Toolkit for Responding to Extremist Disruptions at Public Meetings
The ADL Center on Extremism is tracking an increase in antisemitic speech and trolling efforts at public forums such as city council, county board and state house committee meetings. Extremists and bigots are using the public comment portion of these events, especially those with the option to call in virtually, to push antisemitic, white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ+ narratives.
These efforts are in addition to the ongoing conflicts, challenges and disruptions at school board meetings nationwide. Since 2020, school boards have faced disagreements and turmoil over a range of issues, including mask and vaccine policies, transgender inclusive bathroom policies and book bans, as well as disinformation and conspiracies around Critical Race Theory (CRT).
Threats to these civic spaces and harassment of community officials undermine and jeopardize American democratic foundations. As reported in October 2022 by ADL and Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative, public officials are increasingly targeted with intimidation and threats of violence, driving some out of local office. These actions make public forums feel unsafe, keep public servants from doing their work and may prevent some candidates from running for office.
Exploiting Public Forums
Using the same tactics they deployed against school board officials, extremists are now harassing individual city council members, particularly those whom they believed to be Jewish. For example, during a May 2, 2023, Sacramento City Council meeting, when a council member turned her back in silent protest against his antisemitic comments, virulent antisemite Ryan Messano responded by saying, “If I followed the Talmud, I’d turn my back too. According to the Talmud, I am an animal and a beast, and every woman in here who is not a Jew is a whore and a prostitute.” And, after a June 6 Walnut Creek (CA) City Council meeting, the Golden State Skinheads, a racist skinhead crew, hung antisemitic banners in nearby Lafayette that included the name of one of the Walnut Creek council members who is Jewish. During a subsequent council meeting, on June 20, antisemitic troll Harley Petero’s hateful comments included asking the council member, “How do you like those banners?”
While abusing public forms is not a new extremist tactic, Messano’s now weekly antisemitic comments at the Sacramento City Council meetings have drawn support and inspired individuals associated with the antisemitic Goyim Defense League (GDL), the white supremacist White Lives Matter network and the far-right Proud Boys. In anticipation of Messano’s continued appearance, counter-protesters now attend the meetings, as do extremists who support Messano. The resulting chaos has fueled extremists’ interest in online spaces such as Gab, Telegram and beyond.
During a May 24, 2023 podcast, GDL leader Jon Minadeo played clips from the Sacramento City Council meetings, praised Messano and told his followers, “Find a city council meeting, bring the [GDL] fliers in, talk about Jewish supremacy” adding “if they don’t want you there, then you should be there. This could be the next thing!”
On June 12, the GDL’s main telegram channel shared a post titled “*ATTENTION * CALL IN AND NAME THE JEW!” which provided information for a Sonoma County (CA) Board of Supervisors meeting including instructions on how to join the meeting virtually. Below the instructions the post read: “Make Jews seethe! Spread the truth in a public forum! GO VIRAL!”
Once the meeting began, it was hyped in the GDL’s Telegram chat. “God speed to the callers. No real names or emails needed,” wrote one person. Another posted, “Need more people not afraid of public speaking. You still have time. Please join when it’s ready.”
Since then, clips of extremists speaking at and calling in to local government meetings have become part of the GDL’s increasingly profitable efforts to monetize antisemitic harassment as entertainment. This harassment will continue, evidenced by the links and information for upcoming meetings that are being shared across the GDL’s sprawling white supremacist network and beyond.
Below are some of the extremists who have recently spoken at or called in to city council, county board and state house committee meetings. In many cases, these individuals use false names, are repeat offenders and live outside the jurisdiction of the committees and political bodies they harass.
Ryan Messano of Fairfield, California, April, May and June 2023
Starting in April and continuing through June, Ryan Messano, an antisemitic agitator, has repeatedly made remarks during City Council and County board meetings in Sacramento, Walnut Creek and Sonoma, California. Messano’s comments often included antisemitic tropes about Jewish power and/or lectures about the First Amendment.
During an April 18 Sacramento City Council meeting, Messano said, “…the information and money are completely controlled by a small group of people. And if you say their name, you’re called an antisemite.” Similarly, on May 16, again before the Sacramento City Council, he said, “…if you say who runs the Federal Reserve, you are [called] antisemitic.”
