‘You’re ruining my life’: I knocked on the door of an antisemitic internet hatemonger. Here’s what happened

I had a story about 80% written on the afternoon of March 3. It was a follow-up to The Press Democrat’s recent coverage of Jon Minadeo II, the Petaluma man who posts long screeds defaming and denigrating Jews on his GoyimTV website.

Read about the impact of antisemitic hate speech in the North Bay Jewish community here.

He’s the guy who created the antisemitic flyers that have recently shown up on sidewalks and porches in a number of Bay Area neighborhoods, most recently Napa on Feb. 24.

I wrote about those flyers, and we published a subsequent story that explored the fear that hate speech generates in a community and why law enforcement is unable to do much about it. For this latest story, I talked to Minadeo’s aunt, and to several other people who knew him to try and get a better picture of him.

Before filing, I needed to take one more stab at speaking to Minadeo himself. I had made a previous attempt, but found out later I had the wrong residence.

I can’t say I was looking forward to making his acquaintance. But if I was planning to build a profile in print using other people’s characterizations, I felt I had a journalistic obligation to at least give Minadeo a chance to speak for himself.

This time I visited a triplex not far from downtown Petaluma. In a secluded spot behind the building, up a steep flight of concrete stairs, I rang the doorbell.

The front door opened, and behind the screen door was a man dressed casually in T-shirt and sweats. His neatly trimmed beard and central-casting haircut — shaved short on the sides, hanging longer in back — were immediately familiar.

This was the guy I had watched in so many online videos, the ones in which he wove conspiracy theories vilifying Jews, called them slurs that my editors won’t let me say here, and managed to sprinkle in mocking impressions of gay and Black people, too.

“You’re ruining my life,” Jon Minadeo II said to me.

I would argue he set in motion a cascade of events that may well be ruining his life. But there we were.

Minadeo asked if he could record our conservation. I said yes. I asked him if I also could record. He said yes.

Moments later, I was in the midst of a 45-minute interaction with the man who was spawning so much outrage in Sonoma County. I sat shotgun in Minadeo’s parked car while he reclined in the driver’s seat and vaped up a storm.

I have worked for The Press Democrat for 18 years, and have been writing stories for a lot longer than that. Never had I interviewed someone so far to the fringe of public discourse, in such an intimate setting. It was surreal.

I didn’t feel unsafe. The people I had interviewed described Minadeo as more of an insatiable attention seeker than an angry brawler. At no time during our interaction was he even remotely threatening.

In fact, I would say Minadeo went out of his way to appear courteous (to me, anyway) and reasoned. To be chummy.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t uneasy. When Minadeo fixed his smartphone into its perch in order to capture video — I was concerned he would somehow use our conversation in his propaganda network.

I was right on that count. Within 36 hours, he had posted our interview, advertising it with a reference to a “slanderous journalist” who’d showed up unannounced.

Minadeo seemed candid with me on details of his life, and he confirmed a few things his acquaintances had told me.

He said, for instance, that he had dropped out of classes at Novato High School in the early 2000s and wound up getting his GED; that he voted for Bernie Sanders in a presidential race, and attended the inauguration of Barack Obama; that while he hadn’t personally distributed antisemitic flyers in neighborhoods around the Bay Area recently, he had indeed done the dirty work during a similar campaign in Santa Rosa in 2019.

On other points, Minadeo was more evasive. One of them was how he supports himself. Sources say he has rarely held a steady job since leaving Dinucci’s, the landmark Valley Ford restaurant owned by his grandmother, following a rupture in the family. Minadeo said he does some construction work.

He wouldn’t state how much money he makes from advertising, merchandise sales and donations attached to his online stream. With about 3,300 followers, it probably isn’t much.

I have been interested in Minadeo’s evolution from small-time actor and rapper to antisemitic provocateur. When I asked him about it, he framed that development as dogged education, describing himself almost as the Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein of shadowy Jewish crimes.

Of course, most of the incidents he cites are distortions of real events, if not outright fabrications.

It started, Minadeo said, when he began looking into the chemical company Monsanto. Or maybe it was when he got into acting and discovered the religious affiliation of media moguls. Or was it in solidarity with the people of Palestine? His story was fluid.

This was how we spent most of our time, with Minadeo citing reams of “evidence” of a nefarious worldwide conspiracy. But I had no desire to debate him. Nor am I particularly interested in analyzing his points now. All of them have been thoroughly debunked for anyone who isn’t in the tiniest and most toxic of echo chambers.

