A lawsuit against a neo-Nazi website publisher over an anti-Semitic online trolling campaign against a Montana family shouldn't be dismissed just because he has been traveling outside the U.S. for several years, a federal magistrate judge said in an order Wednesday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch said there's sufficient evidence that The Daily Stormer's publisher, Andrew Anglin, was legally "domiciled" in Ohio when Montana real estate agent Tanya Gersh sued him last April.
Anglin's lawyers argued the court lacks jurisdiction over the case - and therefore must dismiss it - because they claim Anglin is "not a citizen of any state."
Lynch's recommended findings can be reviewed by a district court judge, and his order isn't a final ruling on Anglin's request to dismiss the case. The magistrate scheduled an April 3 hearing in Missoula, Montana, for Anglin's arguments that the case must be dismissed on First Amendment grounds.
Gersh sued Anglin last April, accusing him of invading her privacy, intentionally inflicting "emotional distress" and violating a Montana anti-intimidation law.
Gersh claims anonymous internet trolls bombarded her family with hateful and threatening messages after Anglin published their personal information. In a string of posts that started in December 2016, Anglin accused Gersh and other Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana, of engaging in an "extortion racket" against the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer.
Gersh's lawyers have accused Anglin of trying to conceal his whereabouts to avoid the legal consequences for his actions.
Anglin has refused to publicly reveal where he is living, claiming he gets "credible" death threats. He has said he took up residency in the Philippines sometime before 2010, moved to Greece in 2013 and then moved to Cambodia four days before Gersh sued him last year.
But the magistrate said Gersh's attorneys presented evidence that Anglin has maintained significant business, civic and family ties in his native Ohio long after he claims to have left the U.S. He has used an Ohio post office box to collect donations for his site and for his legal defense costs. His businesses are registered with the Ohio Secretary of State's office.
"Even assuming Anglin's statements are true, they are not sufficient to demonstrate that he lost his Ohio domicile by acquiring a new one abroad," Lynch wrote.
David Dinielli, one of Gersh's attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the magistrate's decision sends a message that "you can run, but you cannot hide."
"Traipsing around the world doesn't mean you can escape the responsibility for the harm you caused in the U.S., even if that conduct occurred over the internet," Dinielli said.
Marc Randazza, one of Anglin's lawyers, praised the magistrate's careful review of their arguments.
"We're pleased that the magistrate is interested enough in the First Amendment arguments to schedule a hearing," he added.
Anglin's site takes its name from Der Stürmer, a newspaper that published Nazi propaganda in Nazi-era Germany, and includes sections called "Jewish Problem" and "Race War." Other targets of the site's trolling campaigns have included prominent journalists, a Jewish congressional candidate in California, a British Parliament member and Alex Jones, a radio host and conspiracy theorist whom Anglin derided as a "Zionist Millionaire."
The Daily Stormer has struggled to stay online. Domain name registration companies Google and GoDaddy yanked the site's web address, effectively making it unreachable, after Anglin published a post mocking the woman killed in a deadly car attack at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.
Gersh says her family received a barrage of threatening and harassing emails, phone calls and other messages after Anglin published their personal information, including her 12-year-old son's Twitter handle and photo. One of Anglin's articles about Gersh urged readers to "take action" against her and other Jewish residents of Whitefish.
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.
Anglin's lawyers argue he had a constitutional right to express his "political speech" about Gersh and isn't liable for his readers' words or actions. Gersh's attorneys countered that the First Amendment doesn't protect Anglin's "coordinated, online attack" on her family.