HELENA, Montana (AP) — A federal judge’s decision to allow a lawsuit to proceed against the publisher of a neo-Nazi website is “dangerous for free speech,” the publisher’s attorney said Thursday.
Attorney Marc Randazza said he believes US District Judge Dana Christensen made a legally flawed decision Wednesday in ruling the First Amendment does not shield Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin from being sued for his followers’ anti-Semitic harassment of a Jewish woman and her family in Montana.
Randazza said he can “see the allure of not wanting to rule in favor of the Nazi,” but expressed concern that the decision could be used to curtail free speech in many other forums.
“The rule needs to be the same no matter what your view is,” he said.
Christensen’s decision allows Tanya Gersh to proceed with her claims that Anglin invaded her privacy, inflicted emotional distress on her and her family and violated Montana’s anti-intimidation law by calling on his followers to unleash a “troll storm” on her, her husband and her 12-year-old son.
The judge wrote in his decision that Anglin’s “morally and factually indefensible worldview” does not disqualify him from free-speech protections — but his anti-Semitism also doesn’t give him special rights, either.
“It hardly makes sense to conclude — as Anglin contends — that Anglin’ s posts and sponsored troll storm are entitled to additional protection because of their anti-Semitic content,” Christensen wrote.
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 Wednesday.
Gersh says hundreds of people harassed and threatened her family online and by phone and mail after Anglin accused her of trying to force the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer out of the Montana town of Whitefish in 2016.
Anglin argued 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.”