Community members and folks across the nation are horrified after a slew of neo-Nazis traveled through Austin and San Antonio. While the sheer existence of neo-Nazis is reason enough to be disturbed, Texans also witnessed an antisemitic sign reading “Vax the Jews” over an expressway near a Jewish community center and synagogue in west Austin. In a picture shared to Stop Antisemtisim’s Twitter, you can see a handful of people appearing to do the Nazi salute behind the white banner.
According to Texas Public Radio (TPR), about 10 antisemitic, white supremacist members of the hate group Goyim Defense League came to Texas from Florida. They hung the ominous sign before walking around 6th Street, a popular spot for bars and restaurants, while wearing shirts and hats with swastikas. From there, the hate group went to San Antonio and protested outside of a church fundraiser for Israel.
And that’s not all of the antisemitic hate being reported in the city, either. Austin police are investigating graffiti found in the parking lots of Anderson High School, which included slurs, homophobic symbols, and swastikas. Additional reports claim that antisemitic flyers were left on the front lawns of homes in San Antonio neighborhoods.
Judith Norman, a participant in a separate protest outside of the church in San Antonio, said she was “horrified” to see the neo-Nazis. “This is a time that is really fertile for a lot of far-right extremist hate organizations,” Norman, who is a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace San Antonio group, told TPR. “And it’s appalling to see them in the open.”
In addition to the Austin banner, folks have been talking about a now-viral image of an officer fist-bumping a member of the hate group. Many people have brought up concerns that this photo suggests members of the department could support the group on social media. The chief of the Austin Police, Joseph Chacon, denies this allegation. In a statement shared on Twitter, Chacon said he refused a handshake from a protester because of COVID-19 protocols and instead went for a fist bump. This interaction reportedly happened after the protester complied with a request from the officer to keep the incident safer.
It’s worth noting that neither person in the screenshot of the fist bump is wearing a mask.
“The police supervisor arrives on the scene, and he doesn’t support or condone the action; he stops the illegal action,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who believes the picture was taken out of context, as reported by Fox 29. “He gets them to roll it up and move it away.”
As reported by local outlet Patch, an unidentified officer said they were on duty at the scene. The officer said the hate group has been “going around the country provoking a response,” and that they received hate from the group because they had an LGBTQ+ patch on their cap. The officer said they were ultimately “proud” of the response of the police and that they “did what we could to protect everyone.”
In terms of the graffiti at the high school, Aiden Horwitz, a senior at the school, spoke to a local CBS Austin outlet about how “scary” it was to witness that while going to class. Horwitz, who is Jewish, told the outlet it’s “surprising” that this is happening in 2021 and that hate is still so “prevalent.”
The hate group, sadly, does not operate just in Texas. In fact, we’ve seen reports of banners as far away as California. It feels wrong to give groups like this any attention, but it’s also important to educate people so they understand the context, know what to look for, and raise awareness for keeping one another safe. In this case, the beforementioned Goyim Defense League was behind the banner (it’s unclear who was behind the graffiti at the high school). The name Goyim Defense League is a play on the Anti-Defamation League and uses “goyim,” a Yiddish word that refers to people who are not Jewish. The group is, obviously, deeply, deeply antisemitic.
In the big picture, we’ve recently recognized the third anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which 11 people, including elders, were murdered while at worship. We can also look at fresh data via a report from the American Jewish Committee, in which one-quarter of American Jews report having been the target of antisemitism in the past year, 40% of American Jews say they’ve altered their behavior in some way out of fear. More than 80% say they believe antisemitism has gotten worse in the last five years.
You can check out an interview with a San Antonio woman who says she found antisemitic flyers in her yard.