A Jewish woman in Montana is suing the founder of a neo-Nazi website for allegedly instigating an anti-Semitic "troll storm" targeting her and her family with hateful messages and death threats. In the federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday (18 April) Andrew Anglin founder and publisher of the Daily Stormer has been accused of provoking his site's followers to send a "tsunami of threats" to real estate agent Tanya Gersh, her husband and their 12-year-old son.
The complaint stems from a real estate squabble between Gersh and Sherry Spencer, mother of prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer. In December, Sherry accused Gersh of attempting to extort her into selling a building she owned in downtown Whitefish, Montana, as Spencer's family faced pressure to publicly condemn her son's beliefs.
"In what moral universe is it right for the 'sins' of the son to be visited upon the mother?" Sherry wrote in a Medium blog post in mid-December, adding that her family continues to face threats and online harassment.
Her son Richard tweeted a link of the blog with the message: "Nasty Tanya never lets ethics of common decency get in the way of a good deal."
Anglin later published the first of as many as 30 posts on The Daily Stormer repeating Spencer's claims along with the message: "Are y'all ready for old fashioned Troll Storm?"
The posts also published her contact information and included photographs of Gersh, her son and two other members of the Whitefield Jewish community superimposed on a photograph of the Aushwitz concentration camp with a yellow Star of David with the label "Jude".
According to the lawsuit, co-filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Gersh received more than 700 instances of harassment against her family, friends and colleagues, including "hateful and threatening anti-Semitic phone calls, voicemails, text messages, emails, letters, social media comments, and false online business reviews."
"Ratfaced criminals who play with fire tend to get thrown in the oven," one message allegedly read, while another message said, "You will be driven to the brink of suicide & We will be there to take pleasure in your pain & eventual end."
The lawsuit claims Gersh also received threatening phone calls at home as well, with some consisting solely of gunshots.
Her son reportedly received a tweet that read: "Psst kid, theres a free Xbox One inside this oven," along with the image of an open oven.
As a result, Gersh experienced "serious and severe emotional and physical distress" including symptoms such as panic attacks, anxiety, trouble sleeping, hair loss and physical pain. She also fears answering the phone, feels anxiety in crowds and is afraid to leave her home, the complaint states.
The lawsuit accuses Anglin of invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malice and violating the Montana Anti-Intimidation Act.
"Andrew Anglin knew he had an online army primed to attack with the click of a mouse," SPLC President Richard Cohen said in a statement. "We intend to hold him accountable for the suffering he has caused Ms. Gersh and to send a strong message to those who use their online platforms as weapons of intimidation."
While the SPLC filed multiple suits against hate group leaders in the past, Cohen said this is the first time the organisation has done so in "a digital context".
"In the old days, Andrew Anglin would have burned a cross on Tanya's front lawn," Cohen noted, as quoted by Los Angeles Times reports. "In the digital age, he launched a troll storm against her...It's going to be a precedent-setting case."