Topics discussed by people who called into San Diego’s city council meeting Monday included the following: Sea lions, mental health, marijuana taxation, smart streetlight surveillance contracts, and electric scooters. It also included people calling in threatening to burn synagogues and Jewish schools, who said interracial relationships should be criminalized under bestiality laws, people who repeatedly used the n-word, people who shouted “White Fucking Power,” and people who claimed that the previous, hateful calls were “psyops” designed to create the political will to ban free speech and create “15-minute cities” for government control.
The comments, which came from about seven callers and were interspersed between calls from citizens wanting to discuss things like “teen suicide in schools,” funding for homeless shelters, and the protection of fish and wildlife from pollution, completely dominated the council meeting and included overt threats to city council members and the city of San Diego. Many of the callers said they were furious about a proposed law in the city that would criminalize “hate littering,” after a series of high-profile events in which white supremacist groups have been handing out antisemitic flyers in the city that say things like “Every Single Aspect of the LGBTQ+ Movement is Jewish,” and repeat every possible antisemitic conspiracy theory.
I’m highlighting the meeting primarily because it is an extreme example of how normal, important local government business is being held hostage and terrorized by extremists around the country. In some instances, the callers quite literally made threats at an open government forum, while city council members (who, admittedly, must have been shocked), generally let them speak. The calls show how common hateful and violent threats have become at city council meetings, as well as how common conspiracy theories and disinformation have become at the same meetings.
One caller talks sincerely about “the mental health struggles of student suicides.” A subsequent caller states “we are tired of brown people coming to our white country to sell out to Jews who hate free speech […] white lives matter.” The caller after that, audibly shaken, says “I don’t know how I follow what I just heard. I don’t want to, but, anyway, I was going to talk about scooters … well, I will, in fact. The city of San Diego should not be in the scooter business, period.”
Warning: The following video includes extreme racist, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and antisemitic language, as well as threats. It has been edited for length by 404 Media; some of the most extreme language has been edited out.
The people making the calls repeatedly state that they have the Constitutional right to speak at the hearings, and that any attempt to silence them will be met with lawsuits or violence. It is unfortunately routine, and perhaps exhausting, to point out that these free speech warriors, are, of course, stifling the free speech of others by holding local governments hostage and by scaring other residents from showing up to or speaking at public hearings.
And it's happening, in a concerted way, all over the country: In May, a Sacramento City Council meeting was paused after an altercation involving a white supremacist. This week, extremists hijacked a city council meeting in Portland, Maine. Last week, they hijacked a meeting in Bangor, Maine.
A recent study by Princeton University and the Anti-Defamation League (which is the target of some of the San Diego’s callers ire), found that these threats are literally taking over some city councils with their intimidation and threat campaigns: “These actions make civic spaces feel unsafe, keep public servants from doing their work, and jeopardize democratic processes such as public meetings and elections. Public officials of both parties, and many serving in nonpartisan offices, have become targets of doxing, armed protests at their residences, personal and virtual threats to their body and family, vandalism, and threats of violent acts. Intimidation and threats of violence have driven some out of local office, while a new crop of hardliners and anti-government fringe candidates line up to take their place.”
In San Diego, immediately after a woman called in to share some statistics about teen suicide, a man who was identified as “Judy” calmly stated that if he was cut off by the council “you are under warning that you are violating my civil rights and I will sue your city. It’s usually not white people who are standing up for themselves […] in the lands where our fathers shed blood to acquire for our families, not for infiltrators.”
“You have zero right to cut off my speech, and I am warning you to do so at your own peril,” he continues, noting that he was then going to quote from Martin Luther: “First, to set fire to their synagogues and their schools. This will be done in the honor of our lord.”
A council member then states that the caller was going outside the bounds of the meeting’s agenda, but let him finish.
The next two callers said the previous calls were psyops, before repeating, basically, that the city is trying to stifle speech that it doesn’t like. The caller after that goes on a two-minute, hateful rant about how interracial couples should be charged under California’s bestiality law and “thrown in prison,” and says the n-word five times.
“The comments were vile,” Councilmember Stephen Whitburn told CBS 8 San Diego. “There were racist slurs, anti-Semitic slurs, homophobic slurs. In the three years I've sat on the City Council I have yet to see anything of that magnitude.”
After the hearing, the San Diego City Council put out the following statement: “As one of the most diverse councils in San Diego's history, we speak in solidarity that there is no space for hate speech and violent misinformation in our city. While we welcome all people of the public to participate in City Council, we condemn participation that introduces outright hateful language against race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any further identities that make up our region.
The communities represented in San Diego are diverse and vibrant and have dedicated countless contributions to our city's well-being. As Council members who represent these communities, we have the monumental task of conducting city business with integrity and respect while committing to protect all people without disruptive racism and bigotry. We fully denounce the use of these harmful comments in any Council meeting.”
This is all to say that these harassment and intimidation campaigns are happening weekly in the United States, in cities big and small, and the topic has largely faded into the background. These people are not “trolling” city council meetings or fighting for free speech. They are holding cities hostage, terrorizing citizens, and intimidating underpaid public servants.