The Making of an American Nazi


On December 16, 2016, Tanya Gersh answered her phone and heard gunshots. Startled, she hung up. Gersh, a real-estate agent who lives in Whitefish, Montana, assumed it was a prank call. But the phone rang again. More gunshots. Again, she hung up. Another call. This time, she heard a man’s voice: “This is how we can keep the Holocaust alive,” he said. “We can bury you without touching you.”

When Gersh put down the phone, her hands were shaking. She was one of only about 100 Jews in Whitefish and the surrounding Flathead Valley, and she knew there were white nationalists and “sovereign citizens” in the area. But Gersh had lived in Whitefish for more than 20 years, since just after college, and had always considered the scenic ski town an idyllic place. She didn’t even have a key to her house—she’d never felt the need to lock her door. Now that sense of security was about to be shattered.

The calls marked the start of a months-long campaign of harassment orchestrated by Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the world’s biggest neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. He claimed that Gersh was trying to “extort” a property sale from Sherry Spencer, whose son, Richard Spencer, was another prominent white nationalist and the face of the so-called alt-right movement.

The Spencers had long-standing ties to Whitefish, and Richard had been based there for years. But he gained international notoriety just after the 2016 election for giving a speech in Washington, D.C., in which he declared “Hail Trump!,” prompting Nazi salutes from his audience. In response, some Whitefish residents considered protesting in front of a commercial building Sherry owned in town. According to Gersh, Sherry sought her advice, and Gersh suggested that she sell the property, make a donation to charity, and denounce her son’s white-nationalist views. But Sherry claimed that Gersh had issued “terrible threats,” and she wrote a post on Medium on December 15 accusing her of an attempted shakedown. (Sherry Spencer did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the time, Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin barely knew each other. Spencer, who fancies himself white nationalism’s leading intellectual, cloaks his racism in highbrow arguments. Anglin prefers the gutter, reveling in the vile language common on the worst internet message boards. But Spencer and Anglin had appeared together on a podcast the day before Sherry’s Medium post was published and expressed their mutual admiration. Anglin declared it a “historic” occasion, a step toward greater unity on the extreme right.

Tanya Gersh was the target of a months-long campaign of harassment instigated by Andrew Anglin on The Daily Stormer. (Dan Chung / Southern Poverty Law Center)

It was in this spirit that Anglin “doxed” Gersh and her husband, Judah, as well as other Jews in Whitefish, by publishing their contact information and other personal details on his website. He plastered their photographs with yellow stars emblazoned with jude and posted a picture of the Gershes’ 12-year-old son superimposed on the gates at Auschwitz. He commanded his readers—his “Stormer Troll Army”—to “hit ’em up.”

“All of you deserve a bullet through your skull,” one Stormer said in an email.

“Put your uppity slut wife Tanya back in her cage, you rat-faced kike,” another wrote to Judah.

“You fucking wicked kike whore,” Andrew Auernheimer, The Daily Stormer’s webmaster, said in a voicemail for Gersh. “This is Trump’s America now.”

Over the next week, the Stormers besieged Whitefish businesses, human-rights groups, city-council members—anyone potentially connected to the targets. A single harasser called Judah’s office more than 500 times in three days, according to the Whitefish police. Gersh came home one night to find her husband sitting at home in the dark, suitcases on the floor, wondering whether they should flee. “I have never been so scared in my entire life,” she later told me.

That Anglin, a 33-year-old college dropout, could unleash such mayhem—Whitefish’s police chief, Bill Dial, likened it to “domestic terrorism”—was a sign of just how emboldened the alt-right had become.

Anglin is an ideological descendant of men such as George Lincoln Rockwell, who created the American Nazi Party in the late 1950s, and William Luther Pierce, who founded the National Alliance, a powerful white-nationalist group, in the 1970s. Anglin admires these predecessors, who saw themselves as revolutionaries at the vanguard of a movement to take back the country. He dreams of a violent insurrection.

But where Rockwell and Pierce relied on pamphlets, the radio, newsletters, and in-person organizing to advance their aims, Anglin has the internet. His reach is exponentially greater, his ability to connect with like-minded young men unprecedented.

He also arrived at a more fortuitous moment. Anglin and his ilk like to talk about the Overton Window, a term that describes the range of acceptable discourse in society. They’d been tugging at that window for years only to watch, with surprise and delight, as it flew wide open during Donald Trump’s candidacy. Suddenly it was okay to talk about banning Muslims or to cast Mexican immigrants as criminals and parasites—which meant Anglin’s even-more-extreme views weren’t as far outside the mainstream as they once had been. Anglin is the alt-right’s most accomplished propagandist, and his writing taps into some of the same anxieties and resentments that helped carry Trump to the presidency—chiefly a perceived loss of status among white men.

