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Police confronted antisemitic protesters on I-10, report shows

Jacksonville sheriff.jpg

The day before someone splashed antisemitic messages around Downtown Jacksonville, police confronted a small group of men hanging similar banners on an Interstate 10 overpass, according to a Sheriff’s Office report released Wednesday.

The report, obtained by WJCT News, for the first time publicly identified the group responsible: National Socialist Florida, known as NatSoc Florida or NSF, an extremist group with a growing presence in Jacksonville.

No charges were filed against the men, led by 36-year-old Joshua Dan Nunes of Jacksonville, or against a California man with them who was flying a drone and described himself as "the most famous anti-Semite in America on the internet," the report said.

“After gathering the information to write this report, I thanked the group for their cooperation and apologized for taking up so much time of Mr. Nunes and Mr. Minadeo,” the report concluded.

The electronic messages appeared the next day, projected onto a Downtown apartment building and the back of a scoreboard at TIAA Bank Field — at a time when Jacksonville was in the national spotlight as host of the classic Florida-Georgia football game.

The messages said, "Kanye was right about the jews." That was a reference to Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, who posted antisemitic comments on social media earlier in the week.

The messaging angered multiple community leaders and lawmakers, but the FBI, state attorney and Jacksonville Sheriff's Office all said there was little they could do. The First Amendment protects even hateful speech unless the individuals directly incite criminal activity or threaten violence against a person or group, they said.

Police confronted the I-10 protesters about 5 p.m. Friday on the Chaffee Road overpass on the city's Westside, according to the Sheriff's Office report.

The officer wrote that he had been alerted to a “small group of anti-Semitic people with banner” on the overpass, and found eight or nine men trying to hang two that measured about 10 feet long each, the report said.

One banner read, "End Jewish supremacy in America," and the second said, "Honk if you know it's the Jews." The second banner also had a blue Star of David on one side and the red hammer and sickle emblem of the former Soviet Union on the other.

The group wore red T-shirts with white bandanas covering their faces, "NSF" on them with the "S" written like the lightning bolt symbol that had identified World War II German SS officers, the report said.

The officer got on the overpass and used his PA system to ask the group’s organizer to come to his cruiser, the report said. Nunes did so, the report calling him “polite and cooperative.” Nunes told the officer his group was there “for a peaceful protest and that they would leave if requested to do so by the police,” the report said.

Police also told another man there, Jon Eugene Minadeo II, 39, of Petaluma, California, to stop flying his drone since it was illegal for one to hover above any roadway with traffic on it.

Minadeo, identified in the police report as a self-employed internet broadcaster, told the officer that he was "the most famous anti-Semite in America on the internet." The report called him “polite but evasive,” and he had no driver’s license with him.

“When I asked, he told me that he had once been arrested for DUI when he was 17,” the report said. “He had been arrested as an adult in Poland at Auschwitz (the WWII Nazi death camp located in southern Poland).”

Minadeo was able to show his driver's license to the officer when someone sent a photo to his cellphone, police said.

As that happened, the NSF group left the overpass and walked to their cars parked at a nearby supermarket, the report said.

Jacksonville was caught by surprise the next day when electronic messages were projected onto a Downtown apartment building and the back of a scoreboard at TIAA Bank Field.

Community leaders from Mayor Lenny Curry to Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan blasted out statements of outrage, many saying the messages did not represent most Jacksonville residents.

Curry condemned the "cowards and their cowardly messages.” Khan’s statement said, “This is not representative of our community, but it happened and it's outrageous."

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis’ was criticized as slow to respond, but press secretary Jeremy Redfern sent out a statement late Monday saying the governor “rejects attempts to scapegoat the Jewish community — it has no place in Florida.”

DeSantis' statement added that he has a “proven record of supporting the Jewish community and fighting anti-Semitism” through legislative proposals, laws and other action. That includes creating a required statewide Holocaust school curriculum that “teaches students about that horrific tragedy at every grade level in an age-appropriate manner.”

Less than two months ago, the Anti-Defamation League warned in a report that far-right and white supremacist groups were gaining a foothold across Florida. It specifically mentioned NSF in Jacksonville.

"NSF is an emerging Duval County-based neo-Nazi organization established by white supremacist Joshua Dan Nunes of Jacksonville, who was identified by the Center on Extremism in June of 2022," the report said. "Since July 2022, the group has dramatically expanded its range of activities, holding demonstrations and distributing antisemitic GDL propaganda along with their own."

Community groups pledged this week to push back against groups like NSF.

OneJax, an institute at the University of Florida that promotes diversity, will join the Jewish Federation & Foundation of Northeast Florida to hold a vigil for “unity and hope” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at James Weldon Johnson Park, 135 W. Monroe St., across from Jacksonville City Hall.

Dan Scanlan