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Judge allows case against neo-Nazi publisher to proceed

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The First Amendment’s free-speech protections do not shield a neo-Nazi website publisher from being sued for a “troll storm” by his readers that led to hundreds of anti-Semitic threats against a Jewish woman and her family, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen’s decision allows Tanya Gersh’s lawsuit against The Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin to proceed on claims that Anglin invaded her privacy, inflicted emotional distress on her and her family and violated Montana’s anti-intimidation law.

Anglin accused Gersh, a real-estate agent in the Montana resort town of Whitefish, of seeking to force the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer to leave town in 2016 by trying to persuade her to sell her commercial property. Anglin published the phone numbers, email addresses and social media profiles of Gersh, her husband and 12-year-old son and wrote, “Are y’all ready for an old fashioned troll storm?”

Gersh said her family received more than 700 threatening and harassing messages, many of them anti-Semitic, online and by phone and mail.

Anglin argued that the First Amendment protects his speech and that he can’t be held liable for his followers’ actions. Gersh’s attorneys responded that the First Amendment was never meant to protect a campaign that aimed to destroy people’s lives.

Christensen said Anglin’s speech against Gersh appeared to be a matter of private concern, not public concern, and that opens him to more regulation.

Anglin’s alleged attacks against Gersh didn’t inform the public about a matter of public concern, the judge said in his ruling. Rather, based on the allegations, Anglin appears to have roused his readers’ political sympathies by drawing on their hatred and fear of Jews to advance his personal campaign against Gersh, who is not a public figure, Christensen wrote.

“Anglin did not use his speech about Gersh to raise awareness for issues consonant with the alt-right agenda,” the judge wrote in his decision. “Rather, construing the allegations in the complaint as true, Anglin exploited the prejudices widely held among his readers to specifically target one individual.”

David Dinielli, the deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing Gersh, said Christensen’s decision upholds a recommendation by a magistrate judge.

“Today’s ruling underscores what both we and our client have said from the beginning of this case — that online campaigns of hate, threats, and intimidation have no place in a civil society, and enjoy no protection under our Constitution,” Dinielli said in a statement.

Anglin attorney Marc Randazza did not immediately respond to an email or text message seeking comment.

Christensen also upheld U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch recommendation that Anglin can be held liable for his readers’ conduct.

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