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Washington Public Zoom Meeting Interrupted by Antisemitic Attendees

Several people made antisemitic comments Monday during the public comment portion of the Anacortes City Council meeting.

The comments were made by people attending the meeting through Zoom.

The comments included racial slurs, neo-Nazi talking points and antisemitic conspiracy theories.

According to multiple councilmembers who spoke with the Anacortes American on Tuesday, members of council and mayor were unaware of the comments as they were delivered via Zoom, and the comments could only be heard by those participating in the council meeting through Zoom.

The saboteurs were then able to use deception to take advantage of a vulnerability in Zoom to unmute themselves and speak at will, according to councilmembers.

Councilmember Christine Cleland-McGrath told the American that there have been issues throughout the country in which vulnerabilities in Zoom have allowed “trolls” to sabotage meetings with hate speech and similar rhetoric.

In total, the ordeal lasted for roughly 10 minutes of the council’s 1-hour, 37-minute meeting. At no point during the meeting did the mayor or council address the comments.

“I was surprised, but I mean, then again, people have First Amendment rights to say what they want,” Councilmember Jeremy Carter said.

“I don’t stand for hate speech, but at the same time, people have the right to say what they want to say.”

Carter told the American he imagines a condemnation, specifically from the mayor, may come at the next council meeting.

Cleland-McGrath expressed shock at what took place, calling it “absolutely awful.”

She said she wasn’t aware of what was going on.

“I wasn’t quite aware of what was going on for the first bit until we started hearing kind of what the subject matter was, and then it becomes a challenge, it becomes navigating the freedom of speech when it comes to public meetings and balancing that with hate speech. That was definitely hate speech,” she said.

Cleland-McGrath also spoke as to why the speech was not acknowledged or condemned by council at the meeting.

“The policy has always been that we don’t respond to public comment in the moment,” Cleland-McGrath said.

Councilmember Anthony Young, who was not at the meeting, spoke with the American on Tuesday about the public comment period.

He said that the antisemitic public commenters’ opportunity should have been cut off by the city.

“I think they should, I mean because at the end of the day … the rules of decorum and the rules of speech and free speech is allowed, but it’s within the rules of decorum,” Young said.

“ … Anything about public policy, that’s one thing. It’s a whole other thing when you’re talking racist, racism, hate. Any of those things that incites violence is not free speech. I don’t believe that’s free speech. I believe they should be cut off.”

City Attorney Darcy Swetnam told the American that public comment periods are an open opportunity for the public to provide comment on any topic.

“We obviously don’t prescreen what people say at public comment periods,” Swetnam said.

She told the American public comment is a limited forum protected under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

In a news release Wednesday from the city of Anacortes, the city said it condemns the individuals involved and any associated group or organization for the harm caused by their speech.

“Of the words I heard, they were incredibly gross, obscene, nonsensical, hateful, false, antisemitic,” Mayor Matt Miller said in the release. “They were terrible. And the law protects much of that speech.”

The release stated the City Council will review public comment policies to determine how to best respond to disruptions and address hate speech within the requirements of the U.S. Constitution and the Open Public Meetings Act.

Source: https://www.goskagit.com/news/local_news/antisemitic-comments-made-via-zoom-during-anacortes-city-council-meeting/article_e13922de-9487-11ee-96db-07a0a9304116.html