It took a little town to quell the hate campaign of a Neo Nazi group.
While trying to push former President Donald J. Trump's radical supporters from the mainstream, one Montana community takes stock of its efforts.
He once boasted about his role as a white nationalist leader empowered by President Donald J. Trump, Richard B. Spencer, the town's most notorious summer resident. It's a new world out there!
After Spencer's mother made online claims against Tanya Gersh, Andrew Anglin, the founder of the Daily Stormer, launched an antisemitic hate campaign against her. "I have bumped into him, and he flees — that's actually quite a good feeling," said Tanya Gersh, a real estate agent.
As a result, Whitefish officials say Mr. Spencer, who formerly managed his National Policy Institute out of his mother's $3 million vacation home here, is now an outcast, unable to enter into many of the town's eateries. His organization is no longer in existence. During this time, his wife has filed for divorce, and he is scheduled to go on trial in Charlottesville for his role in the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi march, but he claims to have no money for legal representation.
What has happened isn't just a fluke. "Whitefish" has taken the fight to Mr. Trump's supporters who have supported him in the past and will continue to do so into the future. As a result of the Capitol incident on Jan. 6, residents, state politicians, human rights groups, and synagogues came together to launch a bipartisan counteroffensive.
This is how you respond to hate and cyberterrorism in your community, says Glacier Jewish Community/B'nai Shalom Rabbi Francine Green Roston, who educates other groups on warding off hate campaigns like the one Whitefish faced. Also, "take all threats seriously and prepare for the worst."
Muhlfeld concurred. You must act quickly and forcefully, as a community, in order to combat hate and prevent it from infiltrating your town, he urged.
"I don't have any anxiety dealing with anyone," Mr. Spencer remarked on Saturday. Ms. Gersh is not a threat to him, he added, and he understood why people were upset with him.
This is not the place for battles," he said. "I hope they have the same mindset. It is best to go on." We tried to reach his mother, Sherry Spencer, but she didn't respond to our inquiries.
Assertion and Advice
Following the 2016 presidential election victory of Donald J. Trump, Whitefish began to experience problems. His statements were met with Nazi salutes. Mr. Spencer had branded his white nationalist movement a "vanguard" for Mr. Trump before he delivered his speech at his institute's Washington conference. An online video of the speech went viral. Residents in Whitefish talked about demonstrating in front of a downtown business building owned by Mr. Spencer's mother, according to a local newspaper.
When asked if Spencer had phoned her or not, Gersh said that she hadn't received a call.
At her downtown office, Ms. Gersh recounted, "She asked me flat-out if I believed in the ideology of my son." That Whitefish is being harmed is heartbreaking to me. Was soll ich nun tun?"."
My response was: 'Sherry, if this was my son, I would sell the building.'" For example, I'd send money to something like the Human Rights Network to make a statement, and broadcast that you don't believe in your sons' ideology." This is what she said: "Thank you. What I should do is exactly what I should do.
Ms. Gersh stated she had arranged for the property to be sold at a loss in order to avoid paying taxes. Miss Spencer sent her an email a short time later indicating she had rethought working with Ms. Gersch, according to Ms. A number of additional real estate agents were also provided by Mme Gersh.
When Ms. Spencer uploaded an article on the open publishing platform Medium two weeks later, in December 2016, she was accusing Mme. Gersh of blackmailing her by threatening protests and blackmailing her into selling it. According to Mr. Spencer, he and his ex-wife penned the essay published under his mother's name on Saturday. Ms. Gersh, he said, had called his mother, not him. After their claims spread, the far right reacted with fury. "TAKE ACTION," Mr. Anglin of the Daily Stormer pleaded with his "families" online.
Her son was 12 years old at the time and he had access to his mother's personal information as well as her family's social media profiles. The Gersh family and the Jewish community in Whitefish were the targets of approximately 30 articles Mr. Anglin published, according to a complaint Ms. Gersh filed in 2017 against Mr. Anglin in U.S. District Court in Montana.
She received hundreds of text messages, emails, and Christmas cards threatening her. Some days her voicemail box was overflowing. On real estate websites, Ms. Gersh was the target of slanderous remarks. Property owners shied away from enlisting with her.
