Whitefish woman awarded $14M after neo-Nazi ‘troll storm’

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FILE - In this undated file photo provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Tanya Gersh poses for a photo. A neo-Nazi website publisher's travels outside the U.S. don't warrant dismissal of a lawsuit over an anti-Semitic online trolling campaign he orchestrated against a Montana family, a federal magistrate judge said in an order Wednesday, March 21, 2018. U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch said there is sufficient evidence that The Daily Stormer's publisher, Andrew Anglin, was legally "domiciled" in Ohio when Montana real estate agent Gersh sued him last April. (Dan Chung/Southern Poverty Law Center via AP, File)

Federal Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch issued a ruling Monday recommending that Andrew Anglin, publisher of a major neo-Nazi website, should pay more than $14 million in damages to Tanya Gersh of Whitefish, who received a relentless barrage of antisemitic threats and messages from Anglin and his followers.

“The court today made clear that this type of conduct is intolerable in a civil society and that those who would engage in it must pay the price,” David Dinielli, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, said in a press release issued late Monday.

The federal lawsuit was filed in April 2017 by the Law Center and Morrison, Sherwood, Wilson, & Deola on behalf of Gersh. It described how Anglin used his web forum, the Daily Stormer — an extremist website — to publish 30 articles urging his followers to launch a “troll storm” against her. Gersh, her husband and then-12-year-old son received more than 700 harassing messages between December 2016 and April 2017 when the complaint was filed. The campaign escalated to the point that in early 2017, Anglin planned an armed march in Whitefish that he threatened would end at Gersh’s home. Anglin promoted the march, which never materialized, with an image that superimposed Gersh, her son and two other Jewish residents on a picture of the front gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp, according to the press release.

The threats have taken an emotional and physical toll on Gersh, the release noted, including panic attacks and a fear of answering the phone.

In May 2018, Lynch ordered that the Law Center’s lawsuit against Anglin be allowed to go forward, rejecting Anglin’s claim that his orchestration of a terror campaign against a Jewish woman was protected by the First Amendment. In November 2018, Chief Judge Dana L. Christensen of the U.S. District Court in Montana accepted this recommendation, ruling against Anglin in November 2018 and allowing the case to continue moving forward.

During an evidentiary hearing on July 11, the Southern Poverty Law Center presented its arguments on damages and emotional distress through witnesses, including Gersh, her husband and one of her therapists.

In his findings, Lynch said that based on the testimony presented at the evidentiary hearing, Gersh is entitled to:

• Economic damages in the amount of $220,680 for past lost earnings, medical expenses, and other expenses;

• Economic damages in the amount of $821,758 for future lost earning capacity;

• Non-economic damages in the amount of $1 million for past pain and suffering, and;

• Non-economic damages in the amount of $2 million for future pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

In addition to those damages, Lynch found in his ruling that Anglin acted with actual malice and added a punitive damages award in the amount of $10 million is warranted to punish Anglin and deter him from engaging in such conduct in the future.

Gersh said in her statement that justice has been served.

“A clear message has been sent to Anglin and other extremists: No one should be terrorized for simply being who they are, and no one should never be afraid for being who they are,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that this never happens to anyone else. I hope that the strength that I’ve shown, through the support of my family, community and everyone who has sent positive messages my way, that with love and support, you can conquer the most horrible and hateful messages with positivity and that you can win.”

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