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.
“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 the area, maybe you should stop by and tell her in person what you think of her actions,” he wrote. This recommendation echoes a more recent case in which Yousef al-Khattab posted a violent video to his Islamic organization’s website and encouraged readers to seek out Jewish leaders and “deal with them directly at their homes.” Al-Khattab also posted a photo and a map of a Jewish organization’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. He pleaded guilty to using the internet to put another in fear of death or injury, and in 2014 was sentenced to 2½ years in prison.
Anglin, unlike Al-Khattab, is not a Muslim extremist. He presents more like an American suburbanite, the sort of average white male from a privileged background who tends to fetch up in middle management rather than the middle of a race war. But his superficial white banality ― and that of the alt-right, at large ― masks an underlying fanaticism. The effectiveness of this camouflage owes to both society’s stereotypical assumptions about white men and the alt-right’s decision to discard swastika banners and jackboots in favor of American flags and khakis, which might also help explain why law enforcement would intervene in a case like al-Khattab’s but force Gersh to turn to the Southern Poverty Law Center to support a civil suit against Anglin.
But there’s no hiding the Holocaust denial that Randazza, who also represents far-right propagandist and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, dropped into Anglin’s latest filing. American courts have a rule called “judicial notice” that addresses false assertions and allows one of the parties in the lawsuit to request that proven facts be introduced into evidence when those facts are not subject to reasonable dispute because they are generally known or cannot reasonably be questioned. This happens with dates, weather, location. It happens with historical events, too. To date, Gersh has not requested judicial notice.
Litigation As Propaganda?
Nevertheless, it is remarkable that Randazza, who did not respond to a request for comment, would go to the trouble of inserting the most offensive of anti-Semitic lies into the legal record.
“It’s not the argument that Floyd Abrams would have made,” Levin said, referring to the legendary First Amendment attorney. “This brief is not necessarily written for legal scholars as much as for Anglin’s extremist followers. … He appears to be using this litigation as a soapbox for his bankrupt racist ideology as much as he is making a legal defense.”
Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history at Emory University and a leading scholar on Holocaust denial, agrees. “It struck me as fodder for his followers. This is an argument they can use now in one of those message boards,” Lipstadt told HuffPost. “I find it really revolting in and of itself. I think it’s just outrageous. But the other reason I find it so revolting is that it’s a new weapon in the arsenal of these racists.”
Lipstadt literally wrote the book on Holocaust denial. For her trouble, she was sued for libel in England by David Irving, a racist sham historian and Holocaust denier who was able to put the truth about a genocide on trial thanks to English law, which assigns the burden of proof to the accused in libel cases. Irving lost in humiliating fashion. A movie was made about Lipstadt’s defense of history. She felt her court victory had sounded a death knell for what she calls “hardcore” Holocaust deniers, who insist that ― to paraphrase Randazza ― there were no gas chambers, no ovens, no mass killings of Jews.
But hardcore denial is making a comeback with the alt-right, according to Lipstadt, who sees the same interplay today between hate and delusional thinking that has always characterized Holocaust denial. The lunacy, however, is vastly more potent with the internet and social media, which give racists and fascists an unprecedented way to self-brainwash and radicalize others in echo chambers like The Daily Stormer. Online hate combined with a neo-Nazi-friendly administration ― Donald Trump has himself retweeted neo-Nazis, white supremacists and a member of the Daily Stormer community ― is deeply troubling to Lipstadt.
“I find it very, very frightening, and I don’t frighten easily,” she said. “The reach that they have that they never had before is mind-boggling. It’s something that we never imagined.”