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Neo-Nazi site founder asks court to toss ‘troll storm’ suit

In this undated photo released by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Dan Chung, Tanya Gersh poses for a photo. Gersh, a Montana real estate agent, is suing the founder of a neo-Nazi website, saying the publisher orchestrated an anti-Semitic “campaign of terror” that bombarded the woman and her family with hateful messages from anonymous internet trolls. The trolling campaign started in December 2016, after Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin published the family’s personal information, including the 12-year-old’s Twitter handle and photo. (Dan Chung/Southern Poverty Law Center via AP) (Dan Chung / Associated Press)
In this undated photo released by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Dan Chung, Tanya Gersh poses for a photo. Gersh, a Montana real estate agent, is suing the founder of a neo-Nazi website, saying the publisher orchestrated an anti-Semitic “campaign of terror” that bombarded the woman and her family with hateful messages from anonymous internet trolls. The trolling campaign started in December 2016, after Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin published the family’s personal information, including the 12-year-old’s Twitter handle and photo. (Dan Chung/Southern Poverty Law Center via AP) (Dan Chung / Associated Press)
By Michael Kunzelman Associated Press

A neo-Nazi website publisher has asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit that accuses him of orchestrating an anti-Semitic internet trolling campaign against a Montana real estate agent and her family.

Lawyers for the Daily Stormer’s founder, Andrew Anglin, argued in a court filing Thursday that the First Amendment protects his posts calling for a “troll storm” against Tanya Gersh. Everything Anglin wrote about Gersh was “political speech,” his lawyers said.

“That the speech is particularly emotionally hurtful and causes anguish does not strip it of First Amendment protection,” they wrote.

Gersh sued Anglin in April, saying her family received a barrage of threatening and harassing emails, phone calls and other messages after he published their personal information, including her 12-year-old son’s Twitter handle and photo. In a string of posts that started last December, Anglin accused Gersh and other Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana, of engaging in an “extortion racket” against the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Gersh’s lawsuit said she agreed to help Spencer’s mother sell commercial property she owns in Whitefish amid talk of a protest outside the building. Sherry Spencer, however, later accused Gersh of threatening and harassing her into agreeing to sell the property.

Messages that Gersh said she received from the Daily Stormer’s readers “are generally recognized anti-Semitic tropes, without actual harm reasonably to be construed,” Anglin’s lawyers said.

“And, even Nazi expression, no matter the psychic harm on Jewish residents, is nonetheless protected speech,” they wrote.

Gersh claims Anglin invaded her privacy, intentionally inflicted “emotional distress” and violated a Montana anti-intimidation law.

Anglin’s lawyers argue Gersh didn’t have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” because all of the information he published about her was publicly available.

Anglin’s Dec. 16 article about Gersh urged readers to “take action” against her and other Jewish residents of Whitefish. Gersh has said the trolls’ hateful messages, replete with slurs and Holocaust references, left her so scared for her family’s safety that she packed a bag and left it on her bedroom floor for three months in case they decided to flee their home.

Lawyers from the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center filed Gersh’s suit in Missoula, Montana. Anglin is represented by Marc Randazza, a Las Vegas-based lawyer specializing in free-speech cases.

Months passed before Anglin’s lawyers formally responded to the suit. Gersh’s lawyers accused Anglin of trying to conceal his whereabouts to avoid being served with a copy of the suit. They looked for him at several addresses in Ohio, where he has used a mailing address.

Anglin’s lawyers said in Thursday’s court filing that he isn’t an Ohio resident but didn’t specify where he’s living.

Anglin’s site takes its name from Der Sturmer, a newspaper that published Nazi propaganda. The site, which includes sections called “Jewish Problem” and “Race War,” has struggled to stay online over the past few months. Domain name registration companies Google and GoDaddy yanked the site’s web address, effectively making it unreachable, after Anglin published a post mocking the woman killed in a deadly car attack at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.

Muslim-American radio host Dean Obeidallah sued Anglin in August, accusing him of falsely labeling Obeidallah as the “mastermind” behind a deadly bombing at a concert in England.

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