Members of an antisemitic hate group raise their arms in Nazi salutes behind a banner reading 'Kanye Is Right About the Jews,' which they hung over a Los Angeles freeway in October 2022. (Courtesy of ADL Southern California/Twitter)
This story was produced in partnership with inewsource, a nonprofit news organization in San Diego. It is part of an ongoing project with inewsource and other NPR stations to chronicle the extent of extremism in California.
The story contains descriptions of antisemitic violence and speech.
n October, an antisemitic hate group hung a banner over a Los Angeles freeway. It read: “Kanye Is Right About the Jews.”
Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, had made a series of antisemitic remarks during interviews and in social media posts — comments immediately seized upon by the Goyim Defense League, the group that performed the hateful stunt and promoted its streaming platform GoyimTV on another banner.
Though the stunt took place in LA, the roots of the antisemitic propaganda group behind it lead back to the Bay Area.
Jon Minadeo II created the group in 2018 while living in Petaluma, the small town nestled in Sonoma County wine country about an hour north of San Francisco. Once an aspiring rapper and movie star, Minadeo began building an online following through GoyimTV, a business he described as “informative educational entertainment” in papers filed with the state in 2021. The channel has thousands of followers on Gab, a social media app popular with white nationalists.
Minadeo, 40, increasingly preaches antisemitism in public, too. The banner on the 405 was just one of several recent exploits he used to drive more people to GoyimTV.
In August, Minadeo attracted international attention when he traveled to Poland, where he was arrested at Auschwitz, the death camp where Nazis killed more than 1.1 million Jewish people. Beside him was Robert Wilson, a frequent public stunt partner who refers to himself as Aryan Bacon.
According to an ADL survey of Americans published last month, more than three-quarters — 85% — believe at least one anti-Jewish trope, such as Jewish people “stick together,” don’t share American values and hold too much power and influence in the world. That’s up 24 percentage points from three years ago.
These sentiments are echoed in another antisemitic notion: that a secret cabal of Jewish people controls the world, a belief widely shared by adherents of the QAnon conspiracy.
The Goyim Defense League’s network is relatively small compared to those of other extremist groups in the United States, but people who monitor extremism say aggressive harassment of Jews and the perpetuation of the "great replacement theory" — a racist, conspiratorial narrative that white populations are covertly being replaced — has emboldened white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
The Bay Area is where Minadeo began spreading neo-Nazi propaganda, by placing antisemitic flyers on car windshields and driveways in Santa Rosa, Novato, Petaluma, Oakland and Berkeley, among other cities. In the past year, thousands of flyers linked to the Goyim Defense League and containing conspiracy theories have appeared across the country, from California to Minnesota to Wisconsin and to Florida, where Minadeo is currently agitating.
A Berkeley yoga studio owner’s effort to spread awareness about Minadeo may have contributed to why Minadeo left the Bay Area late last year. Nothing, though, has stopped him from spreading hate.
Minadeo typically starts his livestreams by proclaiming, “Let’s expose these Jewish lies.”
In one recent broadcast, Minadeo sported a white linen jacket, sunglasses and a gold chain with a swastika pendant. He raised his right, outstretched arm with the palm of his hand flat and pointed downward. The salute is arguably the most recognizable — and appropriated — symbol of Nazism besides the swastika, an ancient religious symbol.
The shock-jock broadcasts include antisemitic diatribes, racist memes and mash-ups of footage of the Third Reich, the Nazi regime that purposefully guided the genocide of 6 million Jewish people. Minadeo also baits young people on platforms like Omegle by engaging Jewish, LGBTQ or BIPOC teenagers in conversation by pretending to accept them before shouting racist, homophobic insults until they exit the chat.
Internet service providers have tried to curb GoyimTV’s reach. The channel has been kicked off the internet several times, but each time, streaming resumed on a new server within a matter of days.
Minadeo reads viewer comments from people who donate, raising hundreds of dollars during each livestream, and has extended his reach by encouraging followers to distribute antisemitic flyers, which can be downloaded from his site for free. Some of the flyers feature Jewish politicians and business leaders with the Star of David emblazoned on their foreheads, a crude reminder of the dehumanizing persecution of Jewish people who were forced to wear identifying badges during the Holocaust. “These flyers were distributed randomly without malicious intent,” a disclaimer at the bottom of the flyers reads.
Minadeo instructs viewers on how to clandestinely distribute the flyers and promises a free T-shirt to anyone who gets news coverage for their flyer drops. He shares videos from those who spread hate, including one that shows a person driving around an unidentified neighborhood while tossing flyers onto lawns. Another appears to be taken by a woman as she walks through a parking lot, placing flyers on car windshields.
The ADL has closely monitored the flyering incidents. In 2022, the ADL’s Center on Extremism recorded at least 454 incidents linked to Minadeo’s organization, a 513% increase from the 74 incidents the previous year. In total, flyers were distributed in 42 states and Washington, D.C., according to a preliminary count.
Teresa Drenick, the ADL’s deputy regional director for the Central Pacific Region, said the flyers are meant to cause fear and distress in the Jewish community.
“There’s psychological damage,” said Drenick, a former Alameda County assistant district attorney. “There’s intimidation, and there’s fear that is stirred within the neighborhood, within the community, within the city.”
'You'd hope that it never happens here. And then … '
Barbara Winter was shocked when she found a flyer in February 2022 in the driveway of her home in Tiburon.
“Every single aspect of the COVID agenda is Jewish,” read the flyer, which also listed the names of Jewish public health officials and drug company executives. At the bottom was a GoyimTV logo, which looks a lot like a swastika.
Winter and her husband, Mordechai Winter, were disgusted.
“My family comes from Europe and I was born in China,” he said. “I’m a refugee.”
Mordechai’s father fled Poland in 1939, finding refuge in Shanghai. His mother left Vienna in November 1938, after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. The organized violence was a tactic to expel Jews from territories and countries occupied by German forces.
“You’d hope that it never happens here,” Mordechai said of Tiburon, an affluent town perched on the San Francisco Bay in Marin County. “And then you have little bumps like this.”
Winter reported the flyer to police, who weren’t as surprised as she was. “They knew about it,” she said. “I wasn’t the first person that called them.”
Law enforcement agencies throughout the state have investigated numerous Goyim Defense League flyering incidents, but KQED hasn’t found any that resulted in prosecutions.
Laurie Nilsen, the public information officer for the Tiburon Police Department, said officers conducted an investigation. “We collected as much evidence as we could, and we went to the DA’s office and spoke to them about it,” she said.
Lori Frugoli, Marin County’s district attorney, determined the flyer was protected by the First Amendment. “This is infuriating and repugnant, and we reject this hateful behavior,” she said in a press release last year. “Such as they are, the messages in these flyers were intentionally designed and distributed in a manner that is protected as free speech.”
Sitting at his kitchen counter nearly a year after receiving the flyer, Mordechai said he understood the DA’s decision, but he also feels the flyers are disturbing.
“This isn’t exactly yelling ‘fire’ in a theater,” he said. “[But] it’s not harmless. It’s very offensive.”
After hearing about the police approach in Kenosha, a Twitter user lambasted Marin County officials: “How come you can’t manage to do the same with flyers that are constantly being distributed all over Marin County?! You know who is responsible. We all do. Jon Minadeo Jr., Goyim Defense League. Do your jobs.”
In 2020, after a man put up dozens of stickers in downtown Fairfax of a large black swastika and the words, “We are everywhere,” Mark Solomons helped form the group Name, Oppose and Abolish Hate in Marin County.
“As much as I’m enraged at and upset at seeing a flyer like, ‘We are everywhere,’ I was really shocked that the DA was not able to do anything about it,” Solomons said.
His group has pushed for the creation of a county hate crime task force, and advocated for the state to strengthen hate crime laws.
In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2282, which expands the locations where a swastika, a burning cross or a noose are prohibited to include K–12 schools and colleges, cemeteries, places of worship or employment, private property and public parks, spaces and facilities. While AB 2282 doesn’t prohibit Goyim Defense League’s use of flyers because they don’t include swastikas or make specific threats of violence, Solomons said the new law is encouraging at a time when a lot of things are discouraging.
“You know, we’ve been fighting — those people that are older. Now we have to fight for the things we already won,” said Solomons, referring to the push to eliminate religious persecution. “Some of us have to keep slogging on.”
Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly has written resolutions condemning the flyers. It’s symbolic, but Connolly said it’s important to take a stand.
“We know who’s doing this,” he said. “It’s a small, fringe, right-wing group. It certainly does not speak for the community at large. That having been said, it is in our midst and it’s impacting our neighbors, our Jewish community.
“As these incidents increase, I think the response, the awareness, the education, the push against [it] also has to increase,” Connolly added.
'Hate speech leads to an increase in hate violence'
Stephen Piggott, researcher of white nationalism and antidemocracy groups for the Western States Center, a pro-democracy organization monitoring extremism in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain States, said the Goyim Defense League’s public antics make its hateful message more dangerous.
“There’s no question that hate speech leads to an increase in hate violence,” said Piggott. “I think we must be clear that the GDL are not simply these keyboard warriors. They’re often engaging in real-world bigotry and threatening behavior.”
In May, Minadeo, Wilson and a small group of supporters rented a U-Haul truck and covered it with antisemitic symbols and rhetoric. They drove to the Beverly Hilton, a hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
According to a video posted on Twitter by StopAntisemitism, a group that calls out "antisemites" to hold them accountable, two men dressed as members of the Sturmabteilung, a Nazi paramilitary group colloquially known as the brownshirts, paraded around the truck. Minadeo, who is wearing a black hat with fake side curls shouts, “The Nazis are coming!” Wilson also appears in the video.
From Beverly Hills they drove to West Hollywood. “A group of Nazis have rampaged down Santa Monica Blvd from Beverly Hills to West Hollywood harassing Black people, gay people and Jewish people,” WeHo Social Justice Coalition tweeted in a video that shows the U-Haul parked at a gas station on Santa Monica Boulevard.
The group of queer activists posted another video of Wilson and Minadeo, who wore a T-shirt with the Black Sun, a Nazi-era symbol now popular with neofascists, being confronted by onlookers. The pair allegedly harassed a Black woman at the gas station.
“Why don’t you get the f--- out of here,” one man says. “This isn’t your neighborhood.”
Another man says to Wilson, “You’re a racist!”
Wilson replies, “Who taught you people to read and write?”
Researchers were concerned about the real-world consequences of online antisemitism long before 2018 when a man shouting antisemitic slurs entered the Tree of Life Congregation, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and killed 11 people. The perpetrator had been immersed in antisemitic rhetoric and conspiracies on Gab, and was posting on the site just minutes before he opened fire.
In 2019, on the last day of the Jewish Passover holiday, a 19-year-old man killed one woman and wounded three others at a synagogue in San Diego County. He had posted an antisemitic and racist letter in an online forum claiming Jewish people were planning the replacement of white people by genocide, a conspiracy theory that led white nationalists to march through Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” in 2017.
“This is not folks just making disparaging remarks about Jews on the internet and laughing about it,” Piggott said, referring to Minadeo and Wilson. “They’re showing to the world they’re truly committed to this by going into the streets and getting in the face of people and publicly harassing them with all sorts of horrendous slurs.
“That can certainly lead to escalations and can lead to violence.”
Just this month in San Francisco, a 51-year-old man was arrested and charged with multiple felonies including religious terrorism for allegedly brandishing a replica handgun and firing blanks inside a synagogue. The man, Dmitri Mishin, shared photos of himself in Nazi uniforms on social media and posted other antisemitic content online prior to his arrest.
The ADL has identified supporters of Minadeo’s network who have been charged with or convicted of crimes such as arson, assault and making death threats. One man, who distributed antisemitic flyers in Florida, was arrested at a Nazi rally last February for allegedly assaulting a Jewish man. He also faced charges for allegedly pointing a gun at a group of Black men in a parking lot that same month.
Another man filmed himself plastering GoyimTV stickers on public streets and buildings in Texas. In July 2021, he messaged the ADL’s website threatening to “kill all of you Zionist pigs.”
Minadeo and Wilson’s Auschwitz stunt would not be considered criminal in the United States. But Poland has stronger laws governing hate speech, specifically the banning of “hatred against national, ethnic, racial or religious differences.”
Wilson, of Chula Vista, a city in the San Diego metropolitan area, wasn’t arrested alongside Minadeo in Poland. But he’s currently evading charges of felony battery and a hate crime allegation for yelling homophobic slurs at his neighbor and striking him in the face in November 2021. On Aug. 19, a judge issued a warrant for Wilson’s arrest after he failed to show up for court.
