A screenshot of footage showing Robert Wilson speaking to CBS 8 reporter, David Gotfredson, outside a San Diego courthouse on Dec. 27, 2021.

This story is part of an ongoing project with KQED in San Francisco and other NPR stations to chronicle the extent of extremism in California. There will be future reporting throughout the state published by the various newsrooms in the coming months.

A prominent San Diego figure in an antisemitic extremist group has fled the country with no sign of returning, inewsource has learned.

Robert Wilson, a public face of the hate group known as the Goyim Defense League, was supposed to stand trial for allegedly assaulting his neighbor while yelling homophobic slurs. Court records and interviews indicate Wilson has fled prosecution and is continuing to spread white supremacist views on social media from Poland.

The criminal case was intended to be a high-profile victory for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, which is prioritizing hate crime prosecutions due to the growing number of incidents nationwide.

Why this matters

Hate crimes are on the rise across the U.S. Hateful speech and conspiracy theories can fuel violence against marginalized groups.

District Attorney Summer Stephan released a statement when the charges against Wilson were first announced in December 2021, emphasizing the case’s importance.

“This case and these events demonstrate that those who are motivated by prejudice often spread their hate around to various groups, attacking our neighbors on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or other grounds,” Stephan said. “Hate against one group is a threat to everyone and we won’t tolerate these crimes in our community.”

Almost six months have passed since Wilson missed his last court appearance. DA spokesperson Tanya Sierra would not specify if prosecutors are attempting to extradite Wilson, but said “we never give up on bringing justice to victims.”

“The fact that he is not in San Diego County means that our community is safer,” Sierra said.

Wilson is one of about six primary organizers and public figures in the Goyim Defense League, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which closely monitors the group’s activity. 

The hate group engages in internet trolling, flyer distributions, street demonstrations and other tactics to spread antisemitic, homophobic and white supremacist views. They are known for pedaling conspiracy theories centered around Jewish people and hanging derogatory banners on freeway overpasses.

A banner the group displayed in October in Los Angeles, which said “Kanye is right about the Jews,” garnered widespread attention when it was circulated on Twitter.

The Goyim Defense League is a small, loosely connected network of individuals who have dozens of supporters and thousands of online followers, according to the ADL. Their members are connected to 11 arrests or criminal cases across the U.S.

A screenshot of a video showing Robert Wilson, a member of the Goyim Defense League, driving a van through Beverly Hills that is covered with antisemitic messages. The video was posted to the Goyim Defense League’s online channels in an effort to promote itself.

The group’s propaganda efforts are expanding. The ADL’s Center on Extremism recorded at least 454 incidents linked to the organization, a more than 500% increase from the year before. Flyers were distributed in 42 states and Washington, D.C., according to a preliminary count.

In March, Wilson and others from the Goyim Defense League paraded around San Diego in a van covered with antisemitic messages, shouting slurs through a megaphone. Months later, Wilson did it again in Beverly Hills.

“Certainly there is a growing sense of fear among the Jewish community in San Diego,” said Fabienne Perlov, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for San Diego and Imperial Counties.

“We know that antisemitism has always been present, but it used to be more on the fringe,” she continued. “And now they have been mainstreamed by social media platforms, and really, their antisemitic slurs are all over, and that’s a concern. We know that antisemitic words and slurs can turn into violent acts of hatred.”

An incident in Chula Vista

Wilson is a Canadian immigrant who moved to Chula Vista around 2016 and opened a business in his house, California Audio Video Inc., that sold home theater and surveillance equipment. 

Records show the business was later suspended by the state for delinquent paperwork, but its website is still online.

The 41-year-old had several confrontations with his next-door neighbors, who are gay, prior to the alleged assault. Wilson’s neighbors filed a police report against him for using a homophobic slur and threatening them. Then, the neighbors sued him for doing construction on their shared driveway without permission.

The driveway where Robert Wilson allegedly attacked his next-door neighbor in Chula Vista, as seen on Jan. 19, 2023. (Kristian Carreon for inewsource)

In 2021, Wilson started appearing on the Goyim Defense League’s online platforms. The group reposted videos of him baiting people into conversations and spreading white supremacist messages under the pseudonym “Aryan Bacon.” He joined the group’s propaganda campaigns in Florida and Texas months later.

What is a hate crime?

A hate crime is a criminal act motivated by prejudice based on a person’s perceived characteristics, including disability, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

To charge a hate crime, speech must threaten violence, target a specific person or group, and the offender must have the apparent ability to carry out the threat, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

What is a hate incident?

Hateful speech or activities may not rise to the level of a hate crime if their activities are protected as free speech, but they are still considered hate incidents.

Wilson’s issues at home soon escalated. According to court records, in November that year, he allegedly blocked his neighbor’s car, yelled anti-gay slurs at him and called him a “pedophile.” He then reached through the car window and struck his neighbor in the face — all while holding a small child of two to three years old.

The entire incident was captured on tape, according to a Chula Vista police officer’s court declaration. Video footage shows a woman outside the vehicle trying to stop Wilson as the neighbor rolls up his car window, the officer wrote. Wilson then attempted to open the car door, but it was locked.

“The victim said over the years they have attempted to obtain a restraining order against Wilson, which has been denied twice so they do their absolute best to avoid Wilson,” the officer wrote.

Law enforcement agencies said there is a clear link between hate-based language and criminal activity, but some incidents may be protected as free speech.

