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.
Former San Diego County resident Robert Wilson, a known neo-Nazi, was arrested Tuesday by Polish authorities on suspicion of projecting an antisemitic message on the Anne Frank House, according to experts who monitor extremist activity around the globe.
The Amsterdam police said a 41-year-old suspect was arrested in Poland after an investigation into the incident in February, when a laser projection appeared on the former home of Anne Frank claiming her diary was a hoax. The stunt gained international attention and condemnation.
Why this matters
Antisemitic rhetoric and hate incidents are on the rise across the U.S. and in other countries. Hateful speech and conspiracy theories can fuel violence against marginalized groups.
Though Amsterdam police did not name the suspect, citizen sleuths linked Wilson to the incident shortly after it occurred using digital forensic techniques. The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors Wilson’s activity, believes he has been living in Poland since fleeing the U.S. to evade hate crime charges in San Diego.
On Tuesday morning, 41-year-old Wilson posted a video he took of several Polish police officers approaching his house. In the footage, he tells the officers in English, “I don’t do anything illegal. My lawyer told me not to open.”
Staff at the ADL identified Wilson as the man confronting police in the video posted Tuesday. They said they believe he was arrested shortly after it was filmed.
“Other extremists have since circulated the news of his arrest,” ADL West spokesperson Laura Fennell said.
Wilson is a public facing figure of the Goyim Defense League, a network of individuals in the U.S. who spread antisemitic and white supremacist messages online, as well as in person through flyer distributions, street demonstrations and banner drops. The group was responsible for more than 450 propaganda campaigns last year, according to the ADL.
A Canadian native, Wilson moved to Chula Vista in 2016. Then in 2021, he allegedly assaulted his neighbor while yelling homophobic slurs at him and was charged with a hate crime. Before he could be prosecuted, he fled the country.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has declined to say if it is attempting to extradite Wilson to the U.S. The office did not provide a comment on Wilson’s arrest.
Last summer, a photo circulated on social media showing Wilson at the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland along with the founder of the Goyim Defense League, Jon Minadeo. The two men were holding antisemitic signs outside the entrance, and the incident led to Minadeo’s arrest.
The Goyim Defense League is known for spreading false conspiracy theories about Jews. Among other things, its members claim Jewish people are responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic and the 9/11 terrorist attack.
The laser projection that occurred on Feb. 6 referenced another antisemitic conspiracy theory — it claimed that Frank was the “inventor of the ballpoint pen.” The theory incorrectly alleges that Frank’s diary was a forgery because it was written with a ballpoint pen, which was not common in Europe until after World War II.
Days after the projection, a video of the incident appeared in a chat on Telegram, a messaging app, 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.”
“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.”
Members of a citizen sleuth group known as Capitol Terrorists Exposers, which was founded by a Netherlands resident, tied Wilson to the Anne Frank House incident using videos he posted in online channels. They provided evidence to police showing that he was in Amsterdam at the time of the projection and they drew the route they believe he took to get there from Poland in the days prior.
In their statement, written in Dutch, the Amsterdam police said they also settled on a suspect shortly after the incident.
“After the projection, the Amsterdam detective department started an investigation in which the suspect soon came into their sights,” the police said.
Police believe the suspect left for Poland “immediately after the laser-projection” and have been in close contact with the Polish authorities, the statement said. Amsterdam detectives traveled to Poland on Monday, joining Polish police during the search of the suspect’s home and the arrest.
The Netherlands is in the process of requesting extradition.
“The Amsterdam Public Prosecutor has requested the extradition of the suspect to the Polish authorities,” the statement said. “A decision will be made later.”
Type of Content
News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.