The right to troll on social media is protected under the first amendment, or is it? That's what the founder of a neo-Nazi website and a real estate agent from Montana are trying to figure out in court.
Andrew Anglin is the founder of the Daily Stormer and he's asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him by Tanya Gersh. The events that caused Gersh to sue Anglin started over trolling.
The lawsuit details over 700 messages directed at Gersh that are the result of a call from Anglin for his followers to "troll storm" the Jewish Gersh. Anglin's attorney argued that the First Amendment is "blind to viewpoint no matter how many people find those views intolerable."
His legal team led by First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza made this comparison, "If a local business were polluting the environment, any editor could rally his readers to write to that business in protest."
Randazza continued saying, "If a local business were discriminating against black customers, the NAACP can exhort its members to send correspondence to it. And, conversely, the KKK can ask its members to send letters of protest to an establishment that treats all races equally."
Gersh is from Whitefish, Montana and sued Anglin in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. Some of the messages included in the lawsuit are,
"Ratfaced criminals who play with fire tend to get thrown in the oven."
"You have no idea what you are doing, six million are only the beginning."
"Merry Christmas, you Christ-killer."
"It’s time for you to take a one-way ticket to tel Aviv."
One email that said "Death to Tanya" was sent over 30 times followed by, "This message came from ‘Satan Your King.' " The "troll storm" also directed hateful messages to Gersh's family including a photo-shopped image that showed her son being "crushed by Nazi trucks."
The wave of hate directed at Gersh followed a conversation between the real estate agent from Montana and Sherry Spencer, the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer.
Mrs. Spencer wrote in an article shortly after that Gersh had urged her to sell her property and warned her that protesters would shop up outside her building if she didn't. Mrs. Spencer says Gersh also laid out "conditions", including a call for her to publicly denounce her son's views.
Gersh says she was only trying to help Spencer after warning her protesters who don't share her son's beliefs may target her home. The lawsuit says that Spencer asked Gersh what to do and even inquired if she would be her realtor.
Anglin's attorney's feel they have a strong case as his articles do not constitute a "true threat" of violence. "Political hyperbole is not a threat… The third parties’ statements are generally recognized anti-Semitic tropes, without actual harm reasonably construed," Anglin's defense wrote.
His attorneys also wrote, "The messages were allegedly received from a highly-disfavored group – neo-Nazis. And this gives some melody to the siren’s song of censorship – after all, who cares about Nazis? But that is not the test under our Constitution. If we were to reject speech because it comes from an unorthodox group, we do violence to the very underpinnings of our notions of liberty. Nazis are ‘unorthodox’ in America. Yet the rule of law must govern."
Gersh is suing for compensatory and punitive damages as well as alleged invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of Montana’s anti-intimidation act. A Montana court previously ruled in another case, "that free speech does not include the right to cause substantial emotional distress by harassment or intimidation."
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