Police

Fliers in Miami Beach Allege Jewish COVID Conspiracy: Free Speech or Crime?

Hundreds of anti-Semitic fliers were dropped around Miami Beach over the weekend.
Hundreds of anti-Semitic fliers were dropped around Miami Beach over the weekend. Photo via @MayorDanGelber/Twitter
Hundreds of anti-Semitic fliers appeared Sunday morning on Miami Beach doorsteps and strewn across sidewalks in neighboring Surfside, a municipality home to many Jewish residents. The fliers, sealed in sandwich bags and weighted down with pebbles, blared that "EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF THE COVID AGENDA IS JEWISH" and listed more than a dozen people who are purportedly Jewish and work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and other COVID-adjacent fields.

The leafleting came not quite a week after a gunman took a rabbi and three worshipers hostage at a Texas synagogue and a woman told three children outside a Brooklyn synagogue that "Hitler should have killed you all" and spat on an 8-year-old boy.

So far, no arrests have been made in connection to the fliers. But the Miami Beach Police Department tweeted that it's investigating their origin and increasing its presence at local religious institutions.

Local leaders were quick to decry the act on social media.

"There is no place for this in our community & we will do all we can to make that point clear," Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber tweeted Sunday afternoon. "I call on our entire community to firmly and forcefully condemn this disturbing flier, and all forms of hateful rhetoric, threats, violence and bigotry that have become increasingly common in our divided society," Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, the county's first Jewish mayor, chimed in.

Local media reports played up the police response.

But regardless of how offensive the fliers might be, they almost certainly fall under the category of speech that's protected in the United States under the First Amendment.

New Times sent a screenshot of the flier to Ken White (@Popehat on Twitter), a criminal defense attorney and civil litigator in Los Angeles who writes about criminal justice and free speech issues, including analysis of "true threats."

"It's obviously racist and despicable but it's not threatening — although I could certainly understand why people would be made to feel uncomfortable about it," White says of the flier.

"With respect to the cops investigating, it depends on what they do," White goes on. "It's a little like the Secret Service — the Secret Service, if you say something about the president that's a little edgy, they'll come and talk to you. If all they're doing is coming and talking to you, it's not a violation of rights. They do it to assess people, basically — whether they are a threat or not. It's kind of the same with this type of thing. Having the cops investigate makes people feel like it's being assessed. Even if it is protected by the First Amendment — which it probably is — I don't have a problem with cops looking into it, until the point they start arresting or doing search warrants."

On the subject of the mayoral posturing, White notes, "Politicians' First Amendment analysis is not generally very reliable, but I'm fine with them saying, 'This is terrible. This is not acceptable in our community' and all that. In terms of bluster about what should be done, until someone starts actually getting arrested or searched over this, that doesn't concern me much."

Ari Cohn, an Illinois-based attorney who specializes in First Amendment and defamation issues, agrees.

"It’s understandable that people are upset about it, but part of living in a free society is being able to be upset about it, and then counter it, and then use your own voice, to say, No, this is not what we stand for,” Cohn tells New Times.

Giving the government the power to decide what messages can be restricted "because we don't like them" can be a dangerous game, Cohn adds. "As upsetting as the fliers may be, the answer to that is not to use the sledgehammer of the government. Down the road, that always leads to trouble," he warns.

This isn't the first time anti-Semitic fliers like these have surfaced.

Last November and December, similar pamphlets were distributed in a number of states, including California, Texas, and Illinois. In late November, several Beverly Hills residents woke up on Hanukkah to find the anti-Semitic fliers outside their homes. Earlier that month, residents in Hays County, Texas, found Ziploc bags carrying the fliers on their lawns.

The anti-Semitic fliers appear to be the latest work of the Goyim Defense League, a "loose network" of anti-Semites and white supremacists with members in Florida, New York, California, and Colorado, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

"These hateful messages have no place in our communities," the ADL tweeted.

Additional reporting by Tom Finkel.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca