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‘Goyim Defense League’ (GDL) Continues to Torment Wyoming Municipal Gatherings

White supremacist trolls have been targeting the Laramie City Council for nearly half a year. What seemed at first like isolated hateful comments quickly revealed itself as a concerted attack on the council’s ability to host public comments.

Observers view attacks like these as fascist assaults on the very ability of communities to be self-governing.

On a Tuesday night last October, a night just like any other, the Laramie City Council gaveled in for its regular meeting.

It was more or less a normal meeting for the council — until Mayor Brian Harrington cut to Zoom for public input. It was at that point the council was flooded with hateful comments.

One of these Zoom commenters gave a false name and a false address before launching into a rant about atheists, Jews, and how America is allegedly getting away from its Christian roots.

Harrington cut him off.

“Mr. Hess, for one, 1488 Park Boulevard does not exist in the city of Laramie,” the mayor said. “And also the anti-semitism will not be welcomed in this council.”

But those first comments were simply a taste of things to come.

At the next meeting, it happened again. More antisemitic comments from random individuals, identifying themselves with Nazi codenames. After shutting down the third in a row that night, Harrington turned to legal counsel.

“City attorney, if this continues to be a pattern, I’m not sure I’m interested in us providing a platform for folks to insert their hateful comments into our meeting,” he said.

City Attorney Bob Southard was just as disturbed as the councilors.

“It’s disruptive to this meeting besides being odious,” Southard said. “And this council and this meeting does not have to listen to these people spout this filth.”

Southard told the council it cannot require people to sign up beforehand, but it can put some sidebars on what’s allowed.

That’s what the council did, and it’s been a struggle ever since. The council added new requirements for Zoom participants; eventually, it scaled back opportunities for virtual comment. The trolls have pushed back, squeezing in whatever hateful comments they can in the moments before they’re kicked out of the meeting.

Throughout all of this, Laramie’s city councilors have been left wondering: who’s doing this?

Jeremy Shaver, the Mountain West’s senior associate regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, had a surprisingly specific answer.

“The vast majority are the responsibility of an extremist group that holds virulent antisemitic beliefs,” he said.

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.

It happened once in Jackson (though the Jackson Town Council was able to keep their comment period going) and in several Colorado communities as well. Across the country, the group has disrupted more than 140 local government meetings since last summer.

The disruptions in Laramie, meanwhile, have not let up. And they’ve taken a toll on both the Laramie city councilors and staff, who have to carry on with the normal business of the city.

Outside of the meetings, Harrington said it’s incredibly difficult to make that shift.

“Almost every week, it is a bunch of hateful stuff, and my heart gets racing, my face turns red, and I’m frazzled,” he said. “And then I have to read a proclamation about something really great happening in the community — recognize a group doing good work, something of that sort. And it’s really hard to transition your brain from one of those things to the other.”

Shaver said this attack on a local government’s ability to even function is part of the point.

“These extremists are hijacking these public comment periods, these opportunities for residents of local communities to participate in their local government,” he said. “And that is not healthy for our democratic institutions.”

The Laramie City Council has limited its open-ended public comment period to in-person comments only. For now, Zoom attendees can still comment throughout the meeting on specific agenda items. But the fascist disruptions are creeping into those parts of the meeting too.

At the most recent meeting — five full months since the first attack — Harrington preemptively warned the room before going to Zoom for public comment.

“I’m just going to note for those in the room who have kids, these have gone off the rails a little bit in a way that you don’t want your children to hear probably,” he said.

The commenter tried to start, and Harrington told him to turn on his camera. The commenter did as he was asked, but appeared to have blocked the lens.

The mayor, audibly weary in the face of another attempted disruption, told the city clerk to throw out their virtual guests.

“Okay, we can remove this person, City Clerk, I have a feeling I know where that’s headed,” Harrington said with a sigh. “What a dumb thing we have to do.”