Six days into his Whitefish campaign, Anglin announced phase two: an armed protest. “Montana has extremely liberal open carry laws,” he wrote on The Daily Stormer. “My lawyer is telling me we can easily march through the center of the town carrying high-powered rifles.” He scheduled the event for January 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and predicted that about 200 people would show up for a “James Earl Ray Day Extravaganza” in honor of King’s assassin. He promised to bus skinheads in from the Bay Area.

As national news outlets picked up the story, frightened Whitefish residents gathered for a community meeting, where Dial, the police chief, saw a 90-year-old Jewish couple trembling with fear. Some people had alarm systems installed. A rabbi had paranoid visions of skinheads in the woods with night-vision goggles and scoped weapons. The police increased patrols.

Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, swooped into town, as did representatives of the Anti-Defamation League. The president of the World Jewish Congress demanded that authorities halt the march, calling it a “dangerous and life-threatening rally that puts all of America at risk.” Anglin stoked the hysteria by claiming that European nationalists, along with a Hamas representative and a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, were coming too. “Nothing can stop us,” he declared.

In the end, no one showed up—no European nationalists, no Hamas representatives, no armed skinheads. There was no “March on Whitefish.” Instead Anglin slunk away, having panicked a small town for a month. The Whitefish attack cemented his reputation as the trollmaster of the alt-right. But it left some wondering about the movement’s commitment to its cause. Was this all just a sick joke?

Over the coming months, however, Anglin continued to build his audience and urge his followers to take their hate offline, into the real world. In August, when white nationalists actually did stage a major rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, many of his readers were there, chanting slogans he had coined. The alt-right, it became clear, was coming off the message boards and into the streets.

By then, I’d spent months reporting on Anglin, trying to understand who he was and how he’d built such a following, as well as how serious a threat he and the rest of the alt-right actually posed. Anglin’s path to white nationalism was disturbing, and more circuitous than I could have imagined. But it fit a pattern that scholars have identified, in that he seems to have been driven, at least initially, more by a desire for status and belonging than by deeply held beliefs. Anglin wanted to be somebody, and the internet gave him a way.

Columbus, ohio, is a funky, still kind-of gritty city, and I went there in January looking for clues to Anglin’s past. On a rainy Saturday, about 45 protesters, some with black masks covering their faces, gathered outside a drab two-story building in Worthington, a suburb of Columbus, where Anglin’s father, Greg, runs a Christian counseling service.

Anglin has long kept his own location secret. For years he floated around Europe, and one family member told me that around 2015 he was holed up in Russia, his last known foreign address. Another source showed me Facebook messages from Anglin’s childhood best friend that indicated Anglin was still living there last year. But he maintained a footprint in Columbus through his father, who has said he was “not really involved with Andy’s site.” In fact, Greg was involved. He’d registered The Daily Stormer’s trade name and filed paperwork for his son’s limited-liability corporation, Moonbase Holdings—a likely reference to a conspiracy theory that Hitler survived World War II by escaping to a secret lunar base.

In January, antifascist activists protested outside the office of Anglin’s father, in Worthington, Ohio.

No payment processor would touch The Daily Stormer, but Anglin had little trouble raising money. Since 2014, he has taken in about $250,000 worth of bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, from unknown sources, according to John Bambenek, a cybersecurity expert who has been tracking neo-Nazis’ bitcoin wallets. Anglin urged his readers to send checks as well. Those donations went to Greg’s office, which was why the protesters had gathered outside, many of them from the Columbus chapter of Anti-Racist Action, a national antifascist network.

Anglin had first come to my attention in the summer of 2015, after he endorsed Trump on The Daily Stormer. When I interviewed him over email for HuffPostlast year, he lied to me repeatedly—about his site’s traffic numbers, his financing, his location. Before that article came out, he falsely accused me on The Daily Stormer of fabricating information from the FBI regarding his whereabouts. More than once, I offered to walk him through my reporting, but he refused to hear me out. He also refused numerous requests to talk to me for this article.

Since our last exchange, I’d watched him tirelessly spew hatred while boasting that “only bullets” could stop him. But he never came out from behind his keyboard. And although he showed no scruples about smearing others and flagging them for harassment, he became wildly defensive when anyone dared examine his life.