Calling in to a June 12 Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting, Messano stated, “There are no [First Amendment] exceptions as mentioned for hate speech. So, it is very troubling that we have members of America who think they can silence criticism of their religion by yelling and shouting about hate speech and antisemitism.”
Harley Petero of Modesto, California, May and June 2023
On May 24, 2023, Harley Petero a Modesto-based white supremacist who is part of the Goyim Defense League, attended a Sacramento City Council meeting in support of Ryan Messano. At the meeting, which devolved into chaos, Petero wore a jersey that promoted the GDL with “88,” a white supremacist numerical code for Heil Hitler, emblazoned on the back.
In the weeks since, Petero, using the name Scottie, has called in to speak at council meetings across northern California, in Walnut Creek and Sacramento, as well as a county board meeting in Sonoma.
During a June 6 Walnut Creek City Council meeting, Petero began his comments by falsely claiming to be a resident of Walnut Creek. He went on to say that “every time whites express love for their people, some Jew wants to shut it down.” He also claimed, “We don’t have an issue of white supremacist [sic] like you guys like to push in your Jewish media narratives. We have an overwhelming issue of Jewish supremacy that is becoming more clear [sic] daily, even to non-whites.”
A week later, on June 12, Petero called in to a meeting of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Focusing on an antisemitic 9/11 conspiracy theory Petero claimed, “Every single aspect of 9/11 terror attacks was Jewish.” The next day he called in to the Sacramento City Council meeting claiming Jews are headed to “expulsion” for “parasitical activity.” Petero asserted that when Jews cite “antisemitism in the news” it only serves to expose Jews even more and “accelerates the inevitable collapse of the Jewnited states of Weimerica.”
Harley Petero distributing GDL propaganda with Haley Phillips, CA, May 2023
Jeffrey Perrine of Sacramento County, California, May and June 2023
Jeffrey Perrine, a Proud Boy and GDL associate, attended the May 24, 2023, Sacramento City Council meeting in support of Ryan Messano and along with Harley Petero. He also called in to speak at the June 6, Walnut Creek City Council meeting and claimed that “a bunch of Jewish supremacists” are “shutting down anyone that doesn’t agree with them.”
Perrine, using the screen name “Unapologeticallywhite,” has made hundreds of posts across multiple white supremacist Telegram channels, including those associated with the GDL and white supremacist troll Paul Miller (aka Gypsy Crusader). In fact, in April 2023 Perrine promoted Miller’s white supremacist merchandise sales, said he is Miller’s business admin and declared, “I want to see gypsy thrive again!”
In December 2021, Perrine attended a school board meeting in Lincoln where his speech attacking mask mandates was picked up by conservative news outlets and shared widely in extremist spaces. In February 2021, Perrine was expelled from the Sacramento County Republican Central Committee following reporting exposing his ties to the Proud Boys. In 2022, he ran for the 7th District state assembly seat and after losing that race, ran for a San Juan Unified School Board seat, which he also lost.
Perrine Telegram posts bemoaning Proud Boy convictions of sedition and promoting Paul Miller’s white supremist merch, May 2023
Jon Minadeo of Port St Lucie, Florida, January and June 2023
On June 12, Jon Minadeo, leader of the Goyim Defense League, was one of the five extremists who called in to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting. In his comments, Minadeo identified himself as “Tammy” and claimed to be a Jewish LGBTQ activist who wanted to speak “out against Jewish supremacy.” He also referenced the “Synagogue of Satan.”
On January 23, posing as “Tammy Cohen,” a gay Jewish man, Minadeo appeared in person to speak at an Orlando, Florida City Council meeting. His remarks included the recitation of many of GDL’s antisemitic conspiracy theories, which Minadeo claimed were factual. He ended by saying, “I’m Jewish. Our people are controlling America. Okay? So, I want to stop antisemitism by being honest.”
Jon Minadeo at Orlando City Council meeting – January 2023
Christopher Wood of Wausau, Wisconsin, June 2023
Christopher Wood, a white supremacist associate of the antisemitic Goyim Defense League, called in to speak during a June 13 Sacramento, California City Council meeting. Four days later, Wood led a white supremacist, anti-LGBTQ+ event at Lakefront Park in Hudson, Wisconsin, leading racist, anti-LGBTQ+ chants alongside individuals associated with the Goyim Defense League, Blood Tribe and White Lives Matter.
