Nine people hung signs with hate speech from an overpass in Port St. John Sunday, stirring up outrage on social media and raising questions about the state of hate in Brevard County.
Photos of the group were posted on Facebook and other platforms, showing their homemade signs on the Ranch Road overpass above 1-95, displaying the N-word, calling for the expulsion of Jewish people and claiming Kyle Rittenhouse shot “three Jews,” punctuating their odious message with three communist hammer and sickle stencils.
A Twitter user brought the signs to attention of State Rep. Ana Eskamani (D-Orlando) who tweeted, “Omg what is this racist & antisemitism trash?!”
Others in response called the banners “disgusting” and “vile.”
The incident was part of a rash of similar displays across the country carried out by a group called the “Goyim Defense League.” Goyim is a Yiddish term for non-Jewish people. Leaders of the hate group promised its members that anyone who made the news passing out flyers or hanging up banners would win $100 to spend in the group’s online store.
Similar rallies were carried out in Alabama, Montana, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.
State Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay), who is Jewish, denounced the display, saying, “Kyle should shoot these [expletives],” in a Sunday Facebook post.
According to observers, the group was there with their signs for three hours before Florida Highway Patrol arrived on the scene in the early afternoon and asked the group to remove them.
FHP spokeswoman Kim Montes said it is illegal for signs of any kind to be flown from overpasses. But Montes said the group removed the banners and left of their own accord. She added no members of the group were arrested or cited.
“We didn’t get any IDs or take any names. We did not ask them to leave the area,” Montes said. “If we ask somebody to do something and they comply, then the end result is achieved.”
According to Montes, the group appeared to be the same people who set up a similar display in Orlando several months ago.
She said Brevard County Sheriff’s Office deputies had been at the bridge monitoring the group for several hours before FHP’s arrival. When troopers did arrive, they consulted the Highway Patrol’s legal team, who advised them that affixing the signs to the overpass was the only violation and was punishable with a ticket.
The BCSO would not respond to requests for comment on the incident.
The group immediately complied and left the area with the banners, she said, and troopers chose not to issue the ticket.
Former police officer and current law enforcement expert Roy Bedard said officers need to use discretion whether to make arrests on a case-by-case basis.
“People are still allowed to engage in hate speech under the first amendment, so with the signs it is a discretionary decision,” Bedard said. “Officers choose not to make arrests on crimes all the time on the spot,” he added.
Fine called the signs despicable and criticized FHP’s response.
“That response is unacceptable,” Fine told FLORIDA TODAY in reaction to the news that FHP did not make an arrest or issue a citation for the sings. “There will be consequences for them to allow racists and Jew-haters to commit crimes without penalties.”
Fine said he plans to talk to the director of FHP and the Governor’s office about the incident.
“Unfortunately being a bigoted jerk is not a crime,” Fine added.
Brevard County has seen flareups of hate speech before, notably in January of this year when antisemitic flyers were found tucked into plastic bags that were tossed onto the driveways of several homes around the Space Coast.
The flyers claimed that Antifa, an antifascist group involved in demonstrations and riots in 2020, is part of a “Jewish communist militia,” operating with the Black Lives Matter organization.
According to the ADL’s data-set of self-reported antisemitic and extremist incidents, between 2002 and 2014 Brevard County recorded zero incidents, while from 2015 to 2019 there were seven. In a county where Jews make up less than 1% of the total population, the sudden spike in antisemitic incidents has been deeply felt.
A Brevard County rabbi decided to combat rising cases of antisemitism last year by holding a six-week course on Judaism for the general public.
Rabbi Craig Mayers, leader of the Melbourne-based Temple Beth Sholom, held the presentation to combat the ignorance, ideologies, and beliefs that fueled the underlying brutality that led to the Holocaust, he said last year.