A neo-Nazi in Pennsylvania has been ordered to pay more than $1.1 million to a fair housing activist and her daughter, whom he terrorized on the Internet through racist postings that branded the mother a “race traitor” who should be hanged, officials said Thursday.
The decision marks the second victory in as many months for Bonnie Jouhari, 44, whose stalking at the hands of white supremacists affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan has gotten national attention.
The judgment was handed down Wednesday by a Housing and Urban Affairs administrative law judge against Ryan Wilson, leader of a Philadelphia neo-Nazi group called Alpha HQ. Wilson did not show up for any of the proceedings against him and could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Jouhari said in an interview that she doubts she and her daughter will ever see much of the money because Wilson has few assets.
But “this is a moral victory,” she said. “Maybe the next person who tries to do this to someone will think twice. Our whole lives have been disrupted but we’ve won some measure of justice.”
Jouhari and her daughter fled Pennsylvania for the West Coast and have moved eight times in the last 2 1/2 years--most recently just a few days ago--in the face of Internet threats from Wilson.
Outraged over Jouhari’s fair housing advocacy work in Pennsylvania, Wilson threatened her repeatedly on his Web site, labeling her a “race traitor” and threatening to lynch her “from the nearest tree or lamppost.” One animated image showed Jouhari’s office being blown up over and over again, and it described her teenage daughter, Danielle, as a “mongrel,” a reference to the fact that Jouhari is white and her daughter’s father is black.
Included in the judgment is $750,000 for Danielle, now 18. HUD officials said that it was the biggest single emotional distress award ever imposed in a federal fair housing case. It came on the heels of an agreement that HUD brokered on Jouhari’s behalf in May forcing another white supremacist who harassed her to make a novel public apology to her.
The administrative judge in this week’s decision, Alan W. Heifetz, was clearly outraged by what he described as a “relentless campaign of domestic terrorism” against Jouhari and her daughter over a period of two years.
“If dedicated and talented fair housing advocates and their families may be targeted, intimidated and harassed with impunity, then the enforcement mechanism of [the Fair Housing Act] will be rendered impotent,” he wrote in his decision.
“What this does is put bigots on notice that threats transmitted via the Internet and other new mediums will still be vigorously punished,” said Brian Levin, one of Jouhari’s attorneys.
But at the same time, he said, the case points up the need for Congress to strengthen laws against those who use the Internet as a tool of prejudice and harassment.
Jouhari, who is unemployed, struggles to pay her rent at the hidden and largely unfurnished location where she lives now with her daughter, who is pregnant. She said that she hopes to find work soon and complete name changes for the two of them to avoid the reach of supremacist groups.
“How safe we are, I don’t know,” she said. “It’s all pretty precarious. We’re just trying to put our lives back together.”