(JTA) – Responding to a recent rise in neo-Nazi activity in his state, a Jewish lawmaker in Florida is trying to outlaw displays of “religious or ethnic animus” on private property in his state.
H.B. 269 takes aim at a variety of activities that neo-Nazi groups in the state have undertaken, from distributing flyers with hate speech to broadcasting intimidating messages in public places.
Those groups’ activity has been rising in Florida for several years, according to a 2022 report by the Anti-Defamation League titled “Hate in the Sunshine State.” The report was published before the founder of the Goyim Defense League, which distributes antisemitic literature in public places and to private homes, relocated to Florida.
“We have actual Nazis who have proudly taken up residence in Florida,” the bill’s co-author, Rep Randy Fine, recently told the Algemeiner. “The things that they are doing, all of which I find disgusting, are reprehensible, and we are going to make them felonies.”
Fine, Florida’s only Jewish Republican state legislator, did not respond to Jewish Telegraphic Agency requests for comment.
Over the last couple of years, antisemitic groups have rallied outside Walt Disney World and a Chabad house in Orlando; displayed messages of Jew-hatred on a Jacksonville stadium during a highly watched college football game; and visited Florida universities trying to provoke students with messaging including “Ye Is Right” (referring to the rapper, formerly known as Kanye West, who went on an antisemitic tirade last fall).
Many but not all of those activities have been fueled by members of the Goyim Defense League, whose founder specifically said he expected Florida to be more hospitable to him and his worldview when he moved his operations there from California’s Bay Area.
Now, the Goyim Defense League’s signature tactic would transform into a felony under H.B. 269, which has bipartisan support and this week advanced to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, a crucial step in the passage of legislation.
The bill would prohibit Floridians “from distributing onto private residential property any material that evidences religious or ethnic animus for purpose of intimidating or threatening [the] owner or resident.” It would also prohibit harassing or intimidating people “wearing or displaying of any indicia relating to any religious or ethnic heritage,” such as kippahs and other items of religious Jewish attire.
Other sections of the bill describe activities that the state’s neo-Nazi groups have undertaken in recent months, including displaying messages of ethnic intimidation on sports stadiums and other buildings, and entering college campuses in order to intimidate. The bill would classify such activities as third-degree felonies, with violations carrying prison terms of up to five years.
Some of the bill’s targets appear to be mobilizing against it. A month-old online petition opposing H.B. 269 has attracted more than 2,500 signatures, and its comments are filled with antisemitic rhetoric. One commenter decries “the Jewish assault on freedom of speech”; another, identifying themselves as the American airplane pilot and Nazi sympathizer “Charles Lindbergh,” wrote, “No group, no matter how small their hats are, has the right to tell us what we can or can’t say,” an apparent reference to kippahs.
Fine himself has attracted attention in the past for comments that critics said have bordered on hate speech. In 2021, the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for an ethics investigation into Fine after he made comments on social media calling Hamas militants “animals” and celebrating Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip with the hashtag “#BombsAway.” He also drew criticism after responding with what some interpreted as a threat to President Joe Biden after Biden called for gun control following the 2022 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two teachers were murdered.
Holding Nazi views is not illegal, Fine acknowledged in a press release last month, adding that his bill builds on existing criminal codes.
“It is illegal to trespass. It is illegal to litter. It is illegal to assault people,” he said. “And we need to say that, when your stupid Nazism moves from words to action, we’re going to hold you accountable.”