A photo of the exterior of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. © Anne Frank House / Photographer: Cris Toala Olivares

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.

Police suspect that former Chula Vista resident Robert Wilson could be responsible for an incident that shocked the public on several continents in February, when an antisemitic message was displayed on the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

Why this matters

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

Wilson is a public figure of the Goyim Defense League, an American neo-Nazi hate group that spreads antisemitic messages online, with flyer distributions and through street demonstrations. GDL members participated in at least 450 antisemitic campaigns across 42 states last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, and are connected to 11 arrests or criminal cases nationwide.

The 41-year-old Wilson, who is originally from Canada, was supposed to stand trial in San Diego County for allegedly assaulting his next-door neighbor while yelling homophobic slurs in late 2021. inewsource reported in February that Wilson escaped prosecution and fled to Poland last year, where he has continued to spread white supremacist messages.

In September, a social media image went viral showing Wilson standing outside the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland while holding a sign with an antisemitic statement.

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.

Antisemitic rhetoric and hate incidents are on the rise across the U.S. and in other countries. In the Netherlands, laser displays featuring white supremacist messages started appearing on buildings a few months ago. One of the first incidents occurred during a nationally televised New Years’ Eve celebration, when the text “White Lives Matter” was projected on the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam along with antisemitic language.

On Feb. 6, blue lasers were used to display a message on the house in Amsterdam where thirteen-year-old Anne Frank chronicled her experience during the Holocaust. The antisemitic text, appearing on the building in Dutch and English, stated that Frank was the “inventor of the ballpoint pen.” The message referenced a false conspiracy theory that alleges Frank’s diary was a forgery, claiming it was written with a ballpoint pen, which was not common in Europe until after World War II.

Days later, a video of the incident appeared in a Telegram group that included members of the Goyim Defense League. 

The Anne Frank House organization, which runs a museum on the property, said at the time that they “learned of this with shock and revulsion.”

A still from a video showing part of a laser projection of an antisemitic message on the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam on Feb. 6, 2023. The video garnered widespread condemnation and was referenced in high-profile news articles in several countries.

“With the projection and the video the perpetrators are attacking the authenticity of Anne Frank’s diary and inciting hatred,” the organization said in a statement. “It is an antisemitic and racist film. We are acutely aware of what this means for the Jewish community and for the city of Amsterdam as a whole.”

It didn’t take long for citizen sleuths to start digging for possible perpetrators. A research group known as Capitol Terrorists Exposers, which uses digital forensic techniques to track down right-wing extremists, unearthed what they believe to be an original video of the incident, which was posted by “Aryan Bacon” — the name Robert Wilson uses online. The video also includes footage from what appears to be a road trip to Amsterdam.

A collage shows how citizen sleuths traced a potential suspect to a German gas station. The material was shared with the Amsterdam police. (Courtesy of Capitol Terrorists Exposers)

The founder of Capitol Terrorists Exposers said she used videos posted to Wilson’s social media channels to trace the path she believes he took from Poland through Germany to Amsterdam shortly before the incident. One video features a person believed to be Wilson looking at magazines inside a German gas station the day before the Anne Frank House message was displayed.

“If you have a person who is known who has a lot of footage, then it’s very easy,” Mary said. “You’re gonna look at, what does he look like? What kind of clothes does he wear? You know, you try to profile somebody.”

inewsource has agreed to only use Mary’s first name to protect her safety.

Mary and her group also used the road trip footage to identify the type of van the suspect was driving as a black Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, most likely with a Polish license plate. The footage shows the van parked outside the Hard Rock Café Hotel in Amsterdam and reveals the reflection of the videographer in a car window.

The person filming was wearing a plaid sweater that resembled what Wilson had worn in another video.

“And then I was like, okay, now it’s getting interesting,” Mary said.

A collage shows how citizen sleuths compared a video from the antisemitic broadcast in Amsterdam with online footage of Robert Wilson, including a recording captured by CBS8 outside a San Diego County courthouse. Tap for a closer look at the image. (Courtesy of Capitol Terrorists Exposers)

When Mary sent her research and findings to the Amsterdam police linking Wilson to the events at the Anne Frank House, she received a message in response: “An amazing piece of work! Compliments,” a police officer wrote to her in Dutch.

“We are also very busy with this investigation and had ended up with the same suspect, van and route. Without revealing too much about the research, I can tell you that it is progressing very well. Every bit of information we get helps us, of course.”

Last week, police told the Volkskrant newspaper in the Netherlands that they had reviewed the report by Capitol Terrorists Exposers and are happy with “citizens conducting their own investigations.”

“In this case, that did not lead to new information,” the spokesperson told the newspaper, adding that the police “indeed have the impression” the suspect is not residing in The Netherlands.

“If he shows up within our borders, we will arrest him,” the officer said.

The Amsterdam police would not confirm the identity of the suspect in the case for inewsource.

Wilson did not respond to requests for comment. He has previously denied assaulting his neighbor in Chula Vista.

A warrant is still out for Wilson’s arrest in San Diego County. The District Attorney’s office declined to comment on whether they are attempting to extradite him.

Mary said she was very encouraged by the response she received from the Amsterdam police and was glad her research on Wilson was in the right hands. She also credited inewsource’s prior coverage on Wilson as a key part of her investigation.

Capitol Terrorists Exposers has helped perform research in high-profile cases in the U.S., Mary said, including tracing the identities of people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and verifying footage of Nancy Pelosi’s husband getting attacked in November.

When Mary learned about the incident at the Anne Frank House, the latest of several antisemitic events occurring in her home country, she felt compelled to get involved.

“It isn’t a joke, this is serious what they’re doing,” she said.

“I cannot sit still. I cannot let it go if I’m able to do something about it.”

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....