NEW YORK — After months of being harassed by neo-Nazis who were spurred by Andrew Anglin in his publication The Daily Stormer, Whitefish, Montana resident Tanya Gersh has filed a federal lawsuit against him.
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Leaders of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization which tracks hate crimes, teaches tolerance and uses the court system to pursue legal victories in the areas of children’s and immigrant rights, as well as LGBTQ justice, are the other plaintiffs in the case. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Anglin. Since the harassment crossed state lines, the case can be filed in federal district court in Montana, Richard Cohen, SPLC’s president, told Haaretz.
In December 2016, Anglin began writing articles urging that his readers target Gersh, a real-estate agent in Whitefish, because he claimed she had victimized the mother of well-known neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, who owns a vacation property in the bucolic mountain town.
An onslaught of hateful and threatening phone calls, text messages, emails and online posts against Gersh and other Jews in Whitefish, including Rabbi Francine Green Roston, promptly ensued and, while it has slowed, it has not ended completely.
Just the other day, Gersh got a text message from one of Anglin’s followers asking if she was still a real-estate agent. When she replied yes, the texter responded with harassing comments, she told Haaretz in a private interview.
The lawsuit against Anglin states that he “turned his horde of anti-Semitic fanatics loose on Ms. Gersh in a series of Daily Stormer articles[which] caused his followers to overwhelm Ms. Gersh with hundreds of hateful and threatening anti-Semitic phone calls, voicemails, text messages, emails, letters, social media comments, and false online business reviews.”
In a phone call with media on Tuesday, Gersh spoke about the harassment.
“I once answered the phone and all I heard were gunshots,” Gersh said. “Another caller said ‘you should have died in the Holocaust. We can bury you without touching you.’ I was told I would be driven to the brink of suicide. There were endless references to being gassed and thrown in the ovens. We didn’t know if they would come after us physically,” she said.
“I have never been so scared in my entire life. One night I came home to find my husband sitting in a completely dark house with suitcases in the living room. He said he had no idea what kind of danger we were in,” said Gersh. She began crying and had to take a brief break from the call.
When she returned to the call, Gersh said: “We thought we should probably wake the kids in the middle of the night and run for safety. It really broke us. ‘What do we tell our children?’ was really growing through our minds at that time. How do we explain we're running because we’re afraid because we’re Jewish?”
In the end, the family did not flee. “Those bags were packed and sitting on our floor for months,” Gersh told Haaretz. “We didn’t know what to do. But slowly, once we reached out to FBI and got local law enforcement involved, we felt a lot less alone, and made the decision we might be safer staying put. These attacks are not within Montana, they’re coming from outside,” she said.
Their older son, 12, who was specifically targeted in attacks by Anglin’s followers, is currently preparing for his bar mitzvah. He and his younger brother, who is 10, are cared for by their school teachers and Whitefish friends, Gersh told Haaretz. Her husband’s business, which was also attacked and had to essentially shut down for several weeks at the height of the onslaught of harassment, is basically back to normal now, she said.
Still, attacks by Anglin’s followers continue to “trickle in,” she said.
In his articles, Anglin provided phone numbers, email addresses, and links to social media profiles for Gersh, her family members including her son, and her colleagues.
According to the lawsuit Anglin “also provided his followers with online discussion forums where the followers could trade ideas and information for carrying out the harassment. ‘Just make your opinions known. Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda . . .’ Mr. Anglin urged in his December 16, 2016 article. ‘Calling these people up and/or sending them a quick message is very easy.’”
The attacks continue to take a toll on her physical and emotional health, and on her family and business, Gersh said.
“I’m not longer working. I can’t expose my clients to this kind of harassment,” said Gersh in the call with reporters. “I am in trauma therapy twice a week. I’m losing my hair. Most nights I go to sleep crying. I’m having medical issues. Most importantly, I just never feel safe. I have never ever had mental or anxiety issues before. My friends used to call me the happiest person on earth,” she said.
“My life is forever changed and my sense of safety is gone,” said Gersh. “I want to stand up and show that this cannot be permitted. I want other victims of vicious bigotry to know that they’re not alone.”
“With this looming in the air I don’t think our lives will ever be back to normal. We’re on their radar, hundreds of thousands of people who consider themselves neo-Nazis. The threats may not be flowing in right now but it’s hard to feel like anything is back to normal.”