How far is too far in a war of words? A federal magistrate judge in Montana will decide a case involving white supremacists, a Jewish real estate agent, a mountain tourist town, a dispute that turned venomous, and a state law that may conflict with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Whitefish, Mont., draws its livelihood from outdoor enthusiasts. The area also draws white nationalists whose unwanted affiliation with the town has become a source of tension. That came to a head in 2016 after a she-said-she-said disagreement between local realtor Tanya Gersh, who is Jewish, and Sherry Spencer, mother of white supremacy leader Richard Spencer.
In a publication he produces, white nationalist Andrew Anglin accused Gersh of pressuring Sherry Spencer to sell a building in downtown Whitefish by telling her it would quell local tension. Anglin told readers, “Let’s Hit Em Up. Are y’all ready for an old-fashioned Troll Storm?” and published Gersh’s phone number and email address. Hundreds of dark, threatening messages ensued, many relating to the Holocaust.
Represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Gersh filed a lawsuit last April holding Anglin accountable for his readers’ actions and accusing him of violating Montana’s anti-intimidation law.
In a motion to dismiss the case, Anglin’s attorney, Marc Radazza, said Anglin cannot be held responsible for others’ actions, and verbal assault “does not fall into any category of speech unprotected under the First Amendment.” —B.P.