In his comments at the city council meeting, Wood pressed the council to “start calling out the people who corrupt our country, and unfortunately it’s the Jews, who control the media, control the banks, control the government.” He urged white people to move to “primarily white communities” and suggested they leave California for the “Blacks and Mexicans.”
Wood, who claims to be running for mayor of Wausau, Wisconsin in 2024, makes regular antisemitic speeches in Wausau’s town square, often reading loudly from GDL propaganda.
Christopher Wood leading a white supremacist protest, Hudson, WI, June 2023
9/11 Truth Campaign, Sonoma County California, July 2023
At least seven individuals associated with conspiracy theorist John Jenkle and his “9/11 Truth Campaign” spoke during the public comments section of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting on July 11. Some of those individuals spoke in person and others called in via Zoom. Appearing to read from the same set of documents, these individuals alluded to conspiracy theories related to the Bush administration, 9/11 and “communist China.” One unidentified caller referenced an antisemitic website stating, “for all the 9/11 truth that you need go to 911missinglinks.com which exposes how Israel did 911.”
Arthur Curatola, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, July 2023
Arthur Curatola made antisemitic comments during a city council meeting in Bethlehem on July 5, claiming that “militant Jews and sympathizers for them” are “into chaos and dissension rather than peace, love and world unity” and “are attempting to overthrow our government with their wit by trying to get others to do their dirty work…” He also stated, “The rich and powerful militant Jews will one day control the entire world as they are doing a good percentage of today.” During a December 6, 2022 council meeting, Curatola stressed that Bethlehem is a Christian city named after the city Christ was born in and that the city “should live by and respect the teachings of Jesus Christ…even though he was a Jew.”
Cody Elkins, Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 2023
Cody Elkins, who described himself as a representative of the National Justice Party (NJP), made anti-LGBTQ+ comments during a June 21, 2023, Tulsa (OK) City Council meeting. Opposing the city’s upcoming Pride Parade, Elkins argued that rather than spending money and time assisting “homosexuals and transsexual predators,” the council should use the money to improve the city’s infrastructure.
NJP is a virulently antisemitic white supremacist group that claims to be a “pro-White advocacy organization.” The group is best known for protesting LGBTQ+ events and complaining about so-called “Black on White” crime, which they claim is “evidence” that the white race is under attack.
Cody Elkins speaking during the Tulsa, Oklahoma City Council meeting, June 2023
Brian Grossman of Columbus, Ohio, May 2023
During a May 2023 city council meeting in Columbus, Ohio, white supremacist Brian Grossman claimed the U.S. “government is a foreign government” that does not represent the American people and that “America is now colonized by the terrorist State of Israel.” He went on to say that he was once proud that his grandfathers fought against the Germans, but now believes they “fought the wrong side.”
Grossman, who has been active with the white supremacist White Lives Matter Ohio chapter, is also a Christian Identity adherent and antisemitic conspiracy theorist who denies the Holocaust and falsely claims that Israel was responsible for the 9/11 attacks against the U.S.
Brian Grossman with WLM outside City Hall in Delaware, OH, November 2021
Ayo Kimathi of Temple Hills, Maryland, February and March 2023
Ayo Kimathi, aka Irritated Genie, a Maryland-based antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ+, Black nationalist extremist, frequently testifies at public hearings at the local and state level. In February and March 2023, he testified during at least ten different Maryland Senate and House of Delegates committee meetings, commenting on bills related to hate crimes, Holocaust remembrance, gender-affirming care, health education, vaccines and more. His remarks included extensive antisemitism, as well as anti-LGBTQ+ and conspiratorial statements.
On June 22, 2023, Kimathi called in to the Washington, D.C. City Council meeting and railed against vaccines, accusing council members of willingly participating in “genocide against children in the United States of America...”
On March 14, Kimathi spoke before the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee in opposition to a bill that would provide funds to faith-based institutions to protect against hate crimes. Kimathi criticized the effort and other so-called “protect the Jew bills,” claiming that “these bills are only for Jews” and that Jews make “claims of being victims when they’re actually, in many cases, victimizers.”
