HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A neo-Nazi website publisher wrote crude and cruel commentary about a Montana woman who’s now suing him, but he doesn’t have to be nice to be protected by the free-speech provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the publisher’s attorney wrote Friday.
Attorney Marc Randazza made his comments in a court filing objecting to a federal magistrate judge’s recommendation to proceed with Tanya Gersh’s lawsuit against The Daily Stormer website publisher, Andrew Anglin.
Gersh says anonymous internet trolls bombarded her family - including her 12-year-old son - with hateful and threatening messages after Anglin accused her of extorting the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer. Anglin called on his followers to unleash a “troll storm” against Gersh and other Jewish residents of Whitefish whom Anglin accused of trying to run Sherry Spencer out of town in 2016.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch concluded earlier this month that Anglin could be held liable for his readers’ conduct. The magistrate said it isn’t clear that Gersh’s claims against Anglin are “barred as a matter of law” by the First Amendment.
Lynch’s findings must be approved by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen. Randazza urged the judge to reject them.
“The Defendant is a bona-fide neo-Nazi, and it may be alluring to side against the Nazi.” Randazza wrote. “However, the Constitution does not tolerate such viewpoint-based restrictions on speech - and (Lynch’s) report and recommendation does just that.”
Anglin’s editorials about Gersh prompted a reaction by his readers that was cruel and crass, but the First Amendment “does not require politeness or kindness,” Randazza wrote.
The attorney argues that Anglin was exercising protected political speech and he’s not liable for his readers’ response or for infliction of emotional distress.
David Dinielli, one of Gersh’s attorneys from the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, said Friday that Lynch’s recommendations are on solid legal footing and that Randazza is misinterpreting the First Amendment.
“The First Amendment was never intended to and doesn’t protect the launching of a troll storm and against an individual and her family designed to destroy their lives and drive the target to suicide,” Dinieilli said.
Gersh says she had agreed to help Spencer’s mother sell commercial property she owns in Whitefish amid talk of a protest outside the building. Sherry Spencer, however, later accused Gersh of threatening and harassing her into agreeing to sell the property.
Gersh’s lawyers plan to file a formal response to Anglin within two weeks, after which Christensen will make a ruling.
Anglin faces other federal lawsuits over his online trolling campaigns, one from American University’s first black female student government president and another by a Muslim-American radio host.
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