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Group distributing antisemitic flyers in Winter Garden, Oakland connected to neo-Nazis at Disney

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

“White Lives Matter” propaganda marks Winter Garