I am so glad that this family of racist terrorism has decided to sue. Thank God for the SPLC.
This harassment is nothing short of terrorism, emotional, psychological terrorism, and furthermore it is hard to believe that this is happening in America.
Terrorism is not something that is protected under the Constitution, Freedom of speech does not mean people can terrorize others with intent to cause harm.
In my opinion if the son is living in the house of his mother while terrorizing others then her home has become a refuge for terrorists.
If it were my son he would have been kicked out long ago.
We cannot live peacefully with terrorists in our midst. Taking them to court is the right route. May God be with this family that has been terrorized by racist/terrorists.
Anonymous online and phone harassment – including threat of an antisemitic march – targeted Tanya Gersh and her family in small town of Whitefish
Downtown Whitefish on Monday. Photograph: Lois Beckett for the Guardian
Tuesday 18 April 2017 13.27 EDT Last modified on Tuesday 18 April 2017 13.59 EDT
A Jewish woman in Montana who was the target of weeks of harassment by neo-Nazi internet trolls is suing the instigator of the “troll storm”, asking for damages after receiving more than 700 threatening phone calls, voicemails, emails and other messages.
The attacks on Tanya Gersh and her family made international headlines after Andrew Anglin, who runs a neo-Nazi website, promised to stage an armed antisemitic march through the streets of Whitefish, a remote Montana town where Richard Spencer, America’s most prominent white nationalist, sometimes lives.
The threat of an armed march was just one part of the deluge of anonymous online and phone harassment for weeks this winter targeting Gersh, her husband and 12-year-old son, a local human rights group founded to oppose neo-Nazis, and a series of local businesses deemed sympathetic to Jewish residents.
The attacks followed Anglin’s claims that Gersh had tried to engage in an “extortion racket” against Spencer’s mother to punish her for her son’s political beliefs.
“I once answered the phone and all I heard were gunshots,” Gersh told reporters in a phone call on Tuesday morning, her voice trembling.
“I was told I would be driven to the brink of suicide. There were endless references to being thrown in the oven, being gassed.”
Some messages were directed to Gersh’s employers, urging them to fire her for “for her unprofessional, illegal, and anti-white conduct”, according to the complaint. Others were directed to her 12-year-old son’s Twitter account, where one message read: “Psst kid, theres a free Xbox One inside this oven.”
Images posted online included photographs of Tanya, her son, and other Jewish residents Photoshopped over an image of a concentration camp.
“There was one night I came home, and my husband was sitting in a completely dark house and had suitcases in our room and he said he had no idea what kind of danger we were in,” Gersh told reporters, her voice breaking with emotion. “We thought we should probably wake the kids in the middle of the night and run for safety.”
She said she struggled with what to tell her two boys, incredulous that she and her husband might have to tell their children that “we’re running the middle of the night because we’re Jewish”.
“This was so far beyond harassment. This was really terrorism,” she said.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), at least three far-right murderers have been readers of Anglin’s neo-Nazi website: Dylann Roof, who massacred nine people at a historic African American church in Charleston; Thomas Mair, who murdered the British MP Jo Cox; and James Jackson, who was charged with murdering a randomly chosen black man in New York City with a large knife in March.
Since the troll attack, Gersh said, she has been unable to work as a realtor, worried that “I can’t expose my clients to potential harassment”. She sees a trauma therapist twice a week, is crippled by anxiety, and often falls asleep and wakes up weeping, she said.
Anglin’s antisemitic march, originally set for Martin Luther King Day in January, never happened. Instead, townspeople handed out cups of matzo ball soup on a street corner, and counter-protesters, including a group of anti-fascists from a local university, wandered through mostly empty streets.
But the damage to Gersh and her family was lasting, she said. The lawsuit, filed by the SPLC on Tuesday, asks for unspecified damages “for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of Montana’s Anti-Intimidation Act”.
“In the old days, Anglin would have burned a cross on Tanya’s lawn to intimidate her,” the SPLC president, Richard Cohen, said. By suing Anglin and attempting to win a “large damage award”, Cohen said, the group hoped to make it riskier to carry out coordinated, anonymous online attacks.
While the SPLC has filed many lawsuits against hate group leaders, this was the first time the group had done it in “a digital context”, Cohen said.
Anglin did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Cohen said he expected Anglin to raise “first amendment issues” in his defense.
The lawsuit against Anglin is the latest turn in a bizarre and sometimes terrifying series of events that followed the small Montana town’s attempt to repudiate a local far-right extremist.
It also puts a spotlight on the relationship between Spencer and Anglin, an online troll who has said he is trying to radicalize American teenage boys with a website crammed with a constantly updating stream of Holocaust jokes, racist screeds and opportunities to attack the site’s enemies as part of online harassment campaigns.
Anglin has told the Guardian that media attacks against him and his website only make him stronger, by driving increased attention and traffic to his site, which the SPLC called “the most popular English-language website of the radical right”.
Spencer rose to prominence last year as the face of the Trump-supporting “alt-right”, a fractured group of far-right populists, racists, antisemites and misogynists. He became infamous for shouting “Hail Trump! Hail Victory!” at a white nationalist conference after Trump’s election, which several supporters greeted with the Nazi salute, a sequence of events that Spencer later said were “clearly done in a spirit of irony”.
At Trump’s inauguration in Washington, a masked protester punched Spencer in the face, a move that sparked a debate on the ethics of punching a Nazi.
Spencer used to spend part of the year living with his mother in Whitefish, a picturesque ski town near Glacier National Park, and used the town as a backdrop last year for several media interviews about his white nationalist views.
Worried that Whitefish’s association with Spencer would tarnish the town’s reputation, which is largely dependent on tourism, some local leaders and advocates pushed through an official condemnation of Spencer’s views in December. On Facebook, some local residents had discussed going further and staging some kind of protest of a building that Spencer’s mother owned in town.
In a local television news report in December and later in a long online post under her name, Spencer’s mother, Sherry Spencer, claimed that she was being punished for her son’s political views. The online post said Gersh, a local realtor, talked to Sherry Spencer about potential protests at her building and suggested that she sell it and donate the proceeds to a local human rights group while denouncing her son. Sherry Spencer said these were “terrible threats” and said that Gersh and local human rights groups “appeared to seek financial benefit from threats of protests and reputation damage”.
“In what moral universe is it right for the ‘sins’ of the son to be visited upon the mother?” she wrote.
The SPLC’s complaint says Sherry Spencer originally called Gersh for help, asked her advice on what to do about the potential protests, and then asked Gersh to be the realtor to sell the building. Later, according to the complaint, Spencer got “cold feet” and said she wanted to proceed with the sale independently. Gersh agreed. Spencer gave her no notice before posting a public attack online, a “twisted” version of their interactions, the complaint alleges, suggesting that the post was actually written by Richard Spencer, not his mother.
In late January, the FBI told the Guardian it was reviewing the incident between the two women but had not determined whether it would open an official investigation.
In mid-December, a local news story about the spat was picked up by online trolls, including Anglin, who featured the story on his site the Daily Stormer as an outrageous example of “harassment and extortion”, and urged his supporters to “take action”.
“Are y’all ready for an old fashioned Troll Storm?” he asked.
“NO VIOLENCE OR THREATS OF VIOLENCE OR ANYTHING EVEN CLOSE TO THAT,” Anglin wrote. “Just make your opinions known. Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda.”
The post included phone numbers, e-mail addresses, addresses and social media handles for Gersh, her husband, her young son, and the founders of a local anti-Nazi human rights group.