The FBI is reportedly reviewing the spate of harassing emails and tweets that have slammed residents of the small town of Whitefish, Mont., after the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer put out a cyberhit on several members of the Jewish community there last week.
The call to “take action” against Jews in the small ski resort town was issued after Whitefish resident and property owner Sherry Spencer, mother of prominent white nationalist figure Richard Spencer, told the local ABC News affiliate earlier this month that mounting backlash over her son’s controversial political views had forced her to consider selling her property downtown. According to Spencer, pressure from Whitefish real estate agent Tanya Gersh and members of the local human rights group Love Lives Here caused her “financial harm.”
Last week, the story was picked up by the Daily Mail, drawing the attention of neo-Nazi blogger Andrew Anglin among others. In a post on the white supremacist Daily Stormer website Friday, Anglin urged readers to “TAKE ACTION!” against “Jews targeting Richard Spencer’s mother.”
The post, which is filled with anti-Semitic and sexist language, lists the names and contact information for people either mentioned in the Daily Mail story or associated with Love Lives Here — which Anglin falsely calls a “Jew terrorist group” — as well as members of their families. He also posted photos of some of them, along with a gold Star of David, the symbol of Judaism the Nazis forced Jews to wear as a badge of identification and of stigma.
After publishing the phone numbers, emails, Twitter handles and even home and work addresses of people in the group — whom he described as part of “a vicious, evil race of hate-filled psychopaths” — Anglin warned against any violent actions or threats of violence.
“Just make your opinions known,” he wrote. “Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda to attack and harm the mother of someone whom they disagree with.”
The local ABC News affiliate, KFBB, reported late Monday that the Whitefish police said they “are not aware of any local threats being made to people called out in the article, but there have been many harassing emails and social posts from outside of the state,” which they are forwarding to the FBI. According to KFBB, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Salt Lake City field office (whose jurisdiction includes Montana) said “the FBI is aware of the issue, and is reviewing to determine if there’s a violation of federal law.”
Calls from Yahoo News to the Whitefish Police Department and the FBI office for comment on this story were not returned.
Those named in the Daily Stormer post were also reluctant to speak, with some citing concerns for the safety of their family. But a review of some of their recent Twitter mentions offers a sense of the kinds of messages being received.
Tanya Gersh, the realtor who, according to Sherry Spencer, urged her to sell her building in downtown Whitefish and donate the proceeds — or risk drawing hundreds of protesters and national media attention — received a flood of hate-filled and angry tweets. Told to “move back to Israel” by one tweeter, another promised “I AM GOING TO MAKE IT MY LIFE’S MISSION TO TURN WHITEFISH, MT INTO A HAVEN FOR WHITE PEOPLE ONLY!” Still another told Gersh she belonged in jail.
Nasty tweets also were directed at Gersh’s minor son, whose Twitter account appears to have recently been deactivated. And Ina Albert, the Jewish 81-year-old co-founder of Love Lives Here, came in for a particularly vicious anti-Semitic online backlash. “Filthy Jews! Get out of America!” tweeted one angry Twitter account holder. Another made a Holocaust reference: “sounds like you need to soften the reading light. TRY A LAMPSHADE.” And another, in an increasingly common tactic among white nationalists, sought to turn the criticism of Spencer’s views on its head, asking “Why are Jews so hateful and racist?”
Though police have said they’re not aware of any in-person threats, the Daily Stormer “troll storm” appears to have moved beyond those listed in the original post, targeting several local businesses with a flood of negative Google reviews — many of which seek to tie the owners to Love Lives Here.
The flood of invective is the latest controversy straining this tiny ski resort town as a result of the growing public profile of one of its part-time residents: Richard Spencer, head of the white nationalist think tank National Policy Institute and founder of the so-called “alt-right” movement.
According to the Forward, Love Lives Here has been an outspoken critic of Spencer since at least 2014, when the group led an effort to ban him from conducting business in Whitefish, and won a broad city ordinance against hate groups.
At the time, Spencer was a little-known figure on the political fringe. But in recent months, he’s become widely recognized as the face of a resurgent white nationalist political movement bolstered by the successful presidential campaign of Donald Trump. A video of Spencer’s keynote speech at the annual NPI conference in Washington, D.C., last month showed attendees giving Nazi salutes and yelling “Heil victory!” in celebration of Trump’s win.
Earlier this month, Whitefish Mayor John Muhfeld signed a city resolution declaring that the views espoused by Spencer and others associated with the so-called alt-right are “a direct affront to our community’s core values and principles.”
Muhfeld did not respond to a request for comment, but Montana Sen. Steve Daines has condemned the Daily Stormer’s call to action against Jews in Whitefish, tweeting, “this is not acceptable in Montana. We will work together to fight this repulsive ideology.”
Spencer appears to be embracing the “troll storm” on his own Twitter page, which was recently reinstated after a brief suspension last month. His mother has denounced the kind of cyberharassment that’s been incited on her behalf.
“I strongly urge that everyone stays within the bounds of respectful, civilized discussion of this matter by refraining from abusive comments or targeted harassment of any of the parties involved, or their families,” Sherry Spencer wrote over the weekend, in an addendum to an earlier Medium post about her own alleged harassment by Gersh and members of Love Lives Here. “I disavow the harassment that anyone faced as a result of these events first being brought to light by the media even prior to this publication of my side of the story. After all, my own family and I have faced — and continue to face — numerous threats and bullying on social media as well.”
Over the weekend, Sherry and husband Rand penned an op-ed in the Daily Inter Lake under the headline, “Appeal to Whitefish: Live and Let Live.”
“We are not racists. We have never been racists. We do not endorse the idea of white nationalism,” they wrote, adding that “as parents we love our son” but “we are not accustomed to the spotlight. Furthermore, we feel we we are not part of the story, nor do we wish to be a part of the story, as our son is a grown man.”
Rand later confirmed in an email to the Inter Lake that Sherry had decided to sell her building in response to pressure from the community. Love Lives Here co-founder Ina Albert told the local ABC affiliate that the group has no problem with his mother conducting business in town, insisting, “We don’t cause financial harm to anybody.”
Unfortunately for the Spencers — and their neighbors — their son’s growing political platform may make it difficult for them to escape the spotlight anytime soon. This week, Spencer tweeted that he is “seriously considering” a run for Congress to replace Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump’s pick for interior secretary, if Zinke is confirmed.