An outburst during the Los Angeles City Council meeting Tuesday where a gadfly named Michael Carreon raised one hand in a Nazi salute and stated “Heil Hitler” has caused concern among some council members.
The gesture was made during a public comment period and was directed at City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, who was leading the meeting at the time. As assistant council president pro tempore, LaBonge runs the meetings when Council president Herb Wesson, 10th District, and council president pro tempore Ed Reyes, 1st District, are not present. Both Wesson and Reyes had temporarily stepped away Tuesday when the incident occurred.
Carreon, a regular at council meetings who routinely speaks out about parking issues in the 14th District represented by Councilmember Jose Huizar, was reportedly addressing councilmembers individually. He was asked by LaBonge to address him as the leader of the council, which is city council protocol. Carreon allegedly took offense and said, “I’m upset. So I guess I’ll just salute you. Heil Hitler.”
The gesture drew immediate condemnation from Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, who is Jewish. Koretz said he found Carreon’s statement to be “highly offensive”.
“It took me by surprise,” Koretz said. “When one of the public speakers closed his speech by giving the Nazi salute and yelling out ‘Heil Hitler’, it obviously brought back memories about my family members who died in the Holocaust. I certainly reacted angrily. Unfortunately, it has become kind of a circus.”
Following Carreon’s outburst, Koretz said publicly that he was tempted to go over and “clock him.”
“It was one of those things that is so raw and emotional, that it generated an emotional response,” Koretz said. “I’m usually pretty calm, and I am not sure I regret it. I said what I was feeling.”
LaBonge also denounced Carreon’s outburst.
“Those were absolutely horrible words,” LaBonge said. “It is unfortunate that there are a number of people who make comments, which is their right, but often incite feelings of hostility.”
Wesson returned to lead the meeting minutes later, and Carreon was not forcibly removed. Both LaBonge and Koretz said a representative from the City Attorney’s Office was present and was consulted, and it was determined that Carreon acted within his 1st Amendment right to free speech. Later in the meeting, another council meeting regular from Venice used profanity during public comment, and while some councilmembers stated their displeasure, that individual was also allowed to remain.
Koretz added that that he plans to work with other councilmembers in the near future to look at ways to control outbursts in council chambers, but there may be little that can be done because of free speech protections.
He added that some members of the public have intentionally used profanity or worn clothing with words that could be interpreted as offensive in order to be thrown out, and then file lawsuits against the city claiming their 1st Amendment rights were violated.
“I am not sure exactly what we want to do,” Koretz added. “We’ll let this calm down a little for a few days, and we’ll take a look at it. But this is probably the worst example of its kind that I can think of.”