Decades ago, I read a story in the Wall Street Journal about a prominent political strategist whose wisdom rings truer today than it did more than 30 years ago. I can’t remember his name, but I remember his insight: The best way to identify trends and emerging views in America is reading hyperlocal publications. The strategist said that hyperlocal publications were tightly connected to their communities and had better insight about what was going on inside them.
American journalism has gone down markedly since then, with reporters mistakenly thinking that amplifying what they read on Twitter is gumshoe reporting. Less than 25 percent of Americans are on Twitter, and approximately 10 percent of the tweeters account for 80 percent of the tweets. One must dig much deeper to learn what’s really happening in America.
Berkeleyside, a reader funded publication serving Berkeley, California, offers an example of the insight one gains reading hyperlocal publications. The nonprofit published a story last week that surprised even me who regularly reads stories about the rise of Jew hatred in America. According to Berkeleyside, Kelly Johnson, a local yoga studio owner and instructor, used her company’s computers to register a virulent Jew hating video platform called “Goyim TV” for her boyfriend, who is tied to a growing movement distributing antisemitic flyers in the Bay area and other regions of the country.
The thought that someone who teaches yoga and presumably espouses yogic ideals and values would abet the activities of a known Jew hater is alarming. Yoga studios are supposedly sacred spaces promoting peace, nonviolence, and acceptance. It’s unfathomable to me that someone could be chanting OM and saying namaste one moment and then complain about having had to sit next to “smelly Jews” the next. Although Johnson was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle saying she didn’t share her boyfriend’s views, her former business partner believes she does.
Regardless, you can judge a person by the company they keep.
Johnson’s boyfriend is Jon Minadeo Jr., a white supremacist from the Sonoma County city of Petaluma and founder of a Jewish hate group called the Goyim Defense League (GDL), known for distributing flyers declaring, among other things, that covid is part of “a Jewish agenda” and “Anti-Semitism is a human right.” Goyim is a Yiddish word for non-Jews, but it’s taken on a pejorative meaning. Goyim Defense League is possibly a take on the Jewish Defense League, a radical Jewish nationalist group founded in 1968 that advocated violence in self-defense.
Minadeo is well known to the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, law enforcement agencies, and the local Petaluma publication.
The GDL was responsible for at least 74 antisemitic propaganda incidents in 2021. Most of GDL’s propaganda distributions have taken place during their so-called “Name the Nose” tours, but in December 2021 the group increased their non-tour related propaganda distributions, organizing their first nationwide propaganda campaign for the weekend of December 18. GDL has continued monthly propaganda drives into 2022, distributing propaganda dozens of times in seventeen states.
GDL’s overarching goal is to cast aspersions on Jews and spread antisemitic myths and conspiracy theories. This includes frequent references to Jews having undue power through their “control” of major institutions such as media networks, the economy or the government, or disparaging Jews as degenerates who molest children and advocate for pornography, abortion and LGBTQ+ communities.
GDL maintains that the Holocaust is a Jewish lie, and accounts of the Holocaust are merely propaganda or lies generated by Jews for their own benefit. Similarly, the GDL says that Jews were responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York and Israel intentionally targeted a U.S. warship during the height of the 1967 Six-Day War.
Minadeo, who has been active for several years, first posted his antisemitic stunts on platforms such as YouTube, DLive and BitChute. After being de-platformed in May 2020, he and Dominic Di Giorgio, also known as Ned Flanders, of Port St Lucie, Florida, launched GoyimTV, a video streaming platform focused mainly on antisemitic content. Minadeo regularly uses the platform to post his podcasts and videos of his antisemitic exploits and homophobic rants. Over the course of 2020 and 2021, other GDL devotees began to do the same.
GDL attracts a range of antisemites and white supremacists who are motivated and united by their hatred of Jews. The most zealous GDL actors are in California, Colorado, Florida and New York. They work alone, in small local cliques and occasionally travel across the country to participate in extended antisemitic events.
According to a report published by the Jewish News Syndicate, the FBI and local police in Colleyville, Texas are investigating GDL-linked fliers found on a Jewish Sabbath morning just weeks after an armed assailant held a rabbi and three congregants hostage at a local synagogue. The Press Democrat, Petaluma’s local publication, reported that antisemitic flyers distributed in Napa and other Bay area communities were GDL’s handiwork, although Minadeo claimed he didn’t distribute them.
Petaluma has a storied Jewish history. According to the Jewish News of Northern California, the city’s Jewish community dates back more than 160 years when Jews from the shtetls in Eastern Europe and the sweatshops on New York’s Lower East Side settled there, often to learn chicken farming. (Petaluma was once known as the Egg Basket of the World.)
“We’re the oldest (Jewish) community north of San Francisco all the way to Portland,” Jim Stern, the chair of a 2014 gala celebrating the community’s 100-year anniversary, told the Jewish News. In a twist that one would imagine only in a Hollywood movie, Ron Machol, the chief operating officer of the Zachor Legal Institute, an organization focused on combating antisemitism, was raised in Petaluma where his family attended the local synagogue.
In yet another twist, I once seriously considered moving to Petaluma. When I visited nearly 10 years ago and lived in Marin County, Petaluma was a quaint place.
As reported by Berkeleyside, Johnson, Minadeo’s yogi girlfriend, was until recently a co-owner of Hella Yoga in Berkeley. The studio was founded about six years ago by Johnson, Jeff Renfro, and Renfro’s spouse, Lynn Whitlow. Renfro, who is Jewish, reportedly bought out Johnson’s interest after it surfaced that she used the studio’s computers to register Minadeo’s antisemitic video channel.
Renfro said he knew that Minadeo was an anti-vaxxer and suspected he might also be into Q-Anon, an internet conspiracy theory that maintains there are elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business, and the media. But he claims he was unaware of Minadeo’s extensive Jew hating activities.
“I thought he was an idiot,” Renfro told Berkeleyside.
Renfro, who admirably has pledged to donate his studio’s profits to the Auschwitz Memorial fund, said that in December he listened to Minadeo’s podcasts and watched his videos for the first time.
“I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know there were people like this out there in the world,” he said.
Unfortunately, there are many of them and their numbers are growing. It should be a wake-up call to the Jewish community, particularly in California, that a yoga instructor in what is generally described as one of the most “progressive” cities has ties and assisted one of the most virulent Jew haters in the country.
So far, I can find no declarations of outrage or distancing from the Berkeley or other Bay area yoga communities.
Something I’ll keep in mind next time I practice yoga in the Bay area and an instructor says “namaste.”