In addition to Rabbi Roston, the trolls targeted other local rabbis and their wives, as well as any Whitefish residents and business owners they suspected to be Jewish.
Sometime during the conflict with the nameless adversaries, Rabbi Roston became aware that one was the father of one of her son'a best friends. He's now gone, and her family didn't confront him either. As she put it, "He had a lot of guns."
Whitefish's Martin Luther King's Day 2017 march was announced by Mr. Anglin next. Ms. Gersh, her son, Rabbi Roston, and the wife of the other rabbi were overlaid on the gates of Auschwitz in an advertisement promoting the event.
After the march, the Gersh home was to be the destination.
A bipartisan letter from Montana's governor, attorney general, and congressional delegation makes it clear that ignorance, intolerance, and violence threats "have no place in the town of Whitefish, or anywhere else in Montana or across our country." Bullock issued editorials decrying antisemitism, and he met with the families at Rabbi Roston's house to discuss their concerns.
Spencer and his parents publicly distanced themselves from the march as tensions grew in Whitefish, and Mr. Anglin was forced to resign as a result. There was preparation going on behind the scenes by police and federal authorities for a potentially violent incident.
Anglin had not met the town's standards for obtaining a special event permit, according to Muhlfeld.
Asked if they were going to show there, Rabbi Roston said, "No," but they had an elaborate plan in place. On Jan. 6, she said, people were too eager to dismiss threats.
ADL, SPLC and Secure Community Network, the official safety and security group of North American Jewish community gave citizens advice on what they should do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Consequently, at the time of her trauma, Ms. Gersh chose not to speak publicly about her ordeal. Afraid of attracting the notice of the perpetrators, Rabbi Roston kept a low profile, avoiding interviews with Jewish news organizations. A Hanukkah party was held in December 2016 at the rabbi's home, but two armed security guards were stationed at the door. A pile of letters of support from all over the country was laid on each table by the rabbi.
Thousands of paper menorahs were handed out by volunteers. Every window in Whitefish was decorated with menorahs, Ms. Gersh added. Six hundred people turned out for an anti-hate demonstration in the freezing cold. At Whitefish Middle School on the eve of the neo-Nazi march, Rabbi Roston gathered 350 people for chicken and matzo ball soup in an act of solidarity and thanks.
A solitary neo-Nazi didn't show up to march on Martin Luther King's birthday, Monday, Jan. 16. In the Rabbi's words, "We may say that they chickened out."
She sued Mr. Anglin in April for invasion of privacy, intentional emotional distress, and violations of Montana's Anti-Intimidation Act. She was represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As of this year, she was awarded $14 million. Currently, a team of lawyers is hunting for Mr. Anglin's assets and whereabouts.
Beginning Oct. 25 in the Charlottesville case of Sines v. Kessler, a jury trial will be held. Following Heather Heyer's death and the injuries of at least 19 others, a group of victims and counterprotesters filed suit against Mr. Anglin and Mr. Spencer, as well as almost two dozen individuals and groups participating in the "Unite The Right" demonstration.
As a result of not being paid, Mr. Spencer's lawyer left the case last year. This is because I cannot raise money as easily as other individuals can," Spencer said the judge in a pretrial hearing in 2020. In the future, he will represent himself.
A number of sanctions and fines have been levied against the defendants due to contempt of court.
Integrity First for America's executive director Amy Spitalnick said: "After four years of so little accountability it's crucial to make it clear that accountability matters and it works."
Mr. Spencer's National Policy Institute must pay $2.4 million to William Burke, a Charlottesville counterprotester who was gravely hurt.
In 2019, Mr. Muhlfeld last saw Mr. Spencer skiing at a mountain resort, he said. His entrance into the Summit House was met by an outpouring of boos, according to Mr. Muhlfeld.
R. Roston: "Richard Spencer intended this to be his happy vacation spot where he could play, have fun, without worrying about what other people thought," His hostility was then met with social consequences.
Because of the hate campaign, Ms. Gersh had been hesitant about going back to work. But after the Charlottesville rally she realized that if she didn't "they would win."