In December 2016, Andrew Anglin, founder of the fascist website Daily Stormer, called upon the website's followers to unleash hell on the Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana. The troll campaign hit real estate agent Tanya Gersh and her family hard with anti-Semitic messages.
“Since December, I’ve received more than 700 threatening, hateful, harassing, anti-Semitic communications from Anglin’s followers at all hours of the day and night, and it hasn’t stopped,” Gersh wrote to The Guardian.
“My sense of safety is forever changed,” she added.
Gersh did not speak out at first, but as the onslaught continued for months on end, she sought help. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has filed a federal lawsuit against Anglin, alleging that he inspired a "coordinated, repulsive, threatening campaign of anti-Semitic harassment."
The troll campaign began over an incident between Gersh and Sherry Spencer, the mother of the well-known white supremacist Richard Spencer. Their exchange culminated with Spencer accusing Gersh of extortion, and, in response, Anglin called upon his followers to defend the Spencer family against what he described as a "Jewish plot."
"Let's Hit Em Up," he urged, posting Gersh's personal information online and unleashing a "troll storm" against the real estate agent, her husband, and 12-year-old son.
"Just make your opinions known. Tell them you're sickened by their Jew agenda," Anglin wrote in his December 16, 2016, call-to-troll, as quoted in the lawsuit. "And hey — if you're in the area, maybe you should stop by and tell her in person what you think of her actions."
Over the next few months, Gersh and her family received a seemingly endless flood of malicious texts, phone calls, emails, social media comments, letters, postcards, and Christmas cards. According to the lawsuit, she was referred to as a "slimy jewess" and an "oven-dodging Christ killer."
“I once answered the phone and all I heard were gunshots,” Gersh told journalists on Tuesday in a phone conference.
“In the old days, Andrew Anglin would have burned a cross on Tanya’s front lawn,” Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, told the Los Angeles Times. “In the digital age, he launched a troll storm against her.”
The lawsuit seeks punishment as well as compensation of a currently unspecified amount for the trauma inflicted on Gersh and her family. The SPLC asserts that she had to receive medical treatment for her "serious and severe emotional and physical distress as a result of the harassment." It also states that Gersh "had panic attacks, goes to bed in tears, wakes up crying, feels anxiety and discomfort in crowded places, has had trouble leaving her home, and fears answering her phone. Overall, she feels like an entirely different person than she did before the troll storm, as though she has been permanently altered."
Gersh had something important taken from her: her sense of security and of belonging. Her understanding of her place in her own country and her belief that she has the right to live her life free from mal-intent have been upended. The 700-plus communications sent to her and her loved ones were not just nasty words and ignorant sentiments — they were part of a violently ideological movement intended to shake her to her very core.
"It is very important that we make them feel the kind of pressure they are making us feel," Anglin wrote in December.
His call for a troll storm against Gersh was a sick play for misguided power, and a reverberation of a movement that has a view from the White House.