Officials are working to find out who dumped hate-filled antisemitic flyers in driveways around Wellington in the early morning hours of Labor Day.
Similar screeds — which were packaged in a zip-sealed baggie with a pelleted substance for weight — were tossed onto properties in several neighborhoods, including Emerald Forest, Sugar Pond Manor, Pinewood Manor and Paddock Park, according to social media reports from residents in those neighborhoods.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said the flyers also were found in southern unincorporated Palm Beach County, west of Boca Raton, Jupiter Farms and Okeechobee County.
The messages were hateful and disgusting, and it’s not worth repeating their conspiracy-laden text here. You can see an example by clicking here, which will take you to a Facebook post from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office.
Wellington’s council and PBSO District 8 Capt. Nichole Addazio addressed the flyers at Tuesday night’s council meeting, with Addazio saying there is “a lot of sharing of information” happening between Jewish groups including the Anti-Defamation League, local Jewish houses of worship and law enforcement agencies.
One of the neighborhoods that received the flyers, Paddock Park, is home to Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig, who said she picked up some of the flyers once she noticed them.
Councilman John McGovern described the flyers as “a very significant incident of hate speech.”
“Hate is not going to be tolerated in this community, bottom line,” he said.
While Addazio said she was limited in the information she could provide because it is an active investigation, detectives in PBSO’s District 8 — which is essentially Wellington’s municipal boundaries — are working to see if they can get any answers.
The flyers are also being evaluated to determine if there is “a credible threat,” which would elevate any potential charge that could be brought against those who distributed them, Addazio said.
The timing of the flyers coincided with the approach of the Jewish High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset Sept. 15 and ends at nightfall Sept. 17, and Yom Kippur begins at sunset Sept. 24 and ends at nightfall Sept. 25.
PBSO is prepared and already had a plan in place for additional protection at synagogues during those holidays, Addazio said.
It’s not necessary for residents to turn in the flyers they find, Addazio said. Instead, residents can take a photo and then throw the flyers away. The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook suggested wearing gloves to pick up the baggies and throw them away.
This is not the first time this has happened recently, Addazio said. She pointed to incidents and arrests earlier this year, including a known group that operates out of Port St. Lucie.
“It’s unfortunate that this continues to happen, but more importantly we were not just one targeted area,” she said. “This was a blanketed effort around this county and a county to the north.”
What penalties could the people behind the flyers face?
Addazio referred to Florida HB 269, which was passed by Florida lawmakers earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. It went into effect on May 1, and essentially makes it a hate crime to litter on private property when that litter contains “credible threats.”
There’s that phrase again: “credible threats.” What is a credible threat?
According to Florida law, a credible threat is “a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm. It is not necessary to prove that the person making the threat had the intent to actually carry out the threat. The present incarceration of the person making the threat is not a bar to prosecution under this section.”
If law enforcement officials are able to prove there is a credible threat in the flyers, then the people who threw them on Wellington lawns can be charged with a third-degree felony hate crime under the new law, which was sponsored by Republican state Rep. Mike Caruso of Delray Beach.
The people could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor for “intentionally dumping litter onto private property for the purpose of intimidating or threatening the owner, resident or invitee of such property,” the new law states.
The law also makes it illegal to display or project images onto any property without the owner’s permission — an issue that arose in recent months when hate groups projected antisemitic messages onto a downtown West Palm Beach building and Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach.
At a press conference in January to announce the bill, Caruso said he would not stand by while acts of hatred were carried out.
“I will not stand here and do nothing. I will not be complacent, and I will not sit around,” he said.
The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office has prosecuted people on charges related to distributing these antisemitic materials. Just last month, the office announced the conviction of a Maryland man on three criminal charges, related to incidents in Atlantis and West Palm Beach in January and March.
“This individual came into our community to incite hatred against the Jewish community,” State Attorney Dave Aronberg said in a news release at the time. “Anyone who disseminates hate here will be held accountable.”
On his Facebook page Monday, Caruso wrote that HB 269 “was created to “was created to directly address these disgusting and hateful acts,” referring to the incidents in Wellington and elsewhere on Labor Day. “This will not be tolerated. Anti-Semitism has no place in our State.”
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, whose district includes Wellington, said on her Facebook page that she was disgusted by the incidents.
“We must speak out against bigotry whenever we see it, and I’ll continue to use my platform to fight back against the scourge of antisemitism in our community,” she wrote. “Hate has no place here.”
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