HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The publisher of a neo-Nazi website should have to pay the victim of an internet trolling campaign over $14 million and remove all posts that encouraged his readers to contact the Montana real estate agent, a magistrate judge recommended on Monday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch called The Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin’s behavior reprehensible and atrocious in telling his internet followers to unleash a “troll storm” on Tanya Gersh, her husband and her 12-year-old son in 2016.
The magistrate judge doesn’t have the final word in the case. His findings and recommendations must be approved by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen to take effect.
Gersh, whom Anglin accused of trying to run white nationalist Richard Spencer’s mother out of the mountain resort community of Whitefish, said her family received hundreds of threatening, harassing and anti-Semitic messages. She sued Anglin, who argued unsuccessfully through his attorneys that his writings were protected by the First Amendment.
Anglin, who lives outside the U.S., was found in default when he didn’t show up for a deposition scheduled in April. His attorneys withdrew from the case when he failed to appear.
Lynch said that Gersh deserves $10 million in punitive damages, the maximum amount in punitive damages allowed under Montana law, because of the “particularly egregious and reprehensible nature of Anglin’s conduct.” He also said she should be awarded $4 million more for lost earnings and pain and suffering.
Plus, the court should issue a permanent injunction ordering Anglin to remove the posts and photos because “the atrocious conduct directed at Gersh and her family has not entirely abated,” Lynch wrote.
Even if Christensen approves Lynch’s recommendations, it’s questionable whether Gersh will see a dime if Anglin remains outside the reach of U.S. authorities.
But that’s not the point, said her attorney, David Dinielli of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The significance is not in whether we will collect the money,” Dinielli said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press. “The significance is that Tanya Gersh, a real estate agent from a small town in Montana, stood up to fight the most notorious neo-Nazi on the web, and she won.”
Gersh said in a statement that Lynch’s recommendation is a clear message to extremists that nobody should be terrorized for simply being who they are.
“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,” she said.
Anglin did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
He faces default judgments in at least three other federal cases, including lawsuits filed by two other alleged targets of his online trolling campaigns.
In one, a federal judge in Ohio last month awarded Muslim-American radio host Dean Obeidallah $4.1 million after Anglin falsely accused him of terrorism.