This is a motto Esther Salas has lived by: “Tu no eres mejor que nadie, pero nadie es mejor que tu.” It means you are not better than anyone, but no one is better than you.
This first-generation American learned it from her Cuban mother, and taught it to her only child, Daniel Anderl.
“It’s a profound way to live your life—to speak to the janitor with the same respect that you would show to [U.S. Supreme Court Chief] Justice Roberts,” Salas, who is New Jersey’s first Hispanic U.S. District judge, told New Jersey Monthly in 2018. “It also means, in the end, you have to be respected too.”
How nice it would have been if she’d been respected—as a judge, as a woman, as a human—in the most basic way. But that was too much to ask for a man who blamed well-educated, powerful women for his problems. Salas’s world was torn apart when this vengeful misogynist killed her 20-year-old son, Daniel Anderl, and critically injured her husband, Mark Anderl.
It was almost evening when a man in a FedEx uniform rang the bell at Salas’s family home in North Brunswick, New Jersey. As Daniel opened the door, the man began firing. Salas, who had been in the basement, ran upstairs when she heard the shots. We can only imagine her horror when she found her son and husband mowed down.
As news broke, theories about the motive of the attack proliferated. Could it be related to one of the high profile cases she presided over, such as the tax fraud convictions of Teresa Guiduci, of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, and her husband? Could it be linked to Jeffrey Epstein? Four days before the attack, Salas was assigned the class-action lawsuit leveled by investors against Deutsche Bank for failing to flag questionable transactions made from Epstein’s account.
On Monday, investigators found a prime suspect, Roy Den Hollander, dead, apparently form a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In his car were the gun used in the shooting at Salas’s home and the names of at least two other female judges. Other potential targets, it seems, for this avowed “anti-feminist.”
An attorney who had argued a case before Salas, Den Hollander, 72, devoted his career, at least lately, to challenging laws and institutions he felt infringed on men’s rights. He had taken on women’s studies programs, ladies nights at bars, and in the case that Salas oversaw, the U.S. military draft.
He openly expressed his hatred of Salas, calling her “a lazy and incompetent Latina judge appointed by Obama” in a self-published, 1,700-page book. He was considered such a nut job that National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group that isn’t exactly mainstream, didn’t want to have anything to do with him. (Den Hollander is also suspected in the murder of a rival attorney in the men’s rights field on July 11th.)
Esther Salas did not have an easy childhood. One of five children raised by a single mother who left her Mexican husband because of domestic violence, as Salas speculated in New Jersey Monthly. Her mother was a caretaker for other people’s children, cleaned offices at night, worked in a factory. At times, the family was homeless, having to bunk in with Salas’s uncle (11 people in one small apartment).
Still, all five of the Salas kids graduated from college. Salas earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a law degree from Rutgers School of Law. While still in law school, she met Mark Anderl, then an assistant prosecutor in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, now a criminal defense attorney.
After 10 years of working as an assistant defender in the federal courts and a stint as president of New Jersey’s Hispanic Bar Association, President Barack Obama nominated her for a federal judgeship in 2010. She was unanimously approved by the Senate.
Their son, Daniel, was a rising junior at Catholic University in Washington D.C. with plans to follow his mother and father into a law career. “I don’t want to dissuade him,” Salas told New Jersey Monthly, “but I was pulling for a doctor.”
“As a first-generation lawyer, she has had an incredible path to the federal bench,” David Lopez, co-dean of Rutgers Law School told NBC News. “People are very sad, because she is known as someone who always gives back. She is a ‘pay it forward’ kind of person.”
We Were Warned
Cynically, Den Hollander couched his fight for men’s rights in the language of the civil rights struggle. He actually compared men’s “oppression” to Jim Crow.
Megan Garber, writing in The Atlantic, notes that many media outlets didn’t take him seriously, or even worse, considered his rantings entertaining. “He treated sexism as a spectator sport,” Garber said. “And media outlets, for a long time, gave him his arena.” He was quoted in publications like the New Yorker and Time magazine and featured on MSNBC, The Today Show and, not surprisingly, Fox News. In 2013, he told the Daily News, “I’m beginning to think it’s time for vigilante justice—civil disobedience.”
He also wrote this on A Voice for Men, a men’s rights website: “The future prospect of the Men’s Movement raising enough money to exercise some influence in America is unlikely. But there is one remaining source of power in which men still have a near monopoly—firearms.”
This is hate speech, plain and simple, and a man like Den Hollander is toxic masculinity personified. But still he was given a soap box, and now that hate has gone mainstream thanks to an administration that unabashedly uses it as a campaign strategy, no one should be surprised that an attack like this happened. He warned us.
But even after the #MeToo movement, huge public awareness campaigns about violence against women, such as the NFL’s No More ads, crazies like Den Hollander are allowed to spout off about “femi-Nazis” and cry for their wounded pride or lack of willing partners.
This is why we need to stay as tenacious as ever; we need to call out and condemn these attitudes for what the are. Anyone who says we’re overly sensitive—”it’s just locker room talk”—needs to think about Esther Salas, without her son, with a wounded husband and a beautiful, respectable life built from nothing that will never be the same.
Top image: The New Jersey Star-Ledger