Editor’s Note: This story addresses hate speech and contains offensive language that may be disturbing to readers.
Once the calls began, they did not stop. Swiping to decline a call just led to the phone ringing again. Blocked number after blocked number filled up the voice mail.
Deleting one message just created space for another to take its place.
Then came the tweets and the email messages.
The volume was overwhelming. The content: vile and terrifying.
Gunshots rang out from voice mails. Emails and texts read: “I hope you die,” “Kill yourself,” “We will take pleasure in your pain.”
Tanya Gersh found herself buried in an avalanche of hate, one she had not seen coming and one that focused on one fact: She’s Jewish.
Gersh was called a “bitch,” “a worthless c**t,” and told countless times she was nothing more than a filthy “k**e.” The vile and ugly words were spelled out in full when sent to Gersh.
The messages began late at night and continued into the early hours, keeping her family awake. Or there was a night of silence, broken by an onslaught at 4 a.m., jolting the family from sleep.
One voice mail – “You are surprisingly easy to find on the Internet. And in real life” – ended Gersh’s lifelong practice of leaving her home and car unlocked in her little Montana town, nestled by a lake in the Rocky Mountains.
It became unbearable, Gersh said. She described panic attacks, vomiting, shaking and sweating. And then the times she could not even catch her breath.
Now, she was in fear of almost anyone she met. Her old way of life had been washed away. She was now in an America full of hate. It was an America where racism and bigotry have powerful online platforms.
Gersh learned that one blog post could lead to an anonymous online assault by a group of hateful people hell bent on destroying her life. All it took was a few keystrokes, amplified by a social media megaphone, to send the deluge of repulsive messages her way and heighten tensions in this quaint ski resort town.
All because of what started, Gersh says, as a “mother-to-mother” chat.
Gersh appears to have become a target for hate after contacting tenants of a local building. Gersh says she was then called by the building’s owner, Sherry Spencer, the mother of white supremacist Richard Spencer.
Gersh says she warned Sherry Spencer about looming protests at the building in Whitefish, a Montana town of 7,300 where both women live.
Gersh says she advised Spencer to disavow the views of her son, including that the United States is a country for white people. She says she offered to sell Spencer’s property as a way of defusing tensions in town. Gersh suggested Spencer donate money to a human rights group.
Sherry Spencer refused to speak to CNN when we reached her on the phone. Earlier, she wrote in a blog post that Gersh, a Realtor, had threatened her, saying protesters and media would