Petaluma yoga studio owner exposes Minadeo
There’s no clear indication of why Minadeo became a perpetrator of hate speech. He refused to comment on the record in an hour-long conversation with KQED.
He went to high school in the northern Marin County city of Novato, where he lived with his mother in a series of inexpensive apartments, according to public records. For a time, he worked for the family business, Dinucci’s Italian Dinners, a mainstay in Valley Ford, a town in an unincorporated section of Sonoma County.
In an interview with a KQED reporter, a former high school classmate of Minadeo described him as “the popular, cool guy.” But the classmate, a longtime Petaluma resident, thinks differently after watching a few of Minadeo’s livestreams. He was particularly disturbed by the way Minadeo uses Omegle, a website that randomly pairs strangers for video chats, to scream slurs at children.
“I’m waiting for the day when they can get him with something,” said the former classmate, who requested anonymity because he fears retaliation. “At least sue him or take his website down.”
When Petaluma resident Jeff Renfro met Minadeo in 2013, he said he found him a little awkward. Renfro and his wife, Lynn Whitlow, own Funky Door Yoga in Berkeley and Yoga Hell in Petaluma, where a woman engaged to Minadeo at the time, Kelly Johnson, worked as a teacher.
Renfro, who is Jewish, wasn’t aware of Minadeo’s antisemitic beliefs. He said he initially bonded with Johnson and Minadeo because all three were recovering from substance use disorder.
In 2016, Renfro and Whitlow offered to make Johnson a partner in the purchase of a new studio, Hella Yoga in Berkeley. According to Renfro, Minadeo loaned Johnson $50,000 to purchase an ownership stake and often came to the studio to help with renovations.
But Renfro noticed a change in the couple during the pandemic. Minadeo refused to get vaccinated, and was no longer allowed inside the studio. Instead, Renfro said, he would sit in his car and vape for hours while Johnson taught classes.
Johnson, who seemed distracted and distant, started making offensive comments. In 2021, she said something that really shook Renfro. After Johnson returned from visiting her mother, he asked how her flight went.
“She said, ‘I had to sit down next to these — they were like these smelly Jews wearing one of those hats and stuff,’” Renfro recalled. It struck a nerve. “When someone says they sat next to dirty, ‘smelly Jews’ on the airplane and you’re Jewish, you don’t forget that.”
Renfro searched Minadeo’s name online, and found the GoyimTV site selling Hitler T-shirts, including one that read, “Auschwitz was a country club.” Then he watched dozens of Minadeo’s videos.
“You have to watch them to realize how evil they are. And also they were inciting violence,” Renfro said. “It really touched me at my core. I was like, ‘I know somebody like this. I know this person. He’s been over to my house.’”
Renfro searched Johnson’s work computer and found paperwork she apparently filed to incorporate GoyimTV. He confronted Johnson, but she denied knowledge of Minadeo’s activities. Last March, when news reports identified her connection to Minadeo, Renfro fired Johnson, bought her stake in the yoga studio and closed the business.
To expose Minadeo, Renfro said he contacted the FBI, the ADL and several Bay Area journalists. After articles featuring his name were published, Renfro said he received threatening phone calls from people. He was called an “[N-word] lover” and told to watch his back.
“We’re going to kill you, k---,” one person said.
Renfro also received calls of support. One woman, who said she was imprisoned at Auschwitz when she was 6, told him the flyers were terrifying. The woman became so scared she didn’t want to leave her house, Renfro recalled.
In December, Minadeo played a video during a livestream to announce that he was leaving California. “My time in this state is over," he said. The rest of the announcement played like a theatrical trailer replete with scenes of angry reactions to his stunts. The video culminates with ominous music that punctuates the words that scrawl across the screen: “California was just the beginning” and “Florida you’re next.”
Minadeo has been delivering on that promise. On Jan. 23, he spoke at an Orlando City Council meeting, identifying himself as a Jewish, LGBTQ advocate named Tammy Cohen. Wearing heavy eyeshadow and a yarmulke, he read several GDL flyers. He said that instead of demonizing the people who distribute them, Jews should admit that the flyers are “factual.”