Florida bill banning ‘ethnic intimidation’ flyers aims to rein in neo-Nazis
JTA — Responding to a recent surge in neo-Nazi activity, a Jewish lawmaker in Florida wants to ban displays of “religious or ethnic animus” on private property in his state.
The proposed bill, HB 269, focuses on various activities carried out by neo-Nazi groups in the state, from distributing leaflets with hate speech to broadcasting intimidating messages in public places.
The activity of such groups has been increasing in Florida for several years, according to a 2022 report from the Anti-Defamation League entitled “Hate in the Sunshine State.” The report was published before the founder of the Goyim Defense League, which distributes anti-Semitic messages in public places and to private homes, relocated to Florida.
“We have actual Nazis living proudly in Florida,” the bill’s co-author, Rep. Randy Fine, told the Algemeiner news outlet recently. “The things they are doing are incomprehensible, which I deeply regret, and we are going to make them felonies.”
Fine, Florida’s only Jewish Republican state legislator, did not respond to requests for comment from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
In the past few years, anti-Semitic groups have been gathering outside Walt Disney World and the Chabad house in Orlando; Jew-hatred messages displayed in Jacksonville’s stadium during a well-watched college football game; and visited Florida universities trying to encourage students with messages including “Ye Is Right,” a reference to the rapper, formerly known as Kanye West, who went on an antisemitic tirade last year.
Many, but not all, of these activities have been promoted by members of the Goyim Defense League, whose founder specifically said he hoped Florida would be more welcoming to him and his worldview when he moved his operations there from the California Bay Area.
Now, the Goyim Defense League’s signature tactic would be a felony under HB 269, which has bipartisan support and this week advanced to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, a critical step in the legislation’s passage.
The bill would prohibit Floridians from “distributing any material depicting religious or ethnic animation on private residential property for the purpose of intimidation or threats. [the] owner or resident.”
It would also prohibit the harassment or intimidation of people “wearing or displaying any indicia of any religious or ethnic heritage,” such as kippahs and other items of Jewish religious dress.
Other parts of the bill describe activities by the state’s neo-Nazi groups in recent months, including displaying ethnically intimidating messages on sports stadiums and other buildings, and entering college campuses to carry out intimidation. The bill would classify such activities as third-degree felonies, with violations carrying prison terms of up to five years.
Some of the goals of the bill appear to be working against him. A month-old online petition opposing HB 269 has attracted more than 2,500 signatures, and its comments are filled with antisemitic rhetoric.
One commentator laments “the Jewish attack on freedom of speech”; another, identifying themselves as American airplane pilot and Nazi sympathizer “Charles Lindbergh,” wrote, “No group, no matter how small their hats, has the right to tell us what we can or that we cannot say,” in a clear version. reference to kippahs.
Fine himself has drawn attention in the past for comments that critics said bordered on hate speech.
In 2021, the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for an ethics investigation of Fine after he made comments on social media calling the Hamas militia “animals” and celebrating Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip with the hashtag “#BombsAway.”
It is not illegal to hold Nazi views, Fine acknowledged in a press release last month, adding that his bill adds to existing criminal codes.
“Trespassing is illegal. It is illegal to litter. It is illegal to attack people,” he said. “And we have to say, when your stupid Nazism moves from word to action, we will hold you accountable.”