Neo-Nazi website founder forfeits defense in ‘troll storm’ suit by Whitefish family
(Courthouse News) – The publisher of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website who unleashed a “troll storm” on a Jewish family in Montana failed to show up for a deposition in New York, leading to an entry of default against him Tuesday.
Andrew Anglin publishes the Daily Stormer, a modern-day version of the Nazi-era anti-Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer. Tanya Gersh, a Realtor in the small town of Whitefish, Montana, sued Anglin in April 2017 claiming Anglin urged his followers to harass Gersh and her family.
Gersh’s claims against Anglin included invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violations of Montana’s anti-intimidation law.
According to the lawsuit, Gersh had been in a proposed real estate deal with Sherry Spencer, mother of Richard Spencer, leader of the white nationalist organization National Policy Institute.
Richard Spencer is known for coining the term “alt-right,” a movement that criticizes multiculturalism, women, Jews, Muslims, the LGBT community and other minorities.
Following Donald Trump’s win in the 2016 presidential election, Richard Spencer gave a speech that praised the results of the election and garnered national attention when he stated, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”
Richard Spencer lives part-time in Whitefish. Sherry Spencer owned a condominium project in Whitefish, and when Richard Spencer began his rise to notoriety, Gersh says she urged Sherry Spencer to sell her condo and donate a portion of the proceeds of the sale to the Montana Human Rights Network to avoid a public backlash through demonstrations and picketing. Gersh would be the Realtor on the sale, the lawsuit said.
In a blog post, Sherry Spencer claimed she was being coerced to sell her building and to use Gersh as the agent. According to the lawsuit, she wrote, “She relayed to me that if I did not sell my building, 200 protesters and national media would show up outside – which would drive down the property value – until I complied. Gersh’s other conditions included that I make a public denunciation of my son in a statement written by the Montana Human Rights Network and that I make a donation to this organization from the sale of the property.”
Soon after this announcement, Anglin began his online efforts to attack Gersh. Thousands of emails, phone calls, text messages and letters followed, attacking Gersh and her family, Gersh said in her lawsuit.
Anglin’s “troll storm” was a “coordinated, repulsive, threatening campaign of anti-Semitic harassment directed at Tanya Gersh,” Gersh said in the suit. “Mr. Anglin turned his horde of anti-Semitic fanatics loose on Ms. Gersh in a series of Daily Stormer articles he started publishing in December 2016.”
Anglin claimed he never advised his readers of the Daily Stormer to harass or intimidate Gersh.
According to the lawsuit, Anglin wrote on the Daily Stormer: “Just make your opinions known. Tell them you are sickened by their Jewish agenda.
“This is very important. Calling these people up and/or sending them a quick message is very easy. It is very important we make them feel the kind of pressure they are making us feel.
“And hey – if you’re in the area, maybe you should stop by and tell her in person what you think of her actions.”
On Monday, nearly two years after the case was first brought in federal court in Missoula, Anglin’s attorney Marc Randazza filed Anglin’s answer to Gersh’s complaint. In it, Anglin said Gersh brought the “troll storm” on herself by thrusting herself into the public spotlight as a limited-purpose public figure.
Anglin also claimed lack of jurisdiction in the case, since he does not live in the United States, and that he had never been properly served with the lawsuit. He said any intrusion on Gersh was voluntary on her part, as she willfully checked emails and voice messages, and the posts on his website were not with malice.
Before filing the answer, Randazza – a First Amendment attorney based in Las Vegas – asked U.S. District Judge Jeremiah Lynch to be dismissed as Anglin’s attorney, claiming Anglin has failed to fully cooperate in the case. Lynch dismissed Randazza’s motion as moot with the default order.
Throughout the discovery process, Anglin claimed he was unable to supply most documents since he lives outside of the United States, and refused to share his physical address because he fears for his life. According to the lawsuit, Anglin lived in Cambodia at the time the suit was filed in April 2017.
Earlier in the case Gersh’s attorneys at the Southern Poverty Law Center and John Morrison, a partner with Morrison, Sherwood Wilson and Deola, in Helena, Montana, sought sanctions against Anglin for failing to cooperate during discovery and provide requested documents. Anglin had sought to have many of his documents viewed “in camera,” or in private.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said Anglin had raised $151,305 online for his legal defense.
Morrison did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Randazza said it’s unfortunate that the case won’t be tried.
“Everybody loses,” he said, noting Gersh doesn’t get a decision that vindicates her and the public loses because the line between protected speech and hate speech continues to blur.
“It is unfortunate that this First Amendment principle won’t be hashed out,” Randazza said.
He said there will likely be a “very large” award of damages to Gersh, although it will “be a check no one can cash.”
Randazza said he doesn’t know where Anglin lives but knew that if Anglin did not show up for his deposition in New York, he would face consequences.
“The court was very generous in telling Anglin what he had to do,” Randazza said. “It was a foreseeable consequence. When a federal judge says jump, you jump.”