Neo-Nazis protest in front of two synagogues in Georgia

Two Georgia synagogues were the targets of near-identical anti-Semitic protests over the weekend, both allegedly organized by a neo-Nazi group that has risen to prominence in recent months.

On Friday, June 23, a group of around 10 to 15 protesters gathered outside Temple Beth Israel, a reform church in Macon, a city in central Georgia. They carried crude placards, hung an effigy on a post and uttered anti-Semitic malice before being broken up by police.

The next day, about 11 people waved swastika flags and displayed very similar anti-Semitic messages outside a Chabad center in Marietta, Georgia, about 100 miles north. The signs accused Jews of exercising control over elected officials or institutions such as the media and the Federal Reserve. Another sign reportedly referred to the 1913 lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner, in Marietta. Signs also pointed to the group’s streaming channel.

Both protests appeared to be the work of the Goyim Defense League, a neo-Nazi group that has been spreading its messages and instigating other anti-Semitic incidents across the country. The organization’s leader, Jon Minadeo II, was arrested after the Macon protests and charged with disorderly conduct and public disturbance.

The group’s propaganda reportedly led to the shooting of two Jews outside synagogues in Los Angeles earlier this year. Last year, the group hung anti-Semitic signs across a Los Angeles freeway, and shortly thereafter projected the same message onto a stadium in Jacksonville, Florida, the state where the group is based.

According to an Anti-Defamation League audit, the group was responsible for nearly 500 incidents of anti-Semitic propaganda in 2022. Days before the protest, flyers bearing the group’s trademark were found in Cobb County, where Marietta is based, and some were also discovered last week in the town of Warner Robins near Macon.

“By propagating anti-Semitic myths and conspiracy theories, by blaming Jews for everything from COVID-19 to perceived grievances surrounding immigration, pornography and abortion, the GDL hopes to turn Americans against the Jewish people,” it says a statement from the ADL division in the southeastern United States the attacks.

Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar of Temple Beth Israel addressed the protest outside her synagogue in a sermon that evening. She said it was the first time, to her knowledge, that the 164-year-old community had experienced an anti-Semitic incident.

“The fact that there were protesters outside the temple on Friday night saying terrible things and doing terrible things tells me that there is tremendous anger in our community,” Rabbi Bahar said in her sermon, parts of which were shared on social media .

The next day, as Macon community leaders attended an anti-hate rally in support of the Temple, anti-Semitic protesters gathered outside Chabad of Cobb in Marietta. This group quickly drew large crowds of counter-protesters, some of whom began arguing with the neo-Nazis and yelling at them to go home, according to the Atlanta Jewish Times.

The police also advanced and blocked the anti-Semitic demonstrators from entering the synagogue.

“East Cobb has been a wonderful home for a thriving Jewish community for many years. “These individuals do not represent the feelings of the citizens of East Cobb,” Cobb’s Chabad said in a statement released on social media. The synagogue also noted that police “have identified these individuals as part of a small group traveling across the country to spread their hateful message.”

Although the protesters arrived during a Shabbat service, Rabbi Ephraim Silverman told the Atlanta Jewish Times that he “felt no fear from anyone at all” during the service. The next day, Chabad held a previously scheduled open house for his synagogue.

Nationally elected officials from both parties have responded vigorously to the anti-Semitic incidents. Georgia Jewish Senator Jon Ossoff said in a statement, “Georgia’s Jewish community will never be intimidated by anti-Semitism.” Even today, as symbols of genocide have been displayed outside synagogues, we continue to stand strong, proud and unyielding there.”

Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock tweeted, “This has to stop. We pray for our Jewish community in Georgia and beyond. We all need to speak out loud against this vile hatred.”

Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted, “There is absolutely no place for this hatred and anti-Semitism in our state.”

Local officials at both locations also made statements in support of the Jewish community in the wake of the incidents. Lisa Cupid, chair of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, said the anti-Semitic protests “are hurting our sense of community, although everyone should feel safe and welcome here.”

Marietta has a well-known history of anti-Semitism due to Frank’s lynching, which was committed by a local mob after Frank was falsely accused of murdering a girl. Neo-Nazi groups have repeatedly referred to the lynching in their propaganda and, despite evidence to the contrary, have insisted that Frank was guilty of the allegations leveled against him.

Earlier in the year, neo-Nazis also protested against a Broadway revival of the musical Parade, based on Frank’s story. The show, which was praised for shedding new light on anti-Semitism in America, went on to win a Tony.