Petaluma man’s hate speech has people on edge. Why can’t police do anything about it?
On Oct. 28, a Petaluma resident sent two emails to Mayor Teresa Barrett, alerting her to recent news reports she had seen about a local man who was generating a vast amount of derogatory, primarily antisemitic content through his Goyim Defense League network.
“I am quite concerned that this hate filled man is a ticking time bomb and am wondering if he is being monitored in Petaluma?” she wrote to Barrett in a message she has since shared with The Press Democrat. “Are the police and city council aware that we have a Nazi hate group being nationalized all over the United States right from Petaluma?”
The woman never heard back from Barrett — until last week, when the mayor replied to a follow-up email in the wake of revelations that Jon Minadeo II’s media brand, Goyim TV, was credited for antisemitic flyers recently distributed in neighborhoods around the Bay Area, including in Napa, on Feb. 24.
In that response, Barrett apologized for not recalling Minadeo’s name when she was interviewed about him by The Press Democrat, and explained she receives hundreds of emails and letters.
“I also hope you are aware that without the actual evidence we cannot do more than be aware of him and condemn ALL acts of hate, no matter who is the source,” Barrett wrote.
The resident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted by Minadeo, wishes her local elected leader had taken notice earlier. But most observers agree with Barrett’s assertion that local authorities have limited ability to counter hate speech in their midst.
“Dealing with an individual bigot is difficult,” said Phyllis Gerstenfeld, professor and chair of criminal justice at Cal State Stanislaus. “One option is to make their presence as uncomfortable for them as possible — legally — by making it clear that they’re not welcome and that nobody shares their views.”
More tangible censure can be trickier, Gerstenfeld said, because of the chasm that exists between “hate speech” and “hate crime.” Only the latter is easily actionable.
“In general, it’s a crime if the speech is likely to incite violence,” said Gerstenfeld, who responded to Press Democrat questions by email because she is out of the country. “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.”
Minadeo has built a media persona in that gray area, allowing him to operate with impunity thus far.
In his most recent video recorded for his streaming channel Goyim TV, published Dec. 21, he makes a point of telling viewers not to advocate violence. But as he talks into the camera, the left side of the screen rotates through T-shirts he is hawking, including one that commends Adolph Hitler by proclaiming, “The Austrian painter was right.” The right edge of the screen is a crawl of viewer comments, many of them a celebration of murder.
“who wants to kill jew (right now),” one reads.
“gas every f**king one of these filthy pedovore rat Jews,” says another.
“CLIP THIS F**KING RETARD,” offers one more as Minadeo chats with a guest who disagrees with him.
Minadeo might not be openly calling for genocide, but he has created a platform that serves as a convenient breeding ground for its discussion. And messages of hate, many argue, can spark acts of brutality when received by an angry and in some cases unstable audience.
“I believe that even absent calls to violence, this content can be very dangerous in that it reinforces biases and makes other bigots feel as if their feelings are endorsed,” Gerstenfeld said in her email. “We know that in at least some cases (i.e., the Oklahoma City bombing), violent extremists have been at least partly inspired by what they’ve read.”
Some feel that may have been the case when members of the Goyim Defense League hung a banner over a major highway in Austin, Texas, reading “Vax the Jews” on Oct. 26. Minadeo downplays the coronavirus and calls its vaccines a Jewish moneymaking conspiracy.
Five days later, someone started a fire at Congregation Beth Israel, a temple perhaps 5 miles from where the banner had been draped.
Several Texas news outlets drew a connection between the two events.
On Nov. 10, criminal investigators with the Austin Fire Department arrested Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18, and charged him with arson.
Despite a pervasive threatening atmosphere, jurisdictions have found it hard to confront hate. A Napa Police sergeant told The Press Democrat last week there was nothing his department could do about flyers like those left in the neighborhood adjacent to the Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue last week.