White supremacists profit on messages targeting Atlanta Jews

For much of the past two years, a small group of white supremacists has targeted metro Atlanta suburbs with flyers bearing outrageous and misleading attacks on Jews.

But recently the extremist activists behind the distributions have broadened their attacks, presenting new challenges for local elected leaders on how to address vexing hate speech that feeds off of the attention its generates.

The most recent example came Saturday night in Cobb County when motorists were confronted with antisemitic slogans laser-projected onto an overpass at I-75 South in Kennesaw. A video taken by a motorist that was later posted on X, formerly Twitter, read, “THIS LAND IS OUR LAND!!! HEIL HITLER AND THE GDL.”

“This is not who we are as Georgians,” State Attorney General Chris Carr wrote in a response on X. “We are a state with loving people that exude kindness. This act and antisemitism have no place in Georgia.”

This year, families in some metro Atlanta predominantly Jewish neighborhoods have found antisemitic flyers encased in plastic baggies weighed down by corn kernels and thrown into their driveways. (Photo courtesy of State Rep. Esther Panitch)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

The GDL refers to the Goyim Defense League, a hate group based in Florida whose followers have been behind much of the distribution of antisemitic flyers metro Atlanta residents have discovered tossed in their driveways. And while the laser-projected message may have attracted attention, it’s not the first such attempt by the group which has escalated its tactics in recent weeks.

On Oct. 13, several members of the group attached antisemitic banners to the Fulton Street overpass on I-85. And on Oct. 22, the crew unveiled another banner at an overpass in Marietta then went to CNN Center in downtown Atlanta where they used a laser projector to project antisemitic, often crude, messages on the exterior of the building.

It’s unclear whether any of these stunts win the group any new converts. But hate group experts said that is beside the point.

The banners were part of a performance for an online audience of like-minded people willing to make donations large and small to support and encourage the group, according to Carla Hill, director of investigative research with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. And the ADL says it’s part of a larger, nationwide increase in antisemitic incidents since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war earlier this month.

The GDL has made a name for itself among white supremacists by livestreaming demonstrations in front of Jewish temples and other public places on the internet, egged on by followers who type encouraging messages in the chat that accompanies the video stream.

“They do feed off of attention, and that’s kind of the whole point,” Hill said. “It’s how they entertain themselves.”

Monetized hate

But it’s more than entertainment. The white supremacists monetize the stunts, accepting donations throughout the duration of hours-long livestreams where they recap their exploits, encourage others to distribute their propaganda, and revel in the media outrage it generates.

Hill has been tracking donations to the Florida-based group’s leader and has identified at least $85,000 in donations this year on one platform alone. The Georgia-based group likely clears less in donations, but a recent broadcast made more than $300 over several hours, according to a graphic that updated as viewers chipped in.

“They use all that stuff to make money,” said Hill, who watched the videos. And their behavior gets more extreme to keep viewers engaged and paying, she said.

“They kind of have to keep pushing the boundaries,” she said.

It’s frustrating for local officials who hear complaints from outraged citizens but have very few avenues to stop it. The same weekend that the white supremacists projected their messages on CNN Center, they also distributed GDL flyers in Brookhaven.

The flyer distribution was part of the show two of the white supremacists celebrated on a livestream later in the week where they showed clips of themselves and other members stuffing flyers into plastic bags and then tossing them from the window of a moving car.

“This is how we get down on our Saturday nights. This is how Nazis go clubbing,” one member of the group said to the camera.

Officials frustrated

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said police and maintenance crews rushed to clean up the mess in hopes that it would not give the people who distributed it “the attention they so desperately want.”

At a meeting of the Brookhaven City Council last week, councilmembers contrasted the hateful messages in the flyers with the success the same weekend of a city festival celebrating the diverse and international character of the intown suburb.

“We must always stand for what is right and eradicate hate,” said Councilman John Funny. “We are too busy for hate. We have too many great things going on here in Brookhaven.”

While police departments often say they are investigating the flyers, there is little they can do, since flyers have traditionally been considered by the courts as protected speech. State Rep. Esther Panitch, D-Sandy Springs, said the state needs to get involved and provide local governments with tools to combat the spread of hateful propaganda.

“Jews are under attack, and if people don’t think so they are willfully ignorant, said Panitch.

State Rep. Esther Panitch D-Sandy Springs, a co-author of the HB30, speaks firmly in favor of the bill during Crossover Day at the Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, March 6, 2023. HB30 defines antisemitism so that it would be included under Georgia’s hate crimes law.
Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

While hate group monitors have warned that antisemitic incidents have risen sharply in recent years, the increased activity and incorporation of new tactics by the Georgia GDL group correlate with the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war earlier this month.

A report released Wednesday by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found that since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault in the United States have increased 388% from the same period last year. Of the 312 incidents recorded across the U.S. over the period, the ADL found 190 were directly tied to the Israel-Hamas war.

In Georgia, the ADL cited several pro-Palestinian protests in recent weeks the organization said expressed support for Hamas, at least one of which contained “overt antisemitism.” In a statement released last week, Emory President Gregory Fenves, who is Jewish, condemned what he referred to as “antisemitic phrases and slogans were repeatedly used by speakers and chanted by the crowd” at a protest on campus a day earlier.

“The heaping on of hate and threats against Jews is coming from both the left and the right,” said Eytan Davidson, director of ADL’s Southeast region, adding that white supremacists”are seizing on this Hamas-Israel war to amplify their disdain for the Jewish people.”

Panitch said Georgia needs to toughen its laws on hate speech that targets people based on their religion or ethnicity. Earlier this year, Panitch championed House Bill 30, which would have added a definition of antisemitism to the state’s hate crime law, but that bill failed to get a final vote before the end of the legislative session.

She pointed to a new Florida law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April criminalizing distribution of “litter” on private property for the purpose of harassing the owner’s race or religion. The bill also criminalizes projecting images and text onto private property without the owner’s consent.

“We need something here because the deterrent effect is working in Florida,” she said.

There is some evidence of that. Hill said the GDL leader announced on his livestream show that he was sending his laser projector to Georgia because it could no longer be used legally in Florida. That projector was then used by activists during the Oct. 22 CNN Center incident.

Broadcasting live, the GDL activists took requests on what they should project onto the building in exchange for donations. Some of the slogans included “Jews worship Satan and control your media” and “Free Palestine and America from Jewish supremacy.” (CNN announced plans to move its operations to Midtown earlier this year.)

One of the white supremacists, Cartersville resident Michael Weaver, has raised more than $19,000 on GiveSendGo, a conservative Christian website that is a popular fundraising tool for the far right.

In February, a Bartow County judge dismissed a defamation case Weaver filed against a Cartersville business owner who had posted on her website about his extreme right activism, ordering Weaver to pay $20,000 to cover the business owner’s attorney fees. Weaver has appealed the decision to the Georgia Court of Appeals.