There are lies. There are whoppers. And then there is what Andrew Anglin says.
Last Friday, Anglin, who publishes The Daily Stormer, the world’s biggest neo-Nazi website, told a federal court that he should not be held responsible for the anti-Semitic threats his followers hurled at a Jewish woman in Montana because he doesn’t believe the Holocaust happened.
By way of background, Anglin mounted this sordid defense in a case brought against him by Tanya Gersh, a real estate agent in Whitefish whom Anglin attacked on his website last winter after Gersh became embroiled in a property dispute with the mother of Richard Spencer, a leader of the “alt-right” white supremacist movement. Anglin published Gersh’s contact information, whipped his “Stormer Troll Army” of readers into a frenzy and sent them repeatedly after Gersh and her family.
For weeks, Anglin’s trolls bombarded Gersh with hateful, threatening messages. A sampling: “Ratfaced criminals who play with fire tend to get thrown in the oven”; “Day of the rope soon for your entire family”; “Six million are only the beginning.” The trolls sent Gersh images of herself being sprayed with a cloud of green gas and played her recordings of gunshots when she answered her phone. Anglin posted images of Gersh and her son superimposed over the gates of Auschwitz.
Last week, however, Anglin’s attorney Marc Randazza, told the court that his client should not be held responsible for any of the abuse he unleashed, in part because Anglin thinks the Holocaust (which did, in fact, happen) is a hoax.
“If Defendant is to be deemed responsible for the speech of third parties, that speech must be viewed through Defendant’s mindset,” wrote Randazza. “In that mindset, there are no gas chambers; there are no ovens; there are no mass killings of Jews. To the speaker, these are fictional metaphors, a ‘threat’ as true as a Star Wars fanatic sending Death Star-blowing-up-Vulcan imagery to a Star Trek fan. It may be hateful, but it is no true threat.”
The judge in the case is already irritated at Anglin’s claims that he lives overseas as a “stateless citizen” beyond the court’s jurisdiction — Anglin has so far suggested that he lives in Nigeria and Russia; on Wednesday, he submitted photos of passport stamps and a declaration swearing that he moved to Cambodia four days before Gersh filed her lawsuit. The judge recently told Randazza to “emphasize to Mr. Anglin there’s not going to be any game-playing here. Understood?”
Randazza’s latest legal maneuver, which might be illegal in the 16 European countries where Holocaust denial is outlawed, is seemingly without precedent in the United States, according to Brian Levin, a criminologist and civil rights attorney who runs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
It is also seemingly without merit.
As Levin explained, Anglin’s subjective intent to threaten or cause harm is what matters when assessing a true threat, not his prejudiced refusal to believe in the Holocaust (which happens to be the best-documented genocide in history). What’s more, even fictional material can be construed as a threat, especially in a threatening context. “Let’s say someone sends a picture of Al Pacino in ‘Scarface’ killing somebody,” Levin said. “That might very well cause someone harm.”
In 2000, Levin represented Bonnie Jouhari, a Pennsylvania fair housing advocate, in a landmark case with similarities to the Gersh litigation. Jouhari was harassed and threatened by white supremacists after a neo-Nazi posted her picture, along with an image of her office being blown up and a message about how people like Jouhari should “beware, for in our day, they will be hung from the neck from the nearest tree or lamp post,” to his organization’s website. A court ordered the neo-Nazi to pay $1.1 million in damages.
Context mattered then, as it will now for Anglin, who has used his site to terrorize numerous people other than Gersh and routinely advocates for violence against various groups. He has written, for example, about “rounding up the entire Negro population of the United States, putting bullets in the backs of their heads and dumping them into an incinerator.” He has written about executing gay people by throwing them off rooftops. He has written about his desire “to see pieces of journalist brains splattered across walls.”
In private, Anglin’s speech is no different. “I actually do want to gas kikes,” he assured his website’s writers in a style guide obtained by HuffPost.
Members of the Daily Stormer community have taken violent exhortations to heart and murdered at least 15 people in the past few years. Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old who killed nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015, was reportedly a commenter on the site. James Jackson, who traveled from Maryland to New York City last March to stab a black man to death with a sword, cited only one ideological influence after his arrest: The Daily Stormer.
Last week, Anglin even laughed about two of those murders on a podcast hosted by “crying Nazi” Christopher Cantwell, who brought an arsenal of guns to Charlottesville, Virginia, in August ahead of a deadly white supremacist rally.
“You do have that type of thing,” Anglin told Cantwell, chortling about a double homicide in Tampa, Florida, last May in which a member of the Stormer community who’d converted to Islam murdered two of his neo-Nazi roommates. A third neo-Nazi roommate escaped death but was later arrested for possessing explosives and bomb-making materials, and was sentenced to five years in prison earlier this month.
Given this context, whether Anglin believes in the Holocaust or not is moot. When he targeted Gersh, he urged his followers to physically confront her. ”[I]f you’re in