Does the U.S. Constitution grant a coalition of far-rights activists the right to conduct harassment campaigns against their follow citizens? This was the argument that was presented to a federal judge last week when the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer attempted to claim their “terror campaign” against Jewish real estate agent, Tanya Gersh, was a constitutional right protected under First Amendment grounds, The New York Times reports.
In his ruling for the U.S. District Court of Montana, which ultimately denied the website’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Judge Dana Christensen argued the site’s publisher, famed neo-Nazi troll Andrew Anglin, mounted an online army of around 700 activists who sent threatening messages to the private citizen and her Jewish family. Anglin attempted to claim this coordinated effort, which resulted in Gersh receiving pervasive death threats calling for her to be exterminated in another Holocaust, was an example of press liberties supposedly defended under the Constitution.
“The Court has thoroughly considered [Anglin’s] free speech arguments and finds that a decision for Anglin at this stage would, at minimum, be premature,” Christensen wrote Wednesday. “Montana’s Anti-Intimidation Act creates a cause of action for ‘an individual or organization who is attempting to exercise a legally protected right and who is injured, harassed, or aggrieved by a threat or intimidation’…” he continues, agreeing with the finding of the case’s preceding Judge Jeremiah Lynch who said “Gersh has alleged facts showing that she was attempting to exercise her legally protected rights to privacy and to freely practice her religion at the time of Anglin’s allegedly wrongful conduct.” Their argument was as a private citizen, Gersh’s state right to privacy doesn’t conflict with higher First Amendment values.
The Times writes the harassment campaign began during the fall of 2016 when Sherry Spencer, mother of alt-right provocateur Richard Spencer, was advised by the real estate agent to repudiate her son’s far-right beliefs based on her building “facing boycotts related to her son’s notoriety” from his espoused pro-white nationalist rhetoric. Ms. Spencer initially agreed to the sale, but changed her mind for undisclosed reason later down the track, writing in a Medium post which labelled this counsel a form of “extortion”.
Once this incident was discovered by the editors of The Daily Stormer, the website published a series of articles intent on having their readership both dox and intimidate Gersh’s family for merely a disagreement in her use of free speech in the workplace. “Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda to attack and harm the mother of someone whom they disagree with,” Anglin wrote across an obsessive 30+ article span, according to the lawsuit. “This is the Jews for you, people. They are a vicious, evil race of hate-filled psychopaths.”
As a publication, TrigTent often makes strides to cite the words of our reported subjects, completely in context with document citations, to allow for independent curation among readers. Due to the nature of The Daily Stormer’s content, we refuse to link these archived articles as they contain highly sensitive information regarding the Gersh family, such as phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses and social media profiles, which the lawsuit argued placed her husband and 12-year-old son at risk.
“You should have died in the Holocaust with the rest of your people,” one of the presented emails read, according to a report from The Washington Post. “You are a disgusting, vile Jew. This is OUR country… you’re merely living here (for now).” This campaign apparently continued into the Spring of 2017 when the family continued to receive hundreds of text messages consisting of anti-Semitic references and answering machines filled with the sounds of gunshots.
Anglin’s audience of neo-Nazi activist is not a stable readership committed to the social contract and the golden rule of mutual peace in the face of disagreement, but a violent radical base ready to intimidate their fellow citizens into forfeiting their civil liberties. This campaign was no act of genuine press inquiry to hold a public representative to account, but a form of grassroots intimidation to threaten private citizens into silence by the bullet. This is the way of psychopathic fascists for you, people. Their dehumanizing narrative of some vicious, evil, hate-filled enemy as means to sustain their victim complex is just an example of pure projection, and the constitution doesn’t excuse their meme of allowing this tolerance for the intolerable.
“Anglin did not use speech about Gersh to raise awareness for issues consonant with the alt-right agenda…” Christensen later wrote in the ruling. “Anglin exploited the prejudices widely held among his readers to specifically target one individual. The Court concludes that, at this stage of the litigation, it cannot agree with Anglin that his speech was indisputably tethered to Gersh’ s conduct in engaging in a matter of public controversy.”
Richard Cohen, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center who filed the lawsuit on Gersh’s behalf, released a statement to The Post detailing the evolving methods racist radicals intimidate their victims. “In the old days,” he argues, “maybe the Klan would burn a cross on your lawn to intimidate you. Nowadays neo-Nazis have other ways to harass and intimidate.”
“[This decision] underscores what both we and our client have said from the beginning of this case — that online campaigns of hate, threats, and intimidation have no place in a civil society, and enjoy no protection under our Constitution. There is no First Amendment right to call upon hundreds of thousands of readers to launch a public attack on a private individual with the intent of ruining her life.”