Andrew Anglin Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In this week’s roundup: The internet’s leading neo-Nazi and the Charlottesville planner confront legal problems, a planned mosque shooting and the problem with hate-crime stats.

“You want free speech?” reads a new legal brief filed by lawyers representing the neo-Nazi founder of the Daily Stormer website, Andrew Anglin. “Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

That quotation is from Aaron Sorkin’s film “The American President.” It’s weird to see a neo-Nazi quoting one of Hollywood’s most iconic liberals, but 2017 makes for strange bedfellows.

Anglin is being sued by real estate agent Tanya Gersh. Anglin directed readers to unleash a “troll storm” against Gersh, who is Jewish, after she clashed with the mother of white supremacist Richard Spencer. Anglin posted Gersh’s phone number, email address and social media accounts. The Gersh family was deluged with anti-Semitic harassment. People called their home and played recordings of gunshots. Gersh’s 12-year-old son received Twitter messages like, “psst kid, theres (sic) a free Xbox One inside this oven,” a reference to the Holocaust.

Gersh told CNN the harassment caused her family to fear for their physical safety. “These are not trolls,” she said. “They are terrorists.”

Anglin’s legal team argues his posts are constitutionally protected. “Every word uttered by Mr. Anglin in this public dispute is protected by the First Amendment, no matter how many people find those views intolerable,” the brief reads.

They assert Anglin isn’t responsible for the actions of his readers. He was simply encouraging them to protest. The case could have major ramifications for online harassment.

The filing also contains another clue about Anglin’s whereabouts, or where he is not anyway. For months, Gersh’s legal team was unable to locate Anglin to serve him with the lawsuit. He wrote a blog post saying he had moved to Nigeria. (We later debunked the proof he used to back up the claim.) The brief notes Anglin is not living in Ohio, where he grew up, and where Gersh’s lawyers repeatedly attempted to locate him.

Charlottesville, the sequel?

Jason Kessler organized the rally in Charlottesville, Va., that sparked violent clashes between white supremacist groups and counter-protesters. Credit: AP Photo

Jason Kessler, the man behind the deadly August rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has reportedly filed for a permit for an anniversary rally next summer.

Kessler wrote on his website that he “fully expects” a heated legal battle over the permit. If he gets one, it won’t be the provocateur’s only legal headache.

Kessler was indicted on a charge of perjury earlier this year. He is scheduled to stand trial in March. The Charlottesville blogger is among the defendants being sued for $3 million by two sisters who were at the rally. The legal news site Above the Law warns the suit “might cripple the ‘Alt-Right:’ ”

If the punitive damages arguments hold up through trial, that jury would be empowered to hand down an award that could financially crush most activist groups, especially groups as small, marginalized, and rightfully reviled as the groups behind the Charlottesville rally.

Three notable hate crimes caught our eye in the last week

  • In Jacksonville, Florida, a 69-year-old man was arrested after plotting a mass shooting at a local mosque. Bernandino Gawala “Nandie” Bolatete, a Filipino immigrant who was arrested after an undercover investigation by the local sheriff and the FBI, had purchased weapons for the attack and had expressed “anti-Muslim sentiment,” according to local media.
  • A man was charged with a hate crime after allegedly threatening an 84-year-old Jewish man at an assisted living facility in the Bronx, New York. Alen Califano is accused of breaking into the home and threatening several residents including the elderly man. He is accused of directing anti-Semitic slurs at the man.  
  • In St. Louis, Matthew Lieberman, a veteran Democratic fundraiser, was charged with multiple firearm felonies after allegedly firing a gun at two local businesses and shouting racist anti-African American slurs.

FBI hate-crime statistics don’t tell the full story

Last month, the FBI released statistics for hate crimes across the United States. ProPublica’s Ken Schwencke dropped a fascinating piece looking at why the FBI’s numbers paint an incomplete picture.

The FBI relies on reports from local law enforcement agencies. The problem is that the FBI doesn’t mandate agencies to comprehensively keep track of this data. Eighty-eight percent of law enforcement agencies didn’t report a single hate incident for all of 2016.

Schwencke requested info from 350 agencies about their practices around hate crimes:

More than 280 agencies responded, but in many cases only to say they hadn’t investigated any such incidents, or had no records, or that their records were bad.

Only 12 states have rules requiring law enforcement officials to be trained to recognize hate crimes.

As a result, the FBI’s report contains a small fraction of the total number of actual hate crimes occurring in the United States. Research conducted by another government agency may provide a clue to the true scale of the problem.

Where the FBI found 6,121 hate crimes over the course of last year, numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggest something different. Based on survey data, the bureau estimates that around 250,000 hate crimes occur annually in the United States.

‘You can’t fight violence with silence’

Check out this eloquent video from British performer George The Poet, who presents a powerful message: “You can’t fight violence with silence.”

George says hate crimes are born from prejudice embedded in popular culture. When a culture doesn’t challenge statements that suggest some people are intrinsically better than others based on the color of their skin, hate crimes are the inevitable result.

He says:

The defining characteristic of a hate crime is not actually hate. It’s prejudice. We use the word ‘hate’ because it’s born of a hateful climate. But a climate is a collective mood. It’s not individual selective move. In the face of political ineptitude, we only have one option: Let’s improve.

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Have a hate incident to report? Tell us about it here, or contact the Hate Report team: Aaron Sankin can be reached at asankin@revealnews.org, and Will Carless can be reached at wcarless@revealnews.org. Follow them on Twitter: @asankin and @willcarless.

Aaron Sankin is a reporter for Reveal covering online extremism, election administration and technology policy. Before joining Reveal, he was a founding editor of The Huffington Post's San Francisco vertical and a senior staff writer on The Daily Dot's politics team. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Salon, Time, The Motley Fool, Mashable, Business Insider, San Francisco magazine and The Onion. A San Francisco Bay Area native, Sankin studied history and sociology at Rice University. His work at The Daily Dot was a finalist in Digiday's 2015 publisher of the year award, and a story he wrote about a Midwestern family being terrorized by a teenage hacker was labeled by The Atlantic as an essential piece of journalism for 2015. Sankin is based in Seattle.

Will Carless was a correspondent for Reveal covering extremism. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Asia and South America. Prior to joining Reveal, he was a senior correspondent for Public Radio International’s Global Post team based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Before that, Will spent eight years at the Voice of San Diego, where he worked as an investigative reporter and head of investigations. During his tenure in San Diego, Will was awarded several prizes, including a national award from Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has been a finalist for the Livingston Awards for young journalists twice in the last five years. He surfs, spends time with his family, travels to silly places and pretends he’s writing a novel.