(CN) – A Jewish real estate agent in Montana on Tuesday sued the publisher of the anti-Semitic website Daily Stormer, claiming he and his army unleashed a troll storm of vicious attacks against her and her family.
Tanya Gersh sued Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin in Montana federal court on claims of invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malice and violations of Montana’s intimidation laws.
Gersh says that beginning in December 2016, Anglin began recruiting his Daily Stormer readers to call, email or visit her in Whitefish, Montana, after she was involved in a proposed real estate transaction with the mother of the founder of the “alt-right” white nationalist movement in America.
Richard Spencer is president and director of the National Policy Institute – an organization “dedicated to the heritage, identity and future of people of European descent in the United States and around the world.” The institute has helped coin the term “alt-right,” an offshoot of conservatism that includes racism and white nationalism.
Spencer lived in Whitefish, a resort town with a lake and a ski area close to Glacier National Park, for over a year before he and the town began receiving more attention after Spencer last fall praised Donald Trump at an election event, saying “Hail Trump” and performing a Nazi-salute.
The public backlash in the small town of about 6,500 residents was swift. There was talk of people picketing his mother Sherry Spencer’s commercial building in Whitefish, so Sherry sought Gersh’s help to sell the property, the complaint says.
After Sherry Spencer and Gersh discontinued conversations on the possible property sale, Sherry posted a statement online saying Gersh had tried to blackmail her into selling the property and donating part of the proceeds to human-rights causes. That’s when Anglin began recruiting his online followers to harass and intimidate Gersh, according to the lawsuit.
Articles on the Daily Stormer “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 lawsuit says. “Mr. Anglin made his initial call to arms in a December 16, 2016 article that urged “Let’s Hit Em Up. Are y’all ready for an old-fashioned Troll Storm? Because AYO [hey you] – it’s that time, fam.”
John Morrison, the lead attorney representing Gersh, is a Whitefish native and former state auditor. The Southern Poverty Law Center is also part of Gersh’s legal team.
Morrison, whose father is a former Montana Supreme Court judge, said in an interview, “I was raised around the law and the courts and taught that our legal system was where regular people could achieve justice. I’ve spent a lot of my career fighting for rank-and-file Montanans and I’m very proud to be representing Tanya Gersh in this case. She is a very brave woman to bring suit after what she has already been through.”
Morrison said the Montana Constitution makes individual dignity a fundamental right.
“Art. II Sec. 4 is perhaps the strongest anti-discrimination provision in any state constitution,” Morrison said. “While we have not asserted a constitutional cause of action, our Individual Dignity clause shows that treating each other with respect and not attacking each other on the basis of race, religion, gender or other classifications is a deeply rooted Montana value.”
Morrison said the rise in white nationalism got personal when Anglin began attacking Gersh, whom he has known for 20 years.
“Andrew Anglin’s army, at his command, showered the Gersh family with emails, text messages, voicemails, tweets, and internet posts. These messages were the most vile, threatening and hateful attacks that you can imagine. There were over 700 of them. They even attacked Tanya and [husband] Judah’s 12-year-old son, urging him to climb into an oven.
“When the Gershes talked to me about this case, I was eager to get involved. I don’t want anybody in our state to ever go through this again. I want to put an end to it. These guys are racist thugs and cowards. They operate by flooding the internet with lies and threats. They are going to find out that Montanans do not put up with this stuff.”
Morrison said he and the other attorneys on the case are representing Gersh pro bono, “but we will seek significant damages both to compensate the Gershes and to punish this heinous conduct. The ultimate goal of our case is to put an end to this and make sure it does not happen again.”
According to Gersh’s lawsuit, Anglin urged his followers to visit Gersh in person: “And hey – if you’re in the area, maybe you should stop by and tell her in person what you think of her actions,” he wrote.
Montana began seeing an increase in white nationalism and hate speech during President Donald Trump’s campaign. Anglin had twice proposed bringing his legions of followers to Whitefish for an armed protest, but neither of the protests materialized.
The lawsuit says that after the second march failed to coalesce, Anglin wrote this in a Jan. 19, 2017, article: “The Daily Stormer was attempting peaceful assembly in Whitefish, Montana, when we were shut down by kikes. These people are terrorists. At least most of them are. Paid rioters, Jews and other psychopaths.”
According to the Daily Stormer, Anglin said Tuesday he has been banned from streaming his Radical Agenda video show on YouTube and Facebook.
The threats, intimidation and harassment on Anglin’s website are common tactics of the white supremacist movement, according to Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network.
“This suit correctly points out that out-of-state online radical right-wing activists tried to punish the entire town of Whitefish with his own white supremacist beliefs,” she said in a statement. “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. Montanans also value justice, and this suit seeks justice for the Gersh family and people of Whitefish.”
The Whitefish City Council – which passed a nondiscrimination ordinance last year – responded to the attacks on Gersh by issuing a proclamation that it is against all forms of hate in its community. Even Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, spoke out against the hate speech in the state.
Anglin, writing on the Daily Stormer website, urged his readers to do the following:
“Write a postcard with a negative, hateful message and send it to Love Lives Here at P.O. Box 204, Whitefish, MT 59937. [The mailman will deliver these]. Buy or borrow a copy of “Mein Kampf” and host a story hour for your neighborhood kids. Share the story of what happened in Billings, MT in the ’90s when they rallied around a Jewish family to harass goyim. Get a Nazi flag for your window (window cling or candle holder) to show solidarity with your Aryan brothers and sisters during the Hanukkah holiday (Dec 24th – Jan 1st). Print off a pdf of the Nazi swastika logo and post it in your car or home or business.”
Anglin provided phone numbers, email addresses and links to social-media profiles for Gersh, her immediate family members including her son, her friends and her colleagues. The lawsuit says Anglin provided his followers with online discussion forums where the followers could trade ideas and information for carrying out the harassment.
“Just make your opinions known. Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda,” Anglin wrote in his Dec 16, 2016 article, according to the suit. “This is very important. Calling these people up and/or sending them a quick message is very easy. It is very important that we make them feel the kind of pressure they are making us feel.”
Anglin did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Gersh seeks general, special and compensatory damages from Anglin, the only named defendant.