“Generally speaking, speech alone, including hateful speech, does not constitute a crime,” the San Diego DA’s office said. “However, we still encourage the public to report hate incidents to law enforcement, as hate incidents usually are precursors to future hate crimes. Thus, documentation of prior hate incidents may serve as potentially powerful evidence in future hate crime prosecutions.”

Hate crimes targeted at all marginalized groups, including Jewish people, are climbing. California reported a 33% increase in incidents in 2021, reaching its highest level in the past decade.

A screenshot of footage captured by CBS8 showing Robert Wilson at his arraignment on Dec. 27, 2021.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, hate-related events aimed at Asian American communities hit an unprecedented high, prompting the San Diego DA’s office to launch a hate crime hotline to encourage more reporting of incidents.

Local police agencies are also prioritizing hate crime investigations and prevention efforts. Last month, the San Diego Police Department announced it took down a large network of people with ties to white supremacist gangs, making 71 arrests.

Never again

Prosecutors charged Wilson with felony battery and a hate crime allegation, which comes with a possible sentence of up to three years in prison. He was also charged with violating sign regulations for hanging an antisemitic banner over the I-805 freeway, but it was later dismissed.

Wilson has denied the allegations against him. On the day of his arraignment, CBS8 reporter David Gotfredson spoke to him outside the courthouse and asked if he yelled homophobic slurs at his neighbor.

“There’s no such thing as homophobia,” he said.

YouTube video
CBS8 reporter David Gotfredson had a conversation with Wilson outside the courthouse on the day of his arraignment, Dec. 27, 2021. Credit: CBS8

During a phone call with an inewsource reporter, Wilson attempted to imitate his next-door neighbor, illegally recording the conversation without permission and posting it to his social media channels. He did not answer any of inewsource’s questions about his involvement in the Goyim Defense League or the alleged assault.

Wilson’s next-door neighbors declined to comment.

With charges against him pending, Wilson sold his Chula Vista home in January last year.

He then tried to convince his girlfriend to flee with him to Poland before his trial, threatening her if she did not comply — an incident she later reported to the police, according to court records. 

Wilson’s criminal case file says he took a flight from San Diego to Amsterdam in late May. There was no return flight.

A San Diego judge issued a warrant for Wilson’s arrest when he failed to show up to a court hearing in August. But he didn’t keep a low profile. In a matter of weeks, a social media image went viral showing Wilson standing outside the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland holding a sign with an antisemitic message.

This photo showing Robert Wilson, left, and Jon Minadeo II holding signs outside the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland went viral on social media in August 2022.

The Goyim Defense League’s founder, Bay Area native Jon Minadeo II, is also in the photo. Minadeo was arrested for violating Poland’s hate speech law.

In November, Wilson recorded himself accosting U.S. military officers in a Polish mall and using a racial slur. He continues to post to Goyim Defense League’s internet forums regularly.

The ADL said it believes Wilson has taken up permanent residence in Poland, with Minadeo’s help, and he has no intention of returning to the U.S.

“Honestly, we don’t miss him in San Diego,” Perlov said.

San Diego County is home to more than 100,000 Jewish people and 400 Holocaust survivors.

Last year, at least 35 antisemitic events were reported in the county, but the true number of incidents is likely much higher — underreporting is a well-documented issue, as victims often fear negative consequences for coming forward.

The current climate is stoking fear in San Diego’s Jewish community, which had to grapple with the mass shooting at a Poway synagogue in 2019.

“There is not a Jewish synagogue, a Jewish preschool, a JCC, a Jewish family service or a Jewish club that does not talk about security on a regular basis anymore,” said Darren Shwartz, the chief planning and strategy officer for the Jewish Federation of San Diego.

“We have to think first about security and second about being welcoming,” he added. “That is the real implication right now with this rise in antisemitism.”

What should I do if I am a hate crime victim or witness?

Call 9-1-1 in an emergency and obtain medical attention if needed.
• Write down details of the incident. Take photographs if possible, and keep all the evidence.
• Get contact information for other possible victims and witnesses.
Report the incident to the authorities.

How do I report a hate crime?

Victims and witnesses of possible hate crimes can report them through many channels. Here are some options.
• Report an antisemitic or discriminatory incident to the Anti-Defamation League using their online form
• Report hate crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or submitting an online tip
• Report hate crimes to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department non-emergency line at (858) 565-5200
• Report hate crimes to the San Diego District Attorney’s Hate Crimes Hotline at (619) 515-8805 or using their online form

The federation is currently hiring a security officer to perform threat assessments and trainings for Jewish community groups.

It also recently partnered with county Board of Supervisors member Nathan Fletcher to announce a proposal for a Holocaust remembrance exhibit.

“There are growing corners of far-right social media that traffic in conspiracy theories, many of them questioning the basic premise, did the Holocaust actually happen?” Fletcher said at a recent board meeting.

“This is offensive to the values that each and every one of us hold dear,” he added.

After Fletcher’s speech, the board of supervisors officially declared January 24th Holocaust Remembrance Day.

San Diego Holocaust survivor Ben Midler told the board that fellow residents in his independent living home didn’t know about the atrocities brought by the Nazi regime. He wrote a book about his experience in Polish concentration camps as a teenager to educate others.

Midler was the only member of his family living in Poland during the Holocaust to survive.

“We should never forget,” he said. “Never.”

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jill Castellano is an investigative data coordinator for inewsource. When she's not deep in a spreadsheet or holed up reporting and writing her next story, she's probably hiking, running or rock climbing. She also loves playing board games and discussing the latest chapters with her book club. Jill...