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White supremacist website hit with lawsuit over harassment campaign

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The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a lawsuit against the founder of white supremacist website The Daily Stormer on behalf of a Montana woman who was targeted in an anti-Semitic harassment campaign. The plaintiff, real estate agent Tanya Gersh, alleges that Andrew Anglin encouraged trolls to harass and threaten Gersh and her family in a series of Daily Stormer articles. The suit accuses Anglin of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as violating Montana’s anti-intimidation rules.

This case stems from a December incident involving Sherry Spencer, a resident of Whitefish, Montana, and mother of alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer. Sherry Spencer accused Gersh, who is Jewish, of “extorting” her as part of a larger backlash against her business and possible financial connections to her son. Anglin picked up this allegation and called for “an old fashioned troll storm” against Gersh and other Jewish citizens of Whitefish. While his post cautioned against “violence or threats of violence,” he posted her address and phone number, and encouraged readers in the area to “stop by” and express their disapproval. He also singled out Gersh’s husband and 12-year-old son.

The court filing claims that after the original post and dozens of follow-up stories, Gersh and her family received 700 instances of harassment via phone, postal mail, email, and social media. In addition to numerous anti-Semitic slurs, they included promises that Gersh would be “driven to the brink of suicide,” and that “ratfaced criminals who play with fire tend to get thrown in the oven,” as well as a Photoshopped image of Gersh being sprayed with gas. Others included veiled threats, like phone messages that consisted of “the sound of guns being fired.”

Gersh and the SPLC argue that Anglin’s continued calls to harass her, couched in explicit anti-Semitic language (including a claim that jews were “a vicious, evil race of hate-filled psychopaths”), amounted to “instruction and encouragement” for threats and harassment, explicitly designed to cause emotional distress. Anglin did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit.

The SPLC compares this case to its legal battles against hate groups that participated in violence, “adapted for the digital age.” However, legal repercussions for online harassment remain relatively rare, even for people who directly make legally actionable threats.