While the national conversation about ridding social media of white-nationalist and other far-right-extremist content focuses around “deplatforming” such voices, the more traditional route for combating such material—suing the bejeesus out of the people who inflict harm on innocents in the name of spreading their hate—continues apace.
A federal judge in Columbus, Ohio, last week awarded $4.1 million in damages to radio host/comedian Dean Obeidallah, a Muslim American, in his lawsuit against Andrew Anglin, publisher of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. Anglin’s site had published a series of posts in June 2017 accusing him of masterminding the terrorist attack against an Ariana Grande concert a month before.
As Obeidallah detailed in the suit, the day after he had published a piece at The Daily Beast calling out Donald Trump for refusing to use the words “white supremacist terrorism,” Anglin began a campaign of harassment against him in which he urged his readers to “confront” the writer. He also published a series of fake tweets allegedly written by Obeidallah celebrating the attack and claiming responsibility for it.
U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. found that nothing in Anglin’s posts constituted protected speech, and issued an injunction ordering the posts removed from the website.
“As a Muslim being attacked with the worst anti-Muslim trope you can say, is that I'm a Muslim I'm a terrorist,” Obeidallah told NPR. “It was painful to have friends and family express concerns. It was painful to contact security at Daily Beast and my radio channel to say, ‘Hey, we might be visited by white supremacists coming to kill me and they might kill innocent people I work with.’ That was all horrible.”
This is hardly Anglin’s only tango with multimillion-dollar lawsuits. He and the Stormer—a genuinely vile publication named after the newspaper published by the infamous German Nazi Julius Streicher, Der Stürmer—also face a major lawsuit from a Montana woman, Tanya Gersh, who was subjected to a neo-Nazi “troll storm” at Anglin’s hands in 2016.
Due to that lawsuit, Anglin reportedly now spends all his time overseas. He claims it’s too dangerous for him to return to the United States because of the suit. In the meantime, the judge in that case has ruled that he has no First Amendment defense in the case, and that Anglin has in fact forfeited his defense by refusing to return; his attorneys subsequently withdrew from the case.
Anglin is also not the only prominent right-wing extremist facing a potentially ruinous lawsuit arising from the harassment campaigns they led. Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones faces a similar suit from the parents of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, who were plagued with an onslaught from Infowars fans who believed Jones’s claims that the tragedy was actually a “false flag” operation intended to fuel gun control laws, and that the children in reality had never existed. Last week, lawyers for the parents claimed that Jones attempted to send them child pornography.
Jones has tried to blame his long career making these and similarly false and outrageous claims in support of his conspiracy theories on a “psychosis” caused by the government.