(Tribune News Services) - A leading neo-Nazi web site facing a harassment lawsuit for targeting a Montana Jewish woman has asked a federal judge to throw out her complaint, arguing that neo-Nazi memes and anti-Jewish slurs are protected free speech and pose "no true threat" to Jewish people.
Whitefish, Montana, real-estate agent Tanya Gersh sued Daily Stormer blogger Andrew Anglin in April after Anglin targeted the woman for a "troll storm" in a post on the web site. Gersh said Anglin's supporters harassed her over the phone, by mail and over the internet with threatening messages and antisemitic slurs, including a meme showing Gersh being sprayed with a green cloud, according to a lawsuit filed on Gersh's behalf by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-racism nonprofit.
Other messages told Gersh to kill herself, according to the lawsuit, which alleged invasion of privacy, intimidation and infliction of emotional distress.
But in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed in federal court in Montana on Thursday, Anglin's attorneys laid out a defense that argued the messages were "generally recognized anti-Semitic tropes, without actual harm reasonably to be construed," according to the filing.
"And, even Nazi expression, no matter the psychic harm on Jewish residents, is nonetheless protected speech," the motion says. "Thus, there was no true threat."
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The Southern Poverty Law Center's case against Anglin marks one of the most aggressive attempts to combat the burgeoning white-nationalist movement in the US, which has drawn energy in recent years from Donald Trump's presidency and web-savvy personalities such as Anglin.
Decades ago, the law center launched its earliest efforts to use civil litigation to dismantle far-right groups, such as the Aryan Nations and various Ku Klux Klan chapters, by winning large damages against the groups in court, forcing them to turn over their assets and declare bankruptcy.
The group is reviving that strategy for the 21st century.
Its lawsuit against Anglin is part of a larger, "multifaceted, multi-pronged effort to undermine the strength of those people and those organizations that spew hate and keep them from entering and taking over the mainstream," David Dinielli, one of the group's primary attorneys on the case, said in an August interview at the group's headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama.
"We would love it if we obtained a judgment that is sufficient to hound Andrew Anglin the rest of his life and hobble his ability to engage in his online hate ever again," Dinielli said.
But one of the group's biggest challenges has been trying to find Anglin to serve him with the lawsuit and set the gears in motion to get one of the far-right's most reclusive figures to appear publicly in a courtroom.
Process servers were unable to find Anglin in Ohio, where his family lives, and so the group turned to posting notices in a local newspaper in order to fulfill legal requirements to file notice that he was being sued.
Anglin was certainly well aware of the lawsuit, posting on the Daily Stormer, one of the internet's most popular far-right sites, that "this site will be shut down if we don't win this" lawsuit filed by "Jewish terrorists."
Anglin raised more than $150,000 for his legal defense from a start-up crowdfunding site and told media outlets that he now lived in Nigeria. ("You shouldn't be worried about Nigeria," Anglin wrote in an email earlier this year when The Los Angeles Times
asked skeptically about the reports, and he declined to comment on the lawsuit.)
Over the last month, attorneys representing Anglin, including Marc Randazza of Las Vegas, Jay M. Wolman of Hartford, Connecticut, and Mathew M. Stevenson of Missoula, Montana, started filing motions to launch Anglin's legal response to the lawsuit.
Randazza previously told the Los Angeles Times
that the Southern Poverty Law Center's case was "about censoring views that they dislike, rather than vindicating any real legal rights."
Thursday's motion to dismiss marks Anglin's most substantive defense so far. It argues that Anglin's calls for a "troll storm" were protected by the First Amendment's right to free speech, saying the comments were "made on a web site to spur others to express their opinions to Plaintiff and her associates" and "to contribute more speech to the marketplace of ideas."
The motion also argues that Anglin did not violate Gersh's privacy by publishing her phone number, address and social media profiles, including that of her 12-year-old son. "All of the information Defendant allegedly published about Ms. Gersh was publicly available," the motion said.
But where is Anglin? The motion declined to say, adding that the Southern Poverty Law Center "bears the burden of proof in establishing (Anglin's) domicile" and that Anglin "is not a citizen of any State."
The Southern Poverty Law Center said its attorneys are reviewing the filing.
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