Dan Meisel, regional director of the Santa Barbara Regional Anti-Defamation League, said the flyers are from a small, nationally based anti-Semitic fringe group that’s grown increasingly active in the past two years. | Credit: Gail Arnold (file)

Many residents of Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood woke on Sunday morning — the first day of Hanukkah — to find one of several virulently anti-Semitic flyers in their driveway. City Councilmember Michael Jordan — who represents the Mesa on the council — estimated that “hundreds” of homes had been visited by drive-by delivery squads. 

Among the many things the flyers blamed Jews for was the COVID pandemic. They also brought up the lynching of Leo Frank — a Jew — in 1915, after his death sentence had been commuted for the crime of murdering a 13-year-old boy in the state of Georgia. Frank would be exonerated of those charges 70 years after his murder. 

The flyers came wrapped in plastic bags, which contained rice or beans — and, according to some reports, rocks — to make the flyers easier to toss and to prevent them from blowing away. The flyers were found on driveways and sidewalks in front of homes on the West Mesa, on a street behind Mesa Produce, on Flora Vista and West Valerio streets, on Shoreline Drive, on the Westside, and as far away as Hidden Valley. 

Councilmember Jordan thanked everyone who’d expressed “outrage,” especially the early-morning walkers who scooped up the flyers “to make sure people did not have to start their day seeing this on the driveway.” Jordan said a police officer picked up 35 flyers a constituent had deposited with him, but said it does not appear a “hate crime” was committed because the flyers were not exclusively distributed at the homes of Jewish residents. 

Dan Meisel, regional director of the Santa Barbara Regional Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said the drive-by drops were part of “an orchestrated campaign” waged by a small nationally based anti-Semitic fringe group that’s grown increasingly active in the past two years. Meisel estimated the group’s membership hovered in the “low three figures” and that the late-night drops are part of a broader effort to generate interest in the group’s social media outlets and television outlet, he said, “to monetize hate.” Meisel declined to mention the group’s name for publication.

“To do so would give them what they most want — publicity,” he said. “It puts us in a tough spot. How do we acknowledge and condemn what they do without amplifying their message?” 

[Editor’s note: The Independent has decided not to publish the group’s name or photos of the flyers, which include the group’s name, in this story.]

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The group, Meisel claimed, was responsible for 350 actions throughout 41 states thus far in 2022. Last year, he said, it was just 74. Meisel said law enforcement agencies are broadly aware of the organization, but that most choose not to prosecute, citing freedom of speech concerns. A few, he said, have filed charges for littering. 

Meisel said the ADL also takes the First Amendment issues seriously but stated there are ways other than governmental sanction to hold such organizations and individuals accountable. He said he hopes video footage from home security systems might reveal the identities of the parties involved, thus stripping them of the anonymity that protects them. 

“If people know who they are, maybe they’d lose their jobs. Just because there is freedom of speech doesn’t mean there are no consequences,” he said. 

Michael Jordan — who represents the Mesa on the Santa Barbara City Council — estimated that “hundreds” of homes had been visited by drive-by delivery squads. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Meisel said the action was clearly timed to coincide with the Jewish feast of Hanukkah — an eight-day celebration that takes place roughly about the same time as Christmas. He said the group typically identifies neighborhoods with easy freeway access, and he speculated it’s quite possible that none of the individuals involved lived in Santa Barbara. 

He noted that the same group hung a giant banner from the 405 freeway about a month ago proclaiming “Kanye was right,” referring to the hip-hop artist who now goes by “Ye” and has outraged and alienated many former supporters with his outspokenly anti-Semitic remarks. 

On a more positive note, Chabad of Santa Barbara hosted its 43rd annual Chanukah celebration, but this time in the middle of State Street in front of Wylde Works, a new establishment specializing in honeyed beers. There was music, singing, and dancing with participants greeting passersby and onlookers with an enthusiastic “Happy Hanukkah” and “Would you like a latke?”

The Santa Barbara Police Department encourages anyone with information about the flyers or in possession of surveillance footage of distribution in their neighborhood to contact Lt. A. Baker at (805) 897-3754 or abaker@sbpd.com.

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