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This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.
Prominent American neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin has fled the United States for Lagos, Nigeria. Or has he?
In a post on his website entitled “Nigerians Love Neo-Nazi White Supremacist Andrew Anglin,” he says he is receiving a warm welcome from the locals. Nigeria, he wrote, is a place where he could avoid being harassed by law enforcement and “antifa ‘street enforcers.’ ”
The announcement comes as Anglin faces a lawsuit that could destroy his site, the Daily Stormer, one of the most influential in the online white supremacist ecosystem. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which sued Anglin three months ago for harassing a Jewish family, hasn’t been able to find him to serve him with the lawsuit.
When reached by email, Anglin said that he really is in Nigeria. However, some clues left on his own website suggest that may simply be another act of trolling.
Anglin first talked about living in Nigeria in an interview with CNN. He expanded on the experience in his own blog post:
While the Jews say that every racist is pure evil and just blindly hates skin colors for no reason, I in fact get along well with the Nigerians I live amongst here in Nigeria. In fact, they love me. The fact that the world’s number one racist hater feels safest in a totally black country where pansy antifa would pee their pants as soon as they got off the plane is something that should give even the densest liberal pause for thought.
In one image he uses to prove he’s in Nigeria, Anglin shares the Facebook post of a woman named Julian Natukunda wishing happy birthday to an Andrew Anglin.
However, Natukunda’s Facebook profile lists her location as Kampala, Uganda, which is about 3,000 miles away from Lagos, Nigeria.
In a WhatsApp conversation, Natukunda told us “Andrew Anglin” is also her son’s name. She said she has no idea who the American Andrew Anglin is – or his current location.
Anglin shared a series of other photos in his post to prove he’s in Nigeria. None of them actually includes him. One is a generic photo of a residential street with cars parked on it. Another depicts meat kabobs at a food stand.
In further evidence that Anglin is trolling, at the bottom of the post, Anglin features a video that he claims to be audio from an interview with a Buzzfeed reporter named Willard Goldensteinbergen. When you click on the video, it plays a clip from the film Apocalypse Now. Willard Goldensteinbergen is not the name of a Buzzfeed employee and is an obvious parody of common Jewish surnames.
Regardless of where Anglin is, there are reasons he would go on the lam. If successful, the lawsuit against him, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of the Jewish family Anglin targeted for what he called a “troll storm,” could set a new precedent in holding internet trolls accountable for the emotional distress they cause.
Court documents show the SPLC has been unable to locate Anglin to serve him with the lawsuit. Defendants in lawsuits must be given notice that they’ve been sued so they know about the case and have the ability to defend themselves.
The SPLC attempted to serve Anglin at a number of locations in Ohio, such as the address where the Daily Stormer is registered as a business and the address where the business’s name was registered with the Ohio Secretary of State.
A process server also visited the home of Anglin’s brother and his father’s psychiatric counseling service, according to the court documents. No one at the locations associated with Anglin’s family accepted the papers. When a process server went to Anglin’s brother’s home, a man who did not give his name told the server that he “can’t do that” to his brother.
Neither Anglin’s lawyer, Marc Randazza, nor representatives from his law firm responded to requests for comment. Randazza made a name for himself defending the alt-right online message board 8chan and conservative media personality Mike Cernovich, who drew widespread criticism for promoting the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.
“If it’s unpopular and people want to shut it up, then we have represented them,” Randazza told the Associated Press.
The SPLC says it has not been able to get Randazza to respond to their questions about the case in any way.
However, Anglin is clearly aware of the case.
In June, he wrote a story entitled “Andrew Anglin has Retained America’s #1 First Amendment Lawyer to Represent Him Against SPLC” and the banner running at the top of the Daily Stormer keeps a running tally of donations made to fund Anglin’s legal defense. To date, he says he’s raised more than $150,000.
If Anglin or his lawyer never show up to answer the charges, the plaintiffs have other options.
SPLC can ask the court clerk in Ohio to place a notification in a local media outlet for six weeks as a means of effective notification. After that, the judge could allow the case to proceed without Anglin’s direct participation or simply hand the SPLC the victory.
Anthony Colangelo, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, said the judge also can seize Anglin’s assets.
“The entire point of the procedure is to see that justice is done and make sure defendants receive a fair hearing,” he added. “When you have a defendant who is purposefully trying to avoid a lawsuit, and plaintiffs are doing everything they can to vindicate their rights, courts are going to be sympathetic.”
The lawsuit against Anglin was filed by Tanya Gersh, a real estate agent from Whitefish, Montana targeted by the Daily Stormer.
Whitefish is also the hometown of white nationalist Richard Spencer. When Spencer’s mother became the focus of local anger as her son gained prominence in the Trump era, Gersh said she tried to help Spencer’s mother sell her property. The deal went sour, and Spencer attacked Gersh on social media, claiming she was trying to extort money from his family. Anglin soon jumped into the fray, urging his readers to go after Gersh.
“Just make your opinions known,” Anglin wrote. “Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda. … This is very important. Calling these people up and/or sending them a quick message is very easy. It is very important that we make them feel the kind of pressure they are making us feel. … And hey – if you’re in the area, maybe you should stop by and tell her in person what you think of her actions.”
Daily Stormer readers directed a torrent of harassment at the Gersh family. One Twitter user sent a message to Gersh’s 12-year-old son that read: “psst kid, theres (sic) a free Xbox One inside this oven.”
The suit contends that Gersh “has experienced serious and severe emotional and physical distress as a result” of Anglin’s actions.
However, the SPLC’s goal runs deeper than simply making Anglin pay out. David Dinelli, the group’s lead attorney on the case, said the suit’s ultimate aim is to prevent Anglin from conducting harassment campaigns in the future.
“As an institution, as well as on behalf of Tanya Gersh, we would love it if whatever judgement we got was significant enough to cause Andrew Anglin to stop publishing his vile and hateful publication and to stop targeting people,” Dinelli said. “He needs to be punished and he needs to be deterred in addition to making compensation to the really significant harm his conduct has wrought on Tanya Gersh and her family.”
Even after the lawsuit was filed in April, the Daily Stormer has repeatedly egged on harassment campaigns against other people who have drawn his ire.
He encouraged his followers to troll Taylor Dumpson, the first black woman elected student government president at American University.
In a post on the site, another writer urged readers to track down the families of CNN employees. The call came after CNN wrote about the Reddit user with a long history of white supremacist posts who created the meme of President Donald Trump wrestling CNN.
Anglin targeted a Polish YouTube personality named Magdalena Pegowska, who posted videos about her interracial child.
Dinelli said Anglin’s failure to respond to the lawsuit is deeply revealing of the white supremacist’s character.
“There’s irony in him being a big scary bully who is willing to take on anyone so long as he’s hiding behind his keyboard,” he said. “Now he actually has the opportunity finally to come and defend himself and wrap himself in the First Amendment, and yet he doesn’t have the guts to do so.”
Aaron Sankin is a former Senior Staff Writer at the Daily Dot who covered the intersection of politics, technology, online privacy, Twitter bots, and the role of dank memes in popular culture. He lives in Seattle, Washington. He joined the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2016.