weekend.
Gersh’s counselor testified that she suffers from PTSD as a result of the incessant threats. In addition to the panic attacks, her symptoms have included hair loss, weight gain and joint pain, according to the lawsuit.
Richard Spencer's mother
The harassment campaign stemmed from a dispute between Gersh and Sherry Spencer, a resident of Whitefish and the mother of white nationalist leader Richard Spencer. Spencer became a national figure during the 2016 election, sparking a local backlash against his mother, who owned a commercial building in the town.
According to the lawsuit, Gersh learned of protests outside Sherry Spencer’s building and contacted the building’s commercial tenants to give them a heads-up. This resulted in Gersh speaking directly with Sherry Spencer. Spencer asked Gersh, “What do I do?” and according to the suit, she expressed remorse about stoking turmoil in the community.
Gersh said she advised Spencer to sell the building, make a donation, and release a statement disavowing her son’s views. According to the lawsuit, Spencer was amenable to Gersh’s suggestion, and asked to retain her as the real estate agent for the sale.
Then, Gersh says, Spencer went radio-silent. Weeks later, Spencer published a post on Medium, alleging that Gersh had tried to “threaten and extort her into agreeing to sell her building.” The post, which has since been deleted, sparked outrage among the far-right.
Anglin pounced, and mobilized his “troll army” against Gersh.
Federal Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch described Anglin and his followers’ actions as “atrocious.” In addition to recommending Anglin pay more than $14 million in damages, Lynch suggested that the Court issue a permanent injunction ordering Anglin wipe all posts and comments referencing Gersh and her family.
But whether Gersh and her family will ever get that money is a different story. Anglin has been on the run for years, and his whereabouts are unknown.
For years, federal employees tried, to no avail, to track him down and serve him with the lawsuit. Anglin claims that he is outside the U.S., and cannot return due to fears for his personal safety.
Cover: Tanya Gersh, a Montana real estate agent, embraces her father Lloyd Rosenstein following a hearing at the Russell Smith Federal Courthouse on Thursday, July 11, 2019, in Missoula. (Ben Allen/The Missoulian via AP)