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Attorney: $14 Million Judgment for MT Victim Could Curb Online Harassment

In 2016, Whitefish, Mont., residents became the target of an online anti-Semitic harassment campaign. (WikiCapa/Wikimedia Commons)
In 2016, Whitefish, Mont., residents became the target of an online anti-Semitic harassment campaign. (WikiCapa/Wikimedia Commons)
July 17, 2019

WHITEFISH, Mont. – A federal judge has recommended that the architect of a harassment campaign against a Whitefish family should pay them more than $14 million in damages. The large sum could discourage other online attackers.

Andrew Anglin, publisher of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, launched an anti-Semitic "troll storm" in 2016 against Tanya Gersh, her husband and her then-12-year-old son. David Dinielli, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit on Gersh's behalf, said Anglin routinely has skipped court dates, including last week. His location is unknown and Dinielli said he may spend the rest of his life outside the country.

"But there are many people here in the United States who may have the same kind of hate in their heart," Dinielli said, "and our hope and our expectation is that a $14 million judgment will make people think twice before they launch a similar attack on anyone else."

He said the threats began after a blog post by Sherry Spencer, mother of white supremacist Richard Spencer, that accused Gersh of extorting her to sell a building in Whitefish. Anglin wrote multiple posts on The Daily Stormer about this, targeting other Jewish residents of the town and even planning an armed march to Gersh's doorstep that never materialized.

Between December 2016 and April 2017, the Gersh family received more than 700 harassing messages, and Dinielli said those threatening messages continue, even today. He said Anglin never has disclosed his exact location because he says he fears for his safety.

"I will point out the irony of the fact that he is the one who says he's scared," Dinielli said, "when he's made a career launching attacks at people online designed specifically to make them fear their lives."

Federal Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch made the $14 million recommendation, but it has to be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen. Dinielli said he expects that to happen within the next two weeks.

The judge's recommendations are online at splcenter.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT