By Jared P. Moore
Andrew Anglin is the editor of the Daily Stormer, a commentary and message board website for American neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and Holocaust denial, that advocates for the genocide of Jews. Anglin is known in the alt-right community for orchestrating what it calls the “Troll Army,” which is involved in internet trolling of figures with whom Anglin disagrees politically. In the past year, the Daily Stormer has had multiple lawsuits brought against it for similar offenses, and Anglin once again finds himself back in court with a suit brought against him for an invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violations of Montana’s Anti-Intimidation Act. With the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and attorney J. Richard Cohen, Tanya Gersh, a Jewish real estate agent, brought this suit against the Daily Stormer and Andrew Anglin.
In December 2017, Anglin began his “troll storm” against Gersh that led to this suit by urging hundreds of thousands of readers to harass the Jewish woman and her family. Anglin called his readers to action through a post on the Daily Stormer titled “Jews Targeting Richard Spencer’s Mother for Harassment and Extortion — TAKE ACTION!” In the post-Anglin said, “Are y’all ready for an old-fashioned Troll Storm?… Just make your opinions known. Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda.” Anglin went on to publish Gersh’s personal contact information online, including phone numbers and email addresses for not only her but also her family and friends.
According to court documents, by Spring 2017, the family had received more than 700 violent and threatening communications. These communications ranged from death threats to phone calls that consisted only of the sound of gunshots being fired. Anglin went a step further and even targeted Gersh’s 12-year-old son. Anglin posted an image with Gersh and her son’s face superimposed on a photograph of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
All of the hate speech and online harassment directed towards Gersh and her family led to the suit brought against Anglin and a ruling to deny a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Dana L. Christensen, the chief judge for United States District Court in Missoula, Montana, wrote that Tanya Gersh was a private citizen, not a public figure and that the publisher, Andrew Anglin, incited his followers to harass her as part of a personal campaign. Anglin argued that the First Amendment protects his posts on the Daily Stormer and that he could not be held responsible for his readers’ actions. Judge Christensen disagreed and held that speech in encouraging anti-Semitic harassment was not entitled to First Amendment protection. In her decision, Judge Christensen noted that Anglin’s attack on Gersh was not to inform the public about a matter of public concern, but instead, the evidence seemed to show that Anglin goaded his readers, anticipating their reaction to his call to arms. Judge Christensen emphasized that “Anglin exploited the prejudices widely held among his readers to specifically target one individual.”
This ruling does not end the case, which will proceed to discovery and trial phases, where Gersh’s lawyers still must prove that Anglin is liable for invasion of privacy, among other claims. While this is only a small victory in a much larger case, if litigation is successful it could offer an avenue for recourse for victims of online harassment and trolling.
Critics of this First Amendment ruling, like Anglin’s attorney, Marc Randazza, believe that this decision is dangerous for free speech. While opening the door to interpreting the First Amendment can potentially lead to a slippery slope, I believe that this decision is a step in the right direction, and will only help to eliminate online harassment and the individuals who believe there is no recourse for the comments they make while hiding behind their keyboards.
Student Bio: Jared Moore is a 2019 Graduate of Suffolk University Law School. He served as a staff member on the Journal of High Technology. Jared holds a B.S. in English and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2014.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.