Antisemitic fliers targeting politicians and executives of an American media company were widely distributed across Sonoma Valley Sunday morning as part of a coordinated national hate campaign that has plagued cities across the country.
The advocacy organization fighting antisemitism – StopAntisemitism – has attributed the antisemitic flyers to the Goyim Defense League (GDL). The league travels the country distributing these hateful flyers targeting Jewish communities.
“I was deeply sad, but not surprised. We’ve been seeing these types of antisemitic efforts across the region and actually across the country,” said Jan Chernoff, president of Congregation Shir Shalom in Sonoma.
Similar fliers were reported in Petaluma last year, and in recent weeks, meetings of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Santa Rosa City Schools District have been interrupted by hate speech.
Chernoff said the Sonoma congregation has received support from law enforcement, the city and the greater community in the wake of the hateful rhetoric.
“The Sonoma Police Department is dedicated to the safety of all communities within Sonoma, including, and specifically in this case, the Jewish community,” Sonoma Police Chief Brandon Cutting told the Index-Tribune.
Sonoma police gathered the fliers in bulk from across the Valley on Sunday morning, which will be used for further investigation into this incident, Cutting said.
Despite the antisemitic messaging, the fliers do not appear to rise to the level of a hate crime, according to Cutting. Still, law enforcement continues to work with the Anti-Defamation League to investigate the incidents and the legality of the hateful material.
“There are many laws that directly address the criminality of hate crimes. And while the Jewish community does meet the definition based on nationality and religion, these fliers themselves do not have a threat of violence toward any person or group,” Cutting said. “(The group responsible for the fliers) obviously have sought legal counsel in how they write these, and they are walking a very fine line. I would say this was as close to the line as you could get.”
Former Sonoma Assemblymember Marc Levine, who is Jewish and now serves as the league’s regional director, said the messaging on the fliers is nothing new.
“This is a small band of white supremacists who drop fliers and communities across the state and even across the country,” Levine said. “They’re trying to spread hate in communities, both against people of the Jewish faith, LGBTQ members and racial minorities.”
Chernoff described the efforts of the hate group responsible for the fliers as “cowardly,” noting that Congregation Shir Shalom has been preparing for such an incident amid an international uptick in antisemitic hate crimes in recent years. The congregation received a $200,000 grant earlier this year to provide additional security measures for its members. The fliers, while unsettling, did not target members of the local Jewish faith.
“Do I think this kind of thing is a threat? I really don’t,” Chernoff said. “This kind of activity is more based on intimidation.”
Still, residents across Sonoma were shocked to find the disturbing fliers in their driveways and across neighborhoods, from the Springs to the east side.
“It’s kind of like a virus that infected our neighborhood and I’m just trying to shake it off,” said Marian Pefley, a resident of Fetters Hot Springs who received a flier Sunday morning. “It’s so invasive to find that on my property.”
That “virus” has spread faster in recent years through the rise of social media which has allowed fringe ideologies to enter the public sphere.
“Conspiracy theories have been out there for a long time. And antisemitism is often rooted into conspiracy theories,” Levine said. “These have been further amplified by technology and social media to spread them in a way that they hadn’t been able to spread in the past.”
Moving forward, however, Chernoff hopes for a unified response to dispel the hateful messages that seek to divide the Sonoma Valley community.
“This kind of virulent, hateful speech is really unfortunately gaining traction. It’s important for everybody, not just the Jewish community, to push back,” Chernoff said. “The most important thing we can do is continue to act proudly in the name of the Jewish community and keep our congregation secure.”