A town hall on antisemitism hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and other community leaders is shown on Dec. 8, 2022. (Courtesy of the ADL)

Hate crimes, hate-based incidents and antisemitic attitudes are becoming more prevalent across the U.S., and San Diego has felt the impact.

Local law enforcement agencies say they are prioritizing hate crime cases, and Jewish community centers and synagogues are continuing to ramp up security to keep people safe. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors recently agreed to build a Holocaust remembrance exhibit to combat antisemitic messaging and conspiracy theories centered around Jewish people.

The Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit that combats the defamation of Jewish people, has been working in San Diego to push back against the rise in hateful extremist beliefs, speech and actions. Here’s what Fabienne Perlov, the ADL’s regional director in San Diego and Imperial counties, shared about the group’s work.

Fabienne Perlov, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for San Diego and Imperial counties, is shown in this undated photo. (Courtesy of the ADL)

Castellano: Can you give me a brief explanation of what your job is like?

Perlov: Yes. So I am the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego and Imperial counties. We combat antisemitism and secure justice and fair treatment for all. We do that through three pillars. We educate, we work in partnerships with schools in San Diego. We have 160 schools that are designated No Place for Hate. That really helps with the school climate and addresses any biases and bigotry. Within our schools, we also investigate and coordinate with law enforcement on extremist groups. And we also advocate for better legislation to combat antisemitism and hate.

Castellano: My understanding is there’s been this rise in antisemitism. What is the impact of that?

Perlov: We have seen a rise of antisemitism over the past years that is very alarming. It’s an increase of about 31% in 2021, and we don’t have the statistics for ‘22. They will come out in March. But I can tell you that the number of incidents, assaults and vandalism, has increased across the country and in San Diego. We’ve already recorded 35 incidents for ‘22, and we know that this is not a final number. Our schools and campuses really are a place where these incidents have taken place for most of them.

There is a recent ADL survey on antisemitic attitudes in America that provides a comprehensive snapshot of antisemitic attitudes in the country. And the findings are, quite frankly, very disturbing. The survey found that 20% of Americans believe in six or more antisemitic conspiracy theories, really demonstrating extensive antisemitic prejudice and putting them in a category of being deeply infected with antisemitic hatred. And we know that historically, antisemitic attitudes or hatred leads to acts of violence. So at the ADL we are taking this very seriously and this type of new trends inform our interventions in schools, in the community, with our law enforcement partners and elected officials, and all the stakeholders that we work with.

Castellano: Are you seeing this have an impact here in San Diego among the Jewish community or other communities? How is it affecting people?

San Diego County Administration Building
The San Diego County Administration building is shown in this image from Nov. 8, 2015. (Brad Racino/inewsource)

Perlov: Certainly there is a growing sense of fear among the Jewish community in San Diego. We know that antisemitism has always been present, but white supremacist groups used to be more on the fringe. And now they have been mainstreamed by social media platforms and really they’re antisemitic slurs are all over, and that’s a concern. We know that antisemitic words and slurs can turn into violent acts of hatred. And so the Jewish community is concerned, and we are working with our partners to ensure greater security of our places of worship, our schools, our community centers.

We know that we are not alone in this fight. Other communities are also supporting us because what we have to understand is that the hate against Jews doesn’t stop with the Jews. The Jews are often the canary in the coal mine. We have seen attacks against other marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+ community, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, the black and African American community, the Muslim community, and others. So this is not only a Jewish problem. It’s really a societal problem that needs to be addressed collectively.

Castellano: You mentioned hate incidents escalating into violence. And when I think about Robert Wilson’s case, I see that happening. There was escalating language and threats over time between this man and his neighbor. The neighbor apparently tried to file a restraining order twice unsuccessfully and was ultimately, allegedly, assaulted. The neighbor was LGBT and living with his husband.

Perlov: Regarding Wilson, just to set up some context, he’s a member of the Goyim Defense League, which is a network of antisemitic provocateurs and white supremacists. This is a group that is small and fringe. It aims to intimidate and sow fear, and they’ve been spreading antisemitic myth and conspiracy theories. They say that Jews are responsible for 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic, and their antisemitic views don’t stop with the Jews. They also hold racist and homophobic views.

Wilson was supposed to go to trial in San Diego in August ‘22 on the allegations that he assaulted his neighbor because the neighbor is LGBTQ+, and he was charged with a hate crime. But he fled the country to Poland, and he’s one of those men called holding up antisemitic signs in Auschwitz, dating back October ‘22.

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.

As far as we know, he has not returned to the United States to face his trial. Our Center on Extremism thinks that it is very unlikely that he returns to California, because he risks prosecution. If he was coming back and in contact with law enforcement agencies, he would be arrested. He could face up to three years in prison if convicted.

I cannot comment on what has been done for his extradition from Poland because it’s an open case. But what I can tell you is that shortly after the Auschwitz incidents last year, the head of the Goyim Defense League said during a podcast that he helped Wilson move to Poland. So we believe that Wilson has set up a permanent residence there, and that he’s not a threat for San Diegans. And honestly, we don’t miss him in San Diego. 

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.

Castellano: Is the Goyim Defense League still active in our area?

Perlov: You know, it’s hard to say. There are different right wing extremist groups in our region. We know that as a fact. The San Diego Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office just made the announcement that they arrested 71 criminals with ties to white supremacist groups in San Diego. We don’t know which groups. 

Over the past years, the Goyim Defense League has been active in San Diego, and we know that it’s a movement that has a history of extreme violence and is capable to cause more.

Castellano: The Goyim Defense League isn’t just in San Diego, right? They’ve got a presence elsewhere around the country?

Perlov: That’s right. In fact, their leader is currently in Florida.

Castellano: Antisemitic language and hate crimes is a concern for members of the public. How can people protect themselves or protect others? 

Perlov: I would say it is really all of our responsibility to condemn and call out the activities of the Goyim Defense League and all the white supremacist groups in our community. But we don’t want to elevate their name, their actions, their symbols. We encourage a message of solidarity and rejection of hate that specifically names the incident as antisemitic or as homophobic. But we also frame it as an affront to the entire community and our shared democratic values. 

We encourage people to report the incidents to ADL. They can check on our website at https://www.adl.org/report-incident. So the more we can document and track incidents, the more data we can provide to our government officials and law enforcement and community partners, that can help us create a unified response against antisemitism and hate of all kinds. So reporting is extremely important. 

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

Castellano: It sounds like a really tough task to actually gather data. People may be afraid to report incidents. Do you feel like we might not even have the complete picture of what’s going on?

Perlov: This is such a good point. We know that incidents are underreported and it’s a big issue, absolutely. 

If there is a message to share, please report, report, report. Because the more information we have, the more we can push back those groups to the fringe of our society and stop giving them too much exposure. We want to make sure we put them back where they belong, which is not in the main mainstream spaces.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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 a former 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....