Earlier in March, Kimathi opposed the Maryland Senate’s Holocaust remembrance bill. In his comments to the Education, Energy and the Environment Committee, Kimathi stated that it is “un-American to make us mourn a victory that this nation achieved that saved millions of people.” He went on to accuse Jews of waging a so-called “holocaust…on the people in this Republic” via “bioweapon injections,” “the sabotaging of the food supply,” “the destruction of the economy,” and “the staging of World War III between the United States of America and Russia.”
In February, Kimathi testified against a Maryland Senate bill that would require the state’s Medical Assistance Program to provide gender-affirming care in a nondiscriminatory manner. In his comments, Kimathi alleged that “transgenderism” is part of “the sexual insanity that we’re seeing in our society,” falsely and dangerously equating transgender identity with “pedophilia” and “psychopathology.” During multiple other February hearings in the Maryland House of Delegates, Kimathi denounced various bills for allegedly “pushing LGBT pedophilic type of things on young people” and promoting “psychological sexual abuse through the state, sponsored in funding in the school system.”
Minadeo and Kimathi during antisemitic live stream in October 2022
Henry Herskovitz of Ann Arbor, Michigan, February 2023
In late 2022 and early 2023, Henry Herskovitz, a Michigan-based Holocaust denier and leader of the antisemitic and anti-Zionist organization Witness for Peace, spoke at several Ann Arbor City council meetings. During the meetings, Herskovitz took issue with the Ann Arbor School District’s compliance with Michigan’s Public Act 170, which includes the mandate that public school social studies curriculum for “grades 8 to 12 includes age and grade appropriate instruction about genocide, including, but not limited to, the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide.”
In his comments at a February 2023 meeting, Herskovitz implied that Jews “deserved” the atrocities of the Holocaust, stating “We are taught that Jews did nothing to deserve this alleged extermination...but maybe in 1933, Jews were not as innocent as we were led to believe.” At an October 2022 meeting, he also called into question the authenticity of Anne Frank's diary and implied that both the use of gas chambers and the genocide of Jews may not have occurred, a common tactic used by deniers who aim to dispute the historical veracity of the Holocaust.
Henry Herskovitz protesting in Ann Arbor, May 2023
Daniel Svoboda of Poulsbo, Washington, July 5, 2023
Wearing a shirt that read, “IT IS NOT OK TO BE GAY,” Daniel Charles Svoboda made anti-LGBTQ+ comments during a July 5 Poulsbo City Council meeting. Angry that pride flags were displayed in Poulsbo, Svoboda reportedly told the council, “This city was founded by Christians from Norway,” and, “Putting a welcome mat out for…homosexuals is like putting a welcoming mat out for heroin addicts. It’s not the way to love them…It’s hateful behavior. I am very disappointed in your decision, I’m not sure where your heads were.”
Stedfast Baptist Church, Watauga, Texas, June 2022
Representatives from Stedfast Baptist Church, a Texas-based church affiliated with the extremist New Independent Fundamental Baptist (New IFB) movement, spoke at the Watauga City Council meeting on June 13, 2022. The meeting took place shortly after the church announced its relocation to Watauga following its eviction from its location in nearby Hurst.
During the public comments section of the meeting, church members faced off against local community members who were there to denounce Stedfast’s anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs and urge the City Council to take action against the church. Stedfast Baptist Church Pastor Jonathan Shelley, Brother Dillon Awes, Brother Philip Milstead, Brother Marcel Lugo and Brother Brent Southard all made anti-LGBTQ+ remarks in support of the church. In their comments, Shell, Milstead and Lugo asserted that homosexuality should be punishable by death while Southard claimed that the LBGTQ+ community are haters of God and “full of murder and maliciousness.”
Jonathan Shelly speaks at Watauga City Council meeting, June 2022
New Independent Fundamental Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas, May 2022
Members of the extremist New Independent Fundamental Baptist (New IFB) movement affiliated Steadfast Baptist Church, then located in Hurst, Texas, spoke during the public comment portion of the nearby Arlington City Council meeting on May 24, 2022.
Pastor Jonathan Shelley, Brother Dillon Awes, Brother Ben Naim and Brother Philip Milstead denounced the city’s recognition of Pride month, promoting the extremist anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs that are characteristic of the New IFB. The various comments included calling Pride “an abomination,” “a sin,” “fake love” and “child abuse.”