This is a story about Tanya Gersh. She was threatened with assault and death, over and over again, simply because she is Jewish.
Tanya is a real estate agent in Montana. She was targeted by followers of The Daily Stormer, a far-right neo-Nazi website advocating for the genocide of Jewish people. In 2016, the website’s founder, Andrew Anglin, incited his followers to harass Gersh. Gersh, her husband, and their 12-year-old son received nearly a thousand messages filled with vitriol, including death threats.
Some of the messages she received: “Thanks for demonstrating why your race needs to be collectively ovened.” “You have no idea what you are doing, six million are only the beginning.” “We are going to keep track of you for the rest of your life.” “Hickory dickory dock, the kike ran up the clock. The clock struck three and the Internet Nazi trolls gassed the rest of them.”
The Daily Stormer posted Gersh’s personal information online. This is ‘doxxing,’ publishing personal information on the internet with malicious intent. The Daily Stormer also listed the names and contact information of other Jewish individuals in the area, called on readers to “take action” against them, and threatened a city-wide neo-Nazi rally.
Gersh brought a civil suit against Anglin, alleging that he had intentionally inflicted emotional distress. Anglin maintained that he was simply exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
A federal judge at the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ruled that Anglin’s harassment campaign was not protected under free speech.
In July 2019, Anglin was ordered to pay $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Gersh for cyber-harassment, which is a federal crime – and it is also a crime in many states, including both Montana and Minnesota. Anglin fled the country and will likely never pay, but this was a watershed outcome.
Tanya Gersh was threatened with assault and death – over and over and over again. She stood up, with wonderful support from people in her community, and used the legal system to force a stop to the hate.
This is one incident of antisemitic harassment. There are thousands and thousands more.
In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced that the number of reported incidents of antisemitic harassment, propaganda and assault in the U.S. had reached the highest levels ever recorded in more than forty years of documenting these crimes.
And then in 2022, the ADL announced that the number of reported incidents of antisemitism had outpaced even the record levels from the year before.
The ADL documented 3,697 incidents in 2022, up 36% from 2021. This amounts to 10 antisemitic incidents a day throughout the U.S., in 2022. On average, someone was harassed every few hours. Or a synagogue was vandalized. Or someone faced physical violence fueled by anti-Jewish hate.
Ten antisemitic incidents a day, 3,697 incidents in all, the highest level ever recorded.
Antisemitic incidents have doubled since 2018. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reports that “religion hate crime” in major U.S. cities rose 27% last year, with anti-Jewish incidents accounting for 78% of the total.
PBS reports that this trend “shows little sign of abating worldwide as political radicals have gained mainstream popularity,” and “antisemitic hate crimes rose in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, home to the country’s three largest Jewish populations.”
High-profile entertainers, athletes and political figures are spreading hate. From the AP: “Former President Donald Trump hosted Nick Fuentes, a Holocaust-denying white supremacist, at Mar-a-Lago. The rapper Ye (Kanye West) expressed love for Adolf Hitler in an interview. Basketball star Kyrie Irving promoted an antisemitic film on social media.”
In October 2018, a shooter killed 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue in the worst act of violence against Jewish people in U.S. history. The shooter told a police officer that “he wanted all Jews to die” because Jewish people were committing genocide against his people.
Six months later, there was a shooting in a synagogue in Poway, California, near San Diego. The shooter made a 911 call minutes after fleeing the scene and he said, “I’m defending my nation against the Jewish people, who are destroying the white race.”
On Jan. 15, 2022, a shooter entered Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, taking the rabbi and three congregants hostage during a Sabbath service.
These shooters refer to “white genocide,” a conspiracy theory among neo-Nazis and the alt-right who believe there is a Jewish plot to overthrow white Christian rule and to make whites extinct.
Jewish people are 2.4% of the U.S. population and 0.1% of the population in the entire world – not even 1%. The proportion of Jews in Germany in 1933, when Hitler came to power? 0.7 percent. In all of Europe in 1933? 1.7%.
People throughout Nazi-occupied Europe were mobilized to hate that small percent of people – simply because they were Jews – and then ultimately to exterminate them.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) monitors hate groups throughout the U.S. The SPLC reports that the number of hate groups has climbed to nearly a thousand. Most are white supremacist and neo-Nazi, and they perceive “the Jew” as their major enemy.
Hate is spreading, and social media feeds it. Beginning on Oct. 27, when Elon Musk bought Twitter, there were 325,739 antisemitic tweets – almost 3,500 antisemitic tweets every single day over the next three months.
Nineteen thirty-three was the year that Hitler came to power. The murder of 6 million Jewish people in Europe didn’t begin at Auschwitz. It began in 1933 with words and incitement and smaller acts of violence. And we know how it ended.
What to do? Report hate crimes to the police and to the FBI. Stand up with and for those who are harassed. Today’s antisemitism must stop – before it’s too late.
Tanya Gersh will give a talk and receive an award from World Without Genocide in recognition of her courage in standing up to neo-Nazism. The event, open to the public, will be held on May 23, 2023 at 7 p.m. in Edina, Minnesota. Registration details are at www.worldwithoutgenocide.org/gala.
Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the executive director of World Without Genocide and adjunct professor of Law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.