Police: Sonoma County native John Minadeo cited for littering after distributing antisemitic flyers in Florida

While local police have said there is little they can do to stop the spread of hate speech, officers in Palm Beach County did something, however small.|

As the antisemitic flyers produced by Sonoma County native Jon Minadeo II blanketed Bay Area neighborhoods over the past year, responding law enforcement agencies repeatedly offered versions of the same apology: There is nothing they can do to stop protected speech, however hateful it may be.

Last Saturday, the Palm Beach (Florida) Police Department found something to do about it, however modest. They cited Minadeo for littering, along with four other men, after they were apprehended tossing weighted baggies containing propaganda sheets targeting Jews.

“We’re continuing to confer with local law enforcement partners on the matter. And we’ll be investigating any further incidents,” Palm Beach Police Capt. Will Rothrock told The Press Democrat.

The impact is limited. Each man was fined $163 for littering from a vehicle. It’s a non-criminal infraction, meaning it isn’t even recorded as a misdemeanor. If they’re caught again, it will be another $163; the penalty does not escalate unless someone is found dumping huge loads of trash.

Still, Minadeo’s name wound up in the pages of The Palm Beach Post, along with David Y. Kim, 60, of Pennsylvania; Jonathan K. Baldwin, 27, of Indiana; and Nicholas A. Bysheim, 33, of Maryland.

The paper listed Minadeo’s home state as California, calling him “a well-known antisemitic agitator from Sonoma County.” But at least two sources who know the provocateur said he has moved to the Sarasota, Florida, area.

Minadeo has been highly active there, filming several flyer-distribution runs for use on his GoyimTV.com website and uploading the videos to his account on Gab, the right wing social media platform. On one of those runs, Minadeo and Bysheim threw the baggies from a towed U-Haul trailer. The vehicle was pulled over by the Plantation (Florida) Police Department, and Bysheim was arrested when he refused to offer identification.

Minadeo shouted obscenities and antisemitic slurs at the arresting officer. After visiting the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to check on Bysheim’s status, Minadeo left his propaganda flyers beneath the windshield wipers of Sheriff’s Office squad cars.

They are familiar tactics to Bay Area residents who have left their homes in the morning to find hate speech in driveways and on lawns — including neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, Windsor and Napa.

One local Jewish leader expressed mixed feelings on Minadeo’s relocation from Petaluma to Florida.

“Gosh. Either way, it’s a problem,” said Rabbi Mordecai Miller of Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa, whose synagogue is not far from a propaganda dump last September. “On one hand, yeah, it’s nice he moved out of town. On the other hand, there are clearly issues with him moving to a place where there are more Jews, and more elderly Jews.

“Why would he do this? Possibly to be more effective, I don’t know.”

As Minadeo’s infamy spread after The Press Democrat and other outlets began reporting on him, many readers expressed outrage when police departments insisted there was nothing they could do about it. It’s a complicated subject, according to a Cal State Stanislaus professor.

“In general, it’s a crime if the speech is likely to incite violence,” Phyllis Gerstenfeld, chair of the school’s Criminal Justice department, told The Press Democrat last March. “The line here is really fuzzy. For example, writing ‘I wish all Jews would be killed’ is probably protected speech; writing ‘Everyone should pick up a gun right now and kill Jews’ is probably not. And of course there’s a gray area in between.”

A rare instance of an American being prosecuted for hate speech did occur last March. Nicholas Sherman, who is affiliated with the racist Aryan National group, pleaded guilty to one felony charge (desecrating a religious symbol) and one misdemeanor (terrorism by symbol) in Sacramento after he was arrested for taping antisemitic flyers to a menorah outside the Shalom Le Israel synagogue in Carmichael.

The “terrorism by symbol” charge applied because Sherman’s flyers included a swastika. The handouts produced by Minadeo — they are easily downloaded and printed, often making it hard to determine if he is personally involved in littering campaigns — do not show swastikas.

Other countries take a harder stance. In September, Polish authorities arrested Minadeo and a fellow “protester” for holding up antisemitic placards outside the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. The outcome of that case is unclear.

In the United States, there are few statutes for law enforcement to employ against hatemongers. The littering citation is among the few options.

The Santa Rosa Police Department would eagerly use that tactic, Sgt. Chris Mahurin said. But the suspect would have to be caught in the act.

“If we had an officer see him throw something out of a car, perhaps there would be an opportunity,” Mahurin said. “But since it’s typically done during nightfall, no one is made aware at the time.”

After the Santa Rosa flyer incident in September, Mahurin said, SRPD Chief John Cregan visited members of the local Jewish community to solicit feedback, and the department sent a field technician to the scene to take fingerprints.

“We treated it as an investigation, to determine if there was any way we could charge a crime,” Mahurin said. “And there wasn’t. But yes, we do want other tools. Because in this case, the Jewish community does feel targeted.”

If Minadeo has, for the most part, spread his venomous views without consequences, his protections may soon narrow — in both his old and new states of residence.

In Florida, a bipartisan measure — House Bill 269, introduced two weeks ago — would make it a third-degree felony to litter a yard with a flyer, harass people, disrupt schools or religious services, deface graves or project images on someone else’s property, if the action shows hatred toward an ethnic or religious group. It would also make hate-related littering a misdemeanor. HB 269 explicitly references anti-Semitism and the use of Nazi symbols.

California is also taking aim at antisemitism and other forms of bigotry, but its response doesn’t go as far.

In October, shortly after Minadeo went viral by hanging an antisemitic banner over the 405 interstate freeway in Los Angeles, Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced the act and outlined the state’s efforts to combat hate. These included a combined $215 million in security grants for affected communities; creation of the Commission on the State of Hate, which will help to track hate crimes across California; and accelerating the launch of anti-hate resources line.

Miller, the Congregation Beth Ami rabbi, does not oppose law enforcement response to blatant antisemitism. But he believes education and understanding are ultimately more effective. The rabbi also talked about the support, and the hostility, he sees emerging at a time of heightened polarization and tension in this country.

“You always want to be conscious of people who are very supportive,” Miller said. “This last incident (in Santa Rosa), when the flyers appeared on lawns, a neighbor went around and picked up all the leaflets. I think that’s very significant. On the other hand, there’s a general feeling of insecurity in our times. If I’m not being too ‘armchair,’ it’s what causes people to look for scapegoats. And it’s tragic.”

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

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