Two Northern California journalists got to the bottom of who was disrupting various city hall meetings with anti-semitic messages in Berkeley and Marin County. The neo-Nazis then started impersonating those journalists in the same meetings, and others across the country.
Some changes that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to our daily lives became permanent, like parklets. And it seemed for a while that government meetings across the country would keep the COVID-era Zoom calls and remote public comment by telephone in place. Many of them did, until racist Zoom-bombs of city hall and county meetings led to the end of public comment by call-in, here in San Francisco and beyond. According to a new article in today's Chronicle, a spokesperson for the California State Association of Counties said that “all counties have experienced some level of disruption in public meetings.”
That Chronicle article profiles two northern California journalists who started uncovering who was behind this Zoom-bombing. But once they did uncover the perpetrators, the far-right, antisemitic Zoom-bombers started impersonating those journalists at public meetings not only in the Bay Area, but all over the country. (And it should be noted that both of the journalists are Jewish).
The Chronicle spoke with Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and Gabe Stutman of the Jewish News of Northern California. Barber wrote a lengthy exposé this past September on the callers who’ve been disrupting various northern California government meetings with racist outbursts with remote call-ins.
He traced it to a character whom the Chronicle describes as a “failed rapper,” Jon E. Minadeo II. Minadeo had co-founded an antisemitic streaming channel called Goyim TV (Goyim is a Hebrew term for non-Jewish people), and that channel promotes anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
Just days after Barber’s article was published, someone who was not Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat called in to a Novato City Council meeting claiming to be “Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.” That caller then claimed a local Jewish center would be screening a documentary blaming 9/11 on the Jews.
That meeting got even weirder from there, as the next nearly dozen callers were all alt-right Zoom-bombers. “The next 11 callers are more explicit,” as the Chronicle explains. “Two impersonate rabbis and claim to engage in pedophilia. One pretends to be a transit advocate recommending Jewish people be put on trains. Another makes up a nonprofit that turns Jewish people into soap. Some callers think they’re being funny; others sound angry as they accuse the council of oppressing white people.”
The Jewish News of Northern California’s Gabe Stutman has also done extensive reporting on Minadeo’s exploits. And someone claiming to be Stutman called in to an October 4 Berkeley City Council meeting and spewed antisemitic, racist slurs. Even more bizarrely, people claiming to be Stutman even called in to rant racist invective at an October 23 city council meeting in Seldovia, Alaska.
“At that point I knew this was definitely a widespread phenomenon,” Stutman told the Chronicle. “I have no idea how frequently this is happening. But my guess is if it’s happening in Seldovia, Alaska … it’s probably happening in a bunch of different places.”
Many of these cities, like San Francisco, have just flat-out banned calling in to government meetings by phone. That may solve the Zoom-bomb problem, but not the larger problem of antisemitic trolling. And as Barber told the Chronicle, he “almost certainly will be writing about it again.”
Image: Novato City Council