Before 7 am on the morning of August 18, Jennie Dougherty says she was walking in her neighborhood in the City of Shasta Lake when she noticed flyers on the doorsteps of many of her neighbors’ houses.
“I started walking around 6:20 and it didn’t hit me (what I was seeing) until 6:30,” Dougherty said. “They had skipped my house (because of the location) but all my neighbors seemed to have received one. They were the same flyers that were distributed in east Redding in July, in sandwich baggies (weighted down) with sand.”
The flyers were from an organization called Goyim TV and included the group’s logo, a red background with a white circle and a stylized G inside, resembling a swastika, according to a report from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office. The Anti-Defamation League says Goyim TV is operated by the Goyim Defense League, a loose network of individuals who spread antisemitic conspiracy theories through literature distributions. The organization was started by an individual from Petaluma, just a few hours South of Redding.
In late July, the same kind of materials, depicting a star of David beside a pentagram with the words, “96% of the media is Jewish,” were distributed in Redding’s Hacienda Heights neighborhood. The Redding Police Department opened an investigation into a report of that distribution, calling it a hate incident.
But Dougherty received a different response when she called the Sheriff’s Office, which contracts for law enforcement services in the City of Shasta Lake, early on the morning of August 18 to report what she had seen. After speaking briefly with dispatch, Dougherty says she received a return call from a deputy just before 7 am but was surprised and disappointed when she was told that no investigation would be opened.
“He was totally polite to me the whole time,” Dougherty explained, “but he just said, ‘if it’s the flyer I’m aware of, it doesn’t constitute hate speech, and we wouldn’t open an investigation.’ He compared it to Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses going door to door,” Dougherty continued, “He talked about freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I wish I had been awake enough to say, ‘What kind of religion is this?!’”
Dougherty said the deputy also told her, “Just because we don’t like printed material doesn’t mean that we can change it or stop it.” She said she hung up after a few minutes because she was running late for work, but not before arguing with the deputy. “I said, ‘Don’t you do preventative work?’” Dougherty remembers, “And at that point he said ‘if a violent crime does happen we will absolutely investigate it,” and I said ‘that’s not really helpful to the victim, is it?’”
The next day, still feeling emotional about the situation, Dougherty called the Redding Police Department to ask about the incident. “I called because I knew that RPD had opened a (similar) case,” she said. “They were really receptive, but told me I should speak to the Sheriff’s office. I told them the Sheriff’s office was not interested in taking the case and then they asked me to leave a phone message (with RPD.)”
The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to 8 requests for comment made by Shasta Scout via emails and phone calls to the department’s public information officer and others over the last two weeks. But records from the Sheriff’s Office indicate that the department did send an officer into Dougherty’s neighborhood on August 18, the same day she called to report the incident.
According to a summary of the case, that officer canvassed the neighborhood, noting the antisemitic flyers and collecting one as evidence before speaking to residents and leaving business cards at houses that were equipped with video cameras visible from the street. As of Monday, August 22, the summary reads, no surveillance video of the unknown suspect had been located.
“No threats of violence or calls to action were mentioned” in the materials, according to the Sheriff’s report summary. Unlike RPD after the July incident, the Sheriff’s Office did not release information to the public regarding the August distribution in the City of Shasta Lake.
Is Hate Speech Protected by the First Amendment?
Alan Phillips, a member of the Greater Sacramento Area Hate Crimes Task Force, which operates under the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, called the distribution of antisemitic material in the City of Shasta Lake a hate incident, and one that should be taken seriously by local law enforcement.
Hate incidents are actions or behaviors motivated by hate against a person’s real or perceived social group, but that do not rise to the level of a crime. They can include name-calling, insults, material displayed on one’s own property, material posted on others’ properties, and distributions of materials with hate messages in public places.
RPD’s Corporal Josiah Ferrin said in July that hate speech will be investigated and documented by RPD but is protected by the First Amendment. That’s often true, but depends on the content of the hate speech according to Phillips, who said hate speech may constitute a civil rights violation if it includes the threat of violence, even if that speech would normally fall under what is considered constitutionally-protected free speech. Such violations of civil rights, Phillips said, may result in restraining orders, civil penalties of up to $25,000, and other consequences.
The Constitution does allow hate speech, Phillips said, as long as it does not interfere with the civil rights of others. While acts like distributing antisemitic literature are certainly hurtful, he said, they do not rise to the level of criminal violations. It’s important to note though, he continued, that these incidents have a traumatic impact on the victims as well as on the community at large.
The Effects of Hate Speech on the Community
Geri Copitch is a board member of Temple Beth Israel, a local Jewish congregation. She said recent hate speech both in Shasta County and Davis have deeply concerned the local Jewish community. Having both community members and local law enforcement respond promptly, vocally, and thoroughly to reported hate incidents, Copitch explained, is critical to providing support and preventing feelings of isolation.
“Hate speech is an in-road,” Copitch commented “And when there isn’t a public outcry (against it), it’s the same as a tacit nod. It’s important that people in the community, your neighbors, people in city and county government, and even our local representatives should speak out against this and nip it in the bud before it escalates to the point of becoming a tragedy.”
Phillips says concern for hate speech escalating to hate crime is real. The Hate Crimes Task Force he participates in was formed partly in response to such North State tragedies, he said, including the 1999 hate-motivated murders of a gay couple in Happy Valley, Gary Madsen and Winfield Mowder. Those murders, Phillips said, were committed by brothers involved with the white supremacist and anti-semitic Christian Identity movement.
“Mixing religion and racism with hate crimes in Shasta County is not new,” Phillips said, “This county was born, raised, and churched on racism. This appears to be yet another negative hate incident .. . that fosters future escalating hate crimes with the use of hate material in an otherwise maturing and promising Shasta County.”
Responding to Hate Materials or Other Hate Incidents
Lynn Fritz is a member of Shasta Interfaith and is of Swedish, Hoopa and Karuk descent. In response to antisemitic material distributed in July, Shasta Interfaith sent a letter to a number of local organizations speaking out against antisemitism and supporting diversity.
Fritz says she was invited to attend a September meeting of the City of Shasta Lake Council to share that letter. She also used the opportunity to note to the Council and the public that rumors of antisemitic materials distributed in the City of Shasta Lake in August remain unconfirmed by any public statement from the Sheriff’s Office.
Failure to report hate incidents, or to act on such reports can occur, Phillips said, in part because hate incidents and hate crimes can cause fear and trauma both in victims and witnesses. “Witnesses of hate crimes and incidents sometimes just want to hide and become part of the landscape,” Phillips explained.
But reporting them to law enforcement is important, Phillips emphasized, “even if the response of the officer seems lukewarm, insensitive or irregular.”
He recommended recording and saving identifying information like license plates and home security footage that could help establish the veracity of the incident and sharing it with local officers. Individuals may also contact the FBI about hate incidents and crimes, he said.
Law Enforcement Must Take A Strong Stand Against Hate
The Shasta Equal Justice Coalition (SEJC), a network of organizations and individuals that launched in 2020 with an intent to work for fair and equal justice within the criminal legal system, said since it’s inception the organization has been in dialogue with leaders of law enforcement agencies about the importance of increased awareness about the existence and consequences of hate incidents and hate crimes.
SEJC leadership released a statement to Shasta Scout about the August 18 distribution of anti-semitic material in Shasta County, saying they are deeply concerned and asking all responsible leaders and agencies in the community, including local law enforcement, to take a strong stance against hate.
“SEJC is committed to offering support . . . and would love to hear more from the Sheriff about what was learned through recent events and what steps will be put in place to educate his department and the community about addressing similar efforts.”
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