Authorities in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood are investigating a series of incidents on May 21 involving members of a group known as the Goyim Defense League who allegedly drove a rental truck with antisemitic messages posted on its sides through the cities and in some instances, confronted people.
Detectives with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station filed a hate incident report after seeing members of the group in a video posted on social media shouting ethnic slurs and derogatory comments regarding sexual orientation, said Sgt. Joana Warren, with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station. The alleged hate incident is being investigated by the sheriff’s department’s Hate Crime Task Force and no arrests have been made.
Officers from the Beverly Hills Police Department also stopped the rental truck for a vehicle code violation on May 21 near the Beverly Hilton Hotel at 9876 Wilshire Blvd. No citation was issued, BHPD Lt. Giovanni Trejo said. Authorities determined the antisemitic messages did not rise to the level of being criminal and are protected as free speech under the U.S. Constitution, he added. BHPD officials are working with local, state and federal agencies to determine if there are any other criminal charges warranted based on the situation.
Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse expressed outrage about the group’s actions.
“As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, this cuts to the core of my soul,” Bosse said. “The way I see it, as much as they feel it is protected speech, we also have the freedom of speech to speak out about this disgusting, vile act. We will never be silent. The people who are doing this are disgusting, they’re vile and they are spreading hate throughout our streets.”
BHPD Police Chief Mark Stainbrook also denounced the incidents. He said while the “rhetoric is offensive,” it was determined that the actions are not crimes after consulting with the Anti-Defamation League, U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
“The Beverly Hills Police Department condemns antisemitic hate speech of any kind, and if any criminal activity is discovered, they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Stainbrook said. “We take these incidents very seriously, and we continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to investigate threats and potential crimes against the city, its residents, its businesses and our visitors.”
Trejo said the Goyim Defense League was previously known to the BHPD because its name was included on flyers with antisemitic messages that were distributed at residences in the city during Hanukkah and Passover. In those cases, it was also determined that the messages were protected as free speech, he said. Similar flyers have been found in West Los Angeles and Pasadena, as well as in other parts of California and in other states.
The Goyim Defense League operates around the country and is believed to be responsible for antisemitic incidents in 15-16 states, said Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism, an anti-hate watchdog organization based in New York City. A contingent of the Goyim Defense League is believed to be operating in California.
“They have traveled throughout the country committing these vile, antisemitic stunts,” Rez said. “They’ve hit cities from Florida to Los Angeles, and it looks like this one has crossed the line from free speech to targeted harassment.”
Trejo and Warren confirmed that Goyim Defense League members posted videos on social media shortly after driving around Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. Police believe a pick-up with other members of the group was following the rental truck. A video allegedly filmed in the driveway of Beverly Hilton Hotel shows a BHPD officer speaking to the men during the traffic stop.
Trejo said the department has launched an internal inquiry into the traffic stop to ensure the officer followed all protocols. Because no citation was issued and the incident received widespread attention, the BHPD is conducting an internal review. Trejo said there is no indication that the officer acted inappropriately, and because it is a personnel matter, he could not comment further.
Trejo said the individuals left the area after speaking to the officer. Rez surmised the group targeted the hotel because a Jewish wedding and bar mitzvah were being held there on May 21.
Following the incidents in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood deputies received a call around 5 p.m. about a man with a gun at a gas station in the 7600 block of Santa Monica Boulevard. They found the rental truck with the antisemitic messages and the pick-up in the gas station parking lot. Warren said deputies determined the item thought to be a gun was a camera tripod, Warren added. Because no crime had occurred, deputies did not cite or arrest the men and they drove away. She said no further reports were made to the sheriff’s station.
However, the group allegedly posted videos of themselves approximately 40 minutes later, and could be seen in the videos yelling slurs at people in West Hollywood, Warren said. Deputies searched for the men but could not find them. Based on the video, the hate incident report was filed and forwarded to the department’s Hate Crime Task Force, she added.
Warren and Trejo said authorities obtained the license plate number of the rental truck and are working with the rental company in case charges against the group are filed in the future. Information about the incidents has been shared with other law enforcement agencies, but police have not yet established connections to any other crimes.
Trejo said the BHPD also plans to work with business owners to see if filing restraining orders could be a method for future protection against the group.
“These folks went on private property, and these businesses do have options,” he added. “They can seek a restraining order and file a no-trespassing order, and then we can potentially cite or arrest them.”
Plans call for further monitoring of the group going forward, and officers plan to hold members accountable if crimes are committed, he said.
“We strongly condemn their actions. These folks have come out in force and they are definitely manipulating the freedoms we have in this country,” Trejo said. “It’s very unfortunate these folks have upped the ante like this. I don’t remember anytime something like this has happened in Beverly Hills.”
The city of West Hollywood also condemned the group and its actions. The incidents occurred a day before Harvey Milk Day, which is observed on May 22.
“These reports are particularly distressing as we mark Harvey Milk Day. We celebrate Milk, who was Jewish and who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, and we will never forget the path he helped to build in rejecting discrimination and in embracing full civil rights,” the statement from the city of West Hollywood read. “In honoring his life and in remembering how his life was cut short by hate-fueled violence, we must commit to standing together in rejecting hate. Hate has no place in the city of West Hollywood. If you see something, say something. Call the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station at (310)855-8850 and, in an emergency, always call 911. The city of West Hollywood has a core value of respect and support for all people and there is no tolerance for hate, intolerance or discrimination.”
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