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Antisemitic GDL network grows larger as violence against Jewish Americans abounds

A man attends a commemoration ceremony honoring 4 years since a shooter killed 11 worshippers at Tree of Life Synagogue, America's deadliest antisemitic attack. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
A man attends a commemoration ceremony honoring 4 years since a shooter killed 11 worshippers at Tree of Life Synagogue, America's deadliest antisemitic attack. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Many remember the banner draped over a Los Angeles highway last October. It read, “Kanye is right about the Jews.” This came after the singer made a number of antisemitic comments. Pictures that went viral were many peoples’ first glimpse at the perpetrators, members of the Goyim Defense League (GDL).

The term “goyim” is a sometimes-derogatory Hebrew word for non-Jews that the group seized as a badge of honor. GDL’s leader is white supremacist and former rapper Jon Minadeo.

“The GDL is a sprawling network of anti-Semites. So this includes organized white supremacist groups such as NatSoc Florida, the National Socialist Movement and the National Justice Party,” say Carla Hill, director of investigative research at the Center for Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League. “It also includes individuals with no particular group affiliation, just that united feeling of antisemitism that they feel represents their ideology.”

Active around the country, the GDL has focused on Florida in recent months, with incidents in Daytona, Ormand Beach and South Orlando. Members target, harass and antagonize Jewish citizens in public places, specifically places of worship. They shout slurs, proudly display Nazi salutes, distribute propaganda and more.

“The overarching goal of GDL and Jon is to expel Jews from America. So to that end, their propaganda casts aspersions on Jews and spreads all kinds of antisemitic myths and conspiracy theories in the hopes of turning Americans against Jewish people,” Hill says. “They spin any issue to blame Jews for any social grievances they perceive.”

GDL members have been accused of stalking, aggravated assault, murder, terror threats, threatening public officials, vandalism, soliciting sex from minors and defacing a memorial for the Pulse nightclub shooting victims in Florida. But Minadeo says he preaches nonviolence, and law enforcement officers have stated the network’s actions fall under first amendment rights.

“Minadeo certainly schools his followers on how to agitate and spread antisemitism legally. He instructs them to blanket entire neighborhoods and not direct their propaganda at one individual They know to blanket a neighborhood so that they can’t be accused of targeting,” Hill says. “They’re very careful.”

But some law enforcement officials and community members are pushing back through ordinances against littering or laser displays, for example. In February, GDL members hung a banner over the Daytona Speedway that read, “Henry Ford was right about the Jews,” and later projected “Hitler was right” along the same speedway. Mike Chitwood, sheriff of Volusia County, where Daytona is located, vowed to persecute the group.

“You came to the wrong county,” Chitwood said in a press conference. “I stand with my Jewish friends and I’m honored to be on your hit list. It’s an honor to be sought after by a bunch of punk thugs like you.”

Though GDL propaganda has been banned from nearly every social media platform, the network has its own site where members upload videos of attacks against Jewish people and other users weigh in with the same rhetoric. Thousands of people follow Minadeo’s personal social media accounts and hundreds listen to his almost-daily podcast.

Aside from GDL, antisemitism has been normalized in the mainstream by the likes ofYe — the musician formerly known as Kanye West — and white supremacist and political commentator Nick Fuentes, both of whom were invited to dinner with Former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

Chitwood expressed that this widespread antisemitic ideology is dangerous and could inspire mass shootings, a sentiment Hill agrees with.

“You never know what type of person is listening to Minadeo and taking on his instruction and the importance that he sees of expelling Jews from America,” Hill says. “Someone listening to him might take that on as something they need to do and use violence… that propaganda, just the repetition of it, is intentional to try to normalize this kind of language against the Jews and to make the Jewish community feel unwelcome in their own country.”

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtGrace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.