For the last few weekends, South Tampa has been targeted with anti-Semitic literature flung from passing cars into the lawns and driveways of residents. Numerous flyers from a social media hate group have been discovered in our neighborhoods each weekend. To discuss the rise in anti-Semitism and what to do about it MidPoint invited Jonathan Ellis, Chair of the Tampa Jewish Community Relations Council, Susana Mapu, FBI Special Agent from the Civil Rights division of the Tampa FBI Field Office and Andrew Warren, State Attorney of Hillsborough Co.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States. It had been ebbing in the years prior to 2016, but since 2016, it has seen a significant rise, including a 34% rise in violent anti-Semitic incidents reported just since last year. However, Jonathan Ellis noted that in Tampa, until the distribution of these flyers in the last few weeks, hate crimes and hate speech against Jews had been relatively rare. Ellis also pointed out that the goal of the flyers that were distributed in Tampa is to drive traffic to the hate group’s social media sites and to raise money for them from that traffic and to recruit more adherents to the group’s ideology and efforts. In recognition of that, MidPoint determined not to publicly disclose the name or web address of the hate group that published and distributed the recent flyers on air on the WMNF website.
FBI Agent Susana Mapu noted the importance of always reporting such incidents to law enforcement so that they can be tracked and, where appropriate, investigated further because, as she reiterated, “The FBI’s goal is to prevent hate crimes before they occur.”
In that regard, Andrew Warren also emphasized the importance of reporting any violent hate speech to law enforcement, particularly hate speech that is accompanied by threats of violence. While it is important to recognize the First Amendment protections for speech, even hate speech, Warren pointed to a number of tools that law enforcement can use to protect the community, including Florida’s “Red Flag” laws that permit citizens to report dangerous individuals threatening violence to law enforcement who can then bring them before a court for a determination as to whether they should be deprived of any weapons they may possess for some time until their threat passes.
All participants agreed that these flyers and any incidents of violent hate speech should always be reported to law enforcement, either to the FBI Field Office and/or to your local law enforcement.