The Daily Stormer had become arguably the leading hate site on the internet, far surpassing Stormfront, whose message boards had brought white nationalism into the digital age back in the 1990s. Anglin was a punchy, prolific writer who used snark and hyperbole to draw in Millennial readers. “Non-ironic Nazism masquerading as ironic Nazism” was how he described his approach. Irony gave him cover to claim that he was just kidding around. He cited Infowars, Vice, and BuzzFeed as inspiration, but the closest analogue in terms of format and tone, he said, was Gawker. Like the now-shuttered gossip site, The Daily Stormer aggregated the news with attitude. Unlike Gawker, Anglin doctored everything to reflect his racist worldview.

Anglin wrote about his longing for a race war and urged his readers to prepare for combat against nebulous forces unleashed by Jews, blacks, Muslims, Hispanics, women, liberals, journalists—anyone who might impede the alt-right’s assault on the nation. Like many young men on the extreme right, Anglin hadn’t just given up on the idea of the United States as a liberal democracy. He wanted to burn it to the ground. “There is rapidly approaching a time when in every White Western city, corpses will be stacked in the streets as high as men can stack them,” he wrote. “And you are either going to be stacking or getting stacked.”

Anglin’s influence extended offline with Daily Stormer “book clubs,” which he created to engage his followers in “real world actions.” The clubs were small chapters of readers who gathered in cities in the U.S., Canada, and other countries. A Columbus group met at a gun range. Other clubs had been kicked out of bars after openly expressing anti-Semitic views or flaunting Nazi paraphernalia. Anglin pressed his readers to study martial arts, learn to use firearms, and engage in “simulated warfare” through paramilitary training with pellet guns.

Among the protesters in the rain outside Greg’s office, I met Anglin’s preschool teacher, Gail Burkholder, who described being shocked when she’d learned that her former student had grown up to be a notorious white nationalist. “Why would I think one of my students would become a Nazi who wants to kill me?” said Burkholder, who is Jewish. She’d spotted Anglin’s name in the news after Dylann Roof murdered nine black people in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof reportedly left comments on The Daily Stormer, and he has become a hero to Anglin’s readers, who honor him with “bowl cut” memes.

Roof wasn’t the only killer who read The Daily Stormer. In 2016, Thomas Mair shot and stabbed a British member of Parliament. This year, James Harris Jackson was charged with killing a black man with a sword in New York City and cited The Daily Stormer as an ideological influence. Devon Arthurs, an 18-year-old former neo-Nazi who converted to Islam, shot and killed two of his three roommates in Tampa, who were still neo-Nazis. Police arrested the surviving roommate for hoarding explosive materials.

Until the Roof massacre, Burkholder hadn’t thought about the “adorable,” “happy-go-lucky” boy in her class who loved dinosaurs. Anglin was a normal kid back then, whose only remarkable quality was his extraordinarily nasal voice—it was so bad that Burkholder thought he might have a sinus problem, and raised the issue with his mother, Katie, at a parent–teacher conference.

But that was nearly 30 years ago. Everyone who’d known Anglin when he was young seemed to wonder the same thing: What had happened to turn him into a neo-Nazi?

Luke O'Brien on the alt-right

By all outward appearances, Andrew Anglin had an ordinary, comfortable childhood, at least until adolescence. He grew up in a big house in Worthington Hills, an upper-middle-class neighborhood, where he collected X-Men comics, played computer games, ate burgers at the original Wendy’s restaurant, and got into music with his best friend, West Emerson. And he loved to read. One book that left a deep impression on him was Weasel, which tells the story of a boy in frontier Ohio seeking revenge against a psychopath who, having run out of American Indians to murder, takes to slaughtering white homesteaders.

When Anglin entered the Linworth Alternative Program, Columbus’s “hippie” high school, as a freshman in 1999, other students found him a quiet, insecure kid who craved attention and wanted to fit in. A declared atheist, he styled his reddish hair in dreadlocks and favored jeans with 50-inch leg openings. He often wore a hoodie with a large fuck racism patch on the back.

In high school, Anglin was a vegan and took progressive stances on various issues. This photo has been posted on alt-right sites by people questioning his sincerity.

Anglin was one of only two vegans at Linworth, and before long he began dating the other, a brunette named Alison in the class ahead of him, whom he wooed by baking vegan cookies. She was a popular girl who introduced him to a diverse and edgy clique of kids. To them, Anglin seemed sweet and funny, if a little too eager to latch on to causes. Alison was deeply into animal rights. Suddenly, he was too.

