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California City Council Meeting Hijacked by Antisemitic Speech

Hate speech is spreading and hijacking government meetings in the Bay Area, forcing some local officials to restrict virtual public comments.

During an El Cerrito City Council meeting Tuesday, several people spewed racist and antisemitic rhetoric during the public comment period that was so vile, the meeting abruptly ended.

“It got so bad we actually had to stop the meeting early,” Mayor Lisa Motoyama said. “We do not condone hate in our city.”

El Cerrito is just the latest community falling victim to an attack by far-right extremists and hate groups aiming to harass officials and amplify their messages, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

At least one Jewish city official was personally attacked just days before the Yom Kippur holiday. 

The rhetoric used was strikingly similar to Walnut Creek Councilmember Kevin Wilk who was repeatedly targeted in June. 

“It was shocking at first…I was angry,” said Wilk. “I’m not going to be intimidated and I’m certainly not going to step down from rebuking publicly vile comments, whether it’s antisemitic or other hateful comments.”

Wilk said Walnut Creek was the first in the Bay Area attacked by outside groups. Other cities including South San Francisco, Sacramento and Monterey have also had their meetings taken over.

“They are looking to make people numb with this hate speech, to normalize the hate speech,” he said. “This is not normal.”

Those joining the meetings virtually don’t show their faces but push white supremacist, antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ+ narratives.

Levine said those spewing the hateful messages are oftentimes not local and do not even live in California. He said they seek to disrupt the meetings.

“To attract attention to themselves, to recruit and raise money and unfortunately stop government from serving the public,” said Levine.

A similar problem occurred at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, but then declined in the next couple of years. It has since picked back up.

“It’s terrible. It’s really personalized, and it’s really, really wrong,” Motoyama said.

Motoyama said on Tuesday it quickly became difficult to balance the right to free speech, while stopping hateful comments.

Some El Cerrito residents told KTVU not enough was done to silence the inappropriate attacks and language.

“Council should have shut down this speech the moment it became abusive,” one resident said. “First and foremost, it is hate speech and we do not tolerate it. Second, it is off-topic, so not relevant.”

But Mayor Motoyama warned that the city has to follow the law and cutting off comments could be costly to taxpayers.

“That is exactly the kind of gut reaction that these hate speakers are looking for,” she said. “They want to bring a lawsuit against us for breaching their first amendment rights.”

City and county leaders have met to discuss legal ways to restrict hate speech including limiting the total time for public comment period or reducing the time a person is allowed to speak.

Source: https://www.ktvu.com/news/el-cerrito-is-latest-california-city-hijacked-by-hate-speech-during-public-meeting