Cedar Rapids, IA – he Cedar Rapids Police Department said in a statement to KCRG-TV9 it believes officers acted appropriately after responding to a neo-Nazi group hanging anti-Semitic signs earlier in November.
Over the last seven days, more than 1.8 million people saw a police officer’s body camera footage from the incident on Tik Tok and Reddit. The video shows another woman confronting officers and then trying to tear down signs, which say “Money runs the world and Jews own the banks. The truth is anti-Semitic” and “The Holocaust didn’t happen, but it should have”, over an Interstate 380 overpass on Wilson Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids.
According to the video, the two men guarding the sign have masks, declined to give their identity to the police, and attempted to film any interactions with police or other bystanders with a GoPro attached to one person’s head. The woman, who also doesn’t give her name in the video, along with commenters online, expressed frustration with police officers because they didn’t immediately take down the sign.
“Take it down,” she told an officer after trying to tear down the sign. “You know for a fact our community is being hurt by this.”
Mike Battien, who is a public safety communications specialist for the city of Cedar Rapids, said in an email the masked individuals denied ownership of the sign after they were told they would be cited because they were displayed unlawfully. He wrote the signs were then deemed abandoned property and removed.
“The video was reviewed from a legal perspective and confirms officers acted appropriately in all aspects,” Battien wrote, in an email.
Richard Garnett, who is a professor of law at the University of Norte Dame, said offensive and hurtful speech is protected unless it falls within a few narrowly defined expectations like a “true threat” in an email. He said, based on the video, it is unlikely the expression falls into an unprotected category even though it is undeniably offensive.
Mark Stringer, who is the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, reiterated a similar stance to Garnett. He said the first amendment protects even the most offensive and hateful speech from viewpoint and content-based government restrictions like the vile statements on the group’s sign.
“It’s important to note that the government, which includes police, can regulate and remove signs in some cases, like if they impact public safety because a sign is blocking motorist views,” Stringer said. “But the First Amendment requires the government to be neutral about the content of the signs, like ones posted on an overpass, and can’t remove them because the viewpoint expressed in the signs is offensive or they disagree with it.”
Stringer also said the ACLU wants all Iowans to use their First Amendment rights to speak out against anyone who spreads hatred against Jewish people and to stamp out religious-based bigotry wherever it exists.
A report from the Anti-Defamation League published in August said it recorded the highest number of anti-Semitic acts since it started keeping track in 1979. According to the report, it also saw a 61% increase in attacks against Jewish community centers and synagogues.
David Goldenberg, who is the midwest regional director for the ADL, said in an email it calls on all elected officials, law enforcement, and community leaders to condemn these acts of hate. He also said these group’s actions are particularly disturbing.
TV9 has decided to not name the group because its goal, according to an interview its leader gave in a podcast, is to create media attention. TV9 did inspect the group’s Telegram channel, which is an app the group uses as a chatroom. The chatroom shows photographs and videos connected to other anti-semitic incidents across Iowa, like flyers being placed on people’s driveways in Coralville earlier this month.
Coralville Police Chief Shane Kron said he believes the group is not local but based somewhere else in Iowa. He also said the person or group was identified by another law enforcement agency but said he couldn’t disclose the agency due to another possible investigation.
Lena Gilbert, who is from Springville and is the child of Holocaust survivors, said she was disappointed to see the video with the anti-semitic signs. She said she has spent hours trying to recreate her family history through documents in Poland because she only has one picture of a family member past her parent’s generation.
“To get at this information has been a long journey, a big process, a lot of red tape, [it’s] been very emotional,” Gilbert said.
She said it’s ridiculous to think people don’t believe the Holocaust, which killed 6 million Jews, didn’t exist. Gilbert said her Dad has numbers tattooed on her arm because he was referred to as a number at Dachau. She said her mom survived after being in a gas chamber with too many people, then acted dead while Nazis threw her onto other dead bodies in railroad cars.