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‘Goyim Defense League’ (GDL) Members Continue Antisemitic Rants in Massachusetts Communal Gatherings

Tuesday night, antisemitic and white nationalists from a small group known as the Goyim Defense League posed as a local journalist and as city residents to speak during a virtual Worcester City Council meeting. Their comments started off subtle, but once their message of hate became apparent, Mayor Joseph Petty cut them off.

It was the second time in recent weeks that the group called into a Worcester City Council meeting, spewing hate. That disruption was also cut short by a city official. The group has also targeted councilors with racist, antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ mailings.

And it hasn’t just been Worcester. Last week, members of the Framingham City Council were surprised with 12 minutes of virtual hate speeches at the start of a public meeting.

But, like a lot of hate groups, the Goyim Defense League uses the protections afforded by the First Amendment to attack Jews, Black people, LGBTQ and immigrant communities.

The Jewish advocacy group StopAntisemitism has been tracking the activities of those responsible – the Goyim Defense League’ or ‘GDL’ for over five years and state they vilify Jews with their premeditated hate campaigns.

“These groups thrive on notoriety. They thrive on inspiring any kind of fear they can, and they thrive on attention. The more attention they’re paid, the more they’ll increase their activity in those areas,” said a Southern Poverty Law Center expert who asked not to be publicly identified because of ongoing threats of violence. “From their perspective, they don’t even see it as disruption. They see it as a form of patriotism.”

Their presence has been noted in Massachusetts as far back as last summer when residents of West Brookfield, some of them Jewish, woke up to find ziplocked bags on their steps filled with rice and anti-Jewish messages, including ones denying the Holocaust — an act police suspected was carried out by the group. Two years ago, the league brought national attention to itself by holding a banner over a Los Angeles highway that read, “Kanye is right about the Jews.” The reference was to a string of antisemitic comments made by Kanye West, also known as Ye.

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office told GBH News that it is aware of the activities of the Goyim Defense League but that their activities are protected speech. Other local groups have been closely tracking their activities.

Rabbi Ron Fish says he doesn’t like to use the group’s name to avoid giving them any more publicity.

“They’ve been spreading similar kinds of noxious lies, in various forums, all across the country, including in New England,” he said. “We share our information with law enforcement and with political leaders and with community leaders across all lines.”

Advocates like Fish would like to see more pushback. Fish says the recent council meeting in Framingham is a good example with how community members reacted as speakers unleashed a barrage of anti-Jewish rhetoric.

“There was discomfort in the room, and people can sometimes freeze when these events unfold — as they did in Framingham recently,” he said. “But we ask any individual when they hear hate to respond to it and to push back. And we would have liked to have seen the chair or others at the Framingham City Council to speak up. There are dangerous untruths, which can wreak violence on our community.”

In a video feed of the event, the chair of the Framingham City Council, Philip R. Ottaviani, instructed speakers — who called into the meeting via Zoom — to limit their comments to three minutes. One of the callers began by describing Jews as “parasites.” His remarks were met with boos and hisses from members of the audience who attempted to drown out the man’s comments with clapping and a gospel song.

But local officials’ hands are tied when it comes to countering hate speech in public forums such as city council meetings. Last year, in a unanimous decision, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court ruled that government officials cannot silence members of the public during public comment periods.

Attorney Maggie Mulvihill, an associate professor of journalism at Boston University and a board member of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said that though speech by the Goyim Defense League and other neo-Nazis is troubling, “they have the right to speak.”

“People say horrible, hateful things, but they have a right to do that unless it falls in these narrow categories, like it’s a true threat or it is inciting violence, like the Brandenburg decision,” Mulvihill said. “So, government agencies have to be very, very careful about restricting somebody’s speech.”