Judge rules neo-Nazi should pay $14M to Whitefish woman

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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. “Even more, this ruling symbolizes a victory for our client, Tanya Gersh, who refused to cower in the face of Anglin’s hate. Rather, Gersh has shown that she, her family, and her community can stand up to hate and antisemitism, and that they can defeat it.”

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. Gersh has continued to receive harassing and threatening messages in the two and a half years since the initial onslaught.

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. Over the past two and a half years, she has continued to experience panic attacks and is afraid to answer the phone. At times, she still goes to bed in tears and wakes up crying without explanation. She has said also feels anxiety in crowds, and has been prescribed medication and has sought other treatment, including trauma therapy.

“I have learned that I’m never going to be the same person that I was before Anglin and his troll army started to terrorize me,” Gersh said in a prepared statement. “As a result of the attacks and threats on my life, I have lost my sense of safety and security and I don’t know that I’ll ever get it back. But I am making it my goal to become the Tanya that has a lot more strength and a lot more toughness and to take the pain and to turn it into something that can ultimately change the world and make it a little bit better for others.”

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. The evidence detailed how the attacks and threats on Gersh, her family and the Whitefish community have had an extreme and life-changing impact on all of their lives, according to the Law Center’s press release.

“This is a big win for our client, but it also sends an important message that hateful harassment by bigots will not be tolerated in Big Sky Country,” said John Morrison, Montana co-counsel for Gersh.

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 $1,000,000 for past pain and suffering, and;

• Non-economic damages in the amount of $2,000,000 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, “having considered the factors set forth in [state law], including the particularly egregious and reprehensible nature of Anglin’s conduct, the court finds that a punitive damages award in the amount of $10,000,000 is warranted to punish Anglin and deter him from engaging in such conduct in the future.”

Lynch also said in the ruling: “In addition, because the atrocious conduct directed at Gersh and her family has not entirely abated, the court should issue a permanent injunction ordering Anglin to remove from his website the blog posts encouraging his readers to contact Gersh, her family and, especially, her son, including all photographs and images of the family and comment boards associated therewith.”

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. “This lawsuit has always been about stopping others from enduring the terror I continue to live through at the hands of a Neo-Nazi and his followers, and 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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