He also got deeply into drugs, according to half a dozen people who knew him at the time. He did LSD at school or while wandering through the scenic Highbanks Metro Park, north of the city. He took ketamine, ate psychedelic mushrooms, and snorted cocaine on weekends. He chugged Robitussin, and “robo tripped” so much that he damaged his stomach and would vomit into trash cans at school.

This photo appeared in Anglin’s high-school yearbook and shows him with his then-girlfriend.

At home, Anglin spent hours in his parents’ basement downloading music and visiting early Flash-animation sites. According to Cameron Loomis, a former friend, Anglin’s favorite online destination was Rotten.com, which collected images of mangled corpses, deformities, and sexual perversions.

Anglin set up his own website, for a fake record label called “Andy Sucks! Records” that he used to dupe bands into sending him demo tapes. Here, his leftist leanings were on full display: He wrote posts encouraging people to send the Westboro Baptist Church death threats from untraceable accounts, and he mocked the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations. He wasn’t so different, back then, from the antifascist activists who would one day protest outside his dad’s office.

But people who knew Anglin in high school told me that, for reasons that were unclear, his behavior became erratic and frightening sometime around the beginning of his sophomore year at Linworth. Visitors to his house saw holes in his bedroom walls, and they knew that when he was upset, he would smash his head into things. Several recall an episode at a party: Anglin burst out crying after Alison drunkenly kissed someone else, then ran outside and bashed his head on the sidewalk over and over.

He harmed himself in other ways, too. He tried to tattoo the name of his favorite band, Modest Mouse, on his upper arm but gave up after two and a half letters, leaving him with moi etched on his skin. He stretched his earlobes by jamming thick marker caps into piercing holes until they dripped blood. He claimed to feel no pain and used lighters to melt the flesh on the inside of his forearms. He provoked people into assaulting him but never fought back, instead laughing as the blows fell. Two kids beat him into a gutter once. Anglin just lay there until they stopped, out of pity and confusion.

Former friends recall that Anglin’s parents seemed blind to their son’s alarming behavior. And while he could be tender toward his younger siblings, Chelsey and Mitch, and loyal to his friends, he also had a sadistic side. Alison (who asked that her last name be withheld from this article) told me that during Anglin’s sophomore year, she called him, distraught: She said she’d passed out at a party and been raped by a friend’s older brother. She needed compassion and support, but Anglin just laughed and broke up with her.

“You’re a slut,” she remembers him saying.

Several girls Anglin had gotten to know at another high school began calling her house at all hours of the night, according to Alison and other sources. “You deserved it,” they’d say. “You slut.” Alison says the abuse went on for weeks, as Anglin showed friends a video he’d made of them having sex.

After the breakup, Dan Newman, another friend at the time, remembers Anglin once bashing his head into the walls of his bedroom in such a frenzy that his mother had to call the police. Several classmates told me that Anglin didn’t date again in high school and sometimes tried to kiss other boys, including one black student he especially liked. Whether this behavior was authentic experimentation or just for shock value, it’s notable in light of the extreme homophobia Anglin has since expressed on The Daily Stormer and elsewhere. He has advocated, for instance, throwing gays off buildings, isis-style.

By Anglin’s junior year, Greg and Katie’s marriage had come undone. People who knew Katie back then described her to me as a browbeaten woman who lived in fear of her husband. A person who was close to one of Greg’s former clients, along with two Columbus pastors familiar with Greg’s work as a counselor, told me that Greg got involved emotionally, and sometimes sexually, with his female clients. Court documents related to his divorce support this claim: A former client is identified as his girlfriend. Greg would later make her a partner in his counseling practice. (Neither of Anglin’s parents responded to requests for comment.)

Shortly after the divorce proceedings began, Anglin found a new emotional outlet: listening to a right-wing radio host who claimed that 9/11 was an inside job. This was Alex Jones, who would go on to become America’s premier conspiracy theorist. For Anglin, he was an entry point into the “internet truth movement,” an online realm filled with all manner of paranoid delusions. Soon Anglin was pulling classmates aside to warn them about lizard people. After graduation, few of his friends saw or spoke to him again.

To spend any significant amount of time in truther forums is to feel the traps being set, the hooks sinking in. What if?, the mind wonders. For those short on critical-thinking skills, the forums can be infectious and addictive. Here, one might conclude, are fellow detectives working to excavate realities hidden from the “normie” mainstream—that jet contrails contain chemicals sprayed into the atmosphere by the government, for example, or that the moon landing was faked.

Anglin threw himself into this world after high school as he drove around the country, listening to truthers and living out of his Honda Civic. In 2004, he spent a night in jail in Santa Barbara, California, after being arrested for drunk driving. When he returned to Columbus after months on the road, he enrolled at Ohio State University to study English, but dropped out after one semester. In early 2006, he was arrested near campus for two minor drug offenses. (He pleaded guilty to one charge; the other was dismissed.)

Anglin was by then spending a lot of time on 4chan, a website that lets users post images and comments anonymously, and that has drawn droves of socially isolated young people thumbing their noses at political correctness. The channers started memes and organized pranks that would later evolve into troll campaigns such as Gamergate, which targeted women in the gaming community with death threats and other abuse. On one board in particular, users vied to see who could make the most-racist comments, ostensibly as a joke. Over time, the humor receded and the racism stuck. “4chan was more influential on me than anything,” Anglin told me over email last year before he cut off communication.

In November 2006, Anglin launched his own conspiracy-theory website, virtually all traces of which were removed from the internet during the time I was reporting this story. He called the site Outlaw Journalism, a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson, whom he idolized, though Anglin’s writing more closely resembled the rantings of Alex Jones—outrageous posts laced with misogyny and anti-immigrant sentiment. “Welcome to the future,” he wrote. “We’re living in a science fiction nightmare.”

In March 2007, Anglin published his first post about Donald Trump, highlighting a video clip from a 2000 roast of Rudy Giuliani. In the video, the then-mayor is dressed in drag and sprays perfume on his fake breasts. Trump shoves his face into Giuliani’s chest. Anglin labeled them both “fags” and wrote that Giuliani must be having a “twisted homosexual transvestite affair with Donald Trump.”

Elsewhere on his site, Anglin wrote about blood rituals and underground tunnels used by pedophiles and fetus-eaters. He wrote that the government was a “scientific dictatorship” trying to implant microchips in citizens’ brains to create a “worldwide slave grid.”

This delusional thinking eventually overwhelmed Anglin. “I just about lost my fucking mind on that conspiracy shit,” he admitted on a podcast years later. He withdrew to a relative’s farm, most likely his maternal grandmother’s 84-acre property south of Columbus, which had woods, a stream, and fields. “I had some issues, and moved to the country,” he wrote on Outlaw Journalism in May 2007, noting that his thoughts were “about 200 percent clearer.” He took in the stars at night and enjoyed the “ecstatic luxury of taking a long walk on non-paved surfaces.”

But he couldn’t stay away from the truthers. He created the Outlaw Forum, a 4chan-esque board where people could burble about conspiracies. Before long, they began harassing other truthers with whom Anglin clashed. It was his first cybermob.

The internet truthers had embraced a new medium, but their mode of thinking was hardly novel. In his famous 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote about the conspiratorial fantasies of Barry Goldwater supporters in terms that sound strikingly contemporary: “The modern right … feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.”

A similar anxiety about displacement runs through the internet truth movement, which helps explain why it has been a key gateway for the alt-right. Obsessed with systems of control, many truthers end up harping on Jewish influence in society. Some deny that the Holocaust occurred, contending that it was an elaborate ruse designed to let Jews play victims at the expense of everyone else. The Holohoax, as it is known, gives its adherents an excuse to blame everything they hate on a cabal of Jews: Feminism. Immigration. Globalization. Liberalism. Egalitarianism. The media. Science. Facts. Video-game addiction. Romantic failure. The NBA being 74.4 percent black. According to the Holohoax, it’s all a plot to undermine traditional white patriarchy so Jews can maintain a parasitic dominion over the Earth.

Anglin didn’t buy into the Holohoax right away, but a nascent anti-Semitism infused his early writing. He riffed about the “Zionist Occupied Government” and urged readers to contact the German Embassy to protest the conviction of an infamous Holocaust denier for breaking a law against inciting hatred.

As Anglin’s prospects narrowed, his worldview got even bleaker. In February 2008, he was arrested for driving while impaired and spent 10 days in jail, according to court records. The following January, he reported working 50 hours a week in a warehouse and still being unable to afford his own place. That June, he published what would be his last post on Outlaw Journalism for years. It was a warning about the banking system, one-world government, organ harvesting, and plant–animal gene-splicing. “Glowing green monkeys are able to have baby glowing green monkeys,” he wrote.