Minadeo called his examples “pattern-recognizing.” I call them fantasies, or at least cherry-picking.

I’ll offer one example here. It’s from one of the flyers that led me to this strange moment — the one that trumpeted “EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION IS JEWISH” and offered, as proof, mug shots of 12 prominent people surrounding the president, along with their roles.

Put aside for a moment an obvious retort, that Jews should rightfully be proud of their individual success stories after centuries of persecution. Let’s just analyze what Minadeo was positing.

I do believe all 12 of the men and women on the flyer are Jews. But if every single aspect of Biden’s team is Jewish, how convenient to leave out the 18 members of the cabinet who, in fact, are gentiles. Or all four of the United States’ senior military leaders. Or President Joe Biden, who of course is Catholic.

If that argument falls apart so easily, why even bother with an outlandish assertion like “Jews control 96% of American media?”

For the most part, my interview with Minadeo was a repetitive game of cat and mouse. He constantly worked to highlight his more mainstream-sounding views.

He said his main problem with Jews is that they are overrepresented in positions of leadership. He advocated for free speech, noting that several countries have outlawed Holocaust denial (Minadeo believes the number of Jews killed by Adolf Hitler’s regime was far smaller than the accepted estimate of 6 million). And he decried Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

I would attempt to point out the videos he hosts on his site go far beyond what he was telling me in the car. In the virtual setting, Minadeo does Nazi salutes, talks about “these f**king Jews and their f**king schemes,” and tars not just ruthless CEOs, but every member of a faith, and a cultural heritage, that may count 20 million worldwide.

When I brought that up, Minadeo would pivot to another fringe theory or worn-out trope.

The other theme I tried hard to center was the potential for harm freighted in Minadeo’s words. He replied over and over that he preaches nonviolence.

But antisemitic incidents are on the rise in America. The Anti-Defamation League, which has been counting them since 1979, reports that 2019 and 2020 were two of the three worst years it has tracked. It hasn’t tallied 2021 yet.

Jews are living in fear, again — or maybe they’ve never stopped.

As Minadeo denied culpability for encouraging violence, I thought of Jeff Renfro, owner of the Yoga Hell studio in Petaluma. Renfro told me he took his gun out of storage and loaded it for the first time in ages after he fired Minadeo’s girlfriend, because you never know who Minadeo’s followers are.

I thought of Michéle Samson, president of Congregation Shir Shalom in Sonoma, describing how she finds herself watching a dear old lady during worship services and wondering if she’d have the strength to lift the woman out of a window if the synagogue were attacked.

I also thought of my own family. My mother was Jewish, so I am Jewish. I don’t practice the religion, but I lost relatives to the German death camps. My Uncle Louis, now deceased, begged his children never to get tattoos; to him, tattoos were numbers inked onto arms at Auschwitz.

I was surprised Minadeo didn’t ask me about my religion. Maybe he assumed. When he posted the video of our interview, he included a Star of David emoji in the description. Of course, that might simply have been his way of insinuating I’m controlled by the Jews in those spooky shadows of mainstream media.

Anyway, I kept asking Minadeo: Do you not take some responsibility for the terror one of your followers, juiced up on your theories and implications, might inflict on innocent Jews?

“I do not want, and do not ever endorse violence,” he would answer.

Especially violence against Minadeo, perhaps. He said he was assaulted by a Jewish man during a stunt in Florida, and that his neighbor’s apartment was vandalized “by Antifa” during one of Minadeo’s trips to Texas. He claimed he’ll probably have to leave Petaluma because things are growing so uncomfortable for him. He also claimed he was threatened after the first Press Democrat story about him was published.

“I’m scared for my life, man,” Minadeo said. “You gotta understand, a lot of people are willfully ignorant. And those people can be dangerous.”

Scared for his life? Willful ignorance? Dangerous people? He seemed oblivious to the obvious irony of his statements.

Minadeo clearly wants to live in two worlds simultaneously. In one, he goes about his business in Petaluma, running errands and drinking microbrews like any typical dude. In the other, he’s an internet hatemonger, basking in applause from racists and avowed Nazis who gleefully riff on burning Jews in ovens.

The truth is that Minadeo can no longer be both those people, not in Petaluma. And he has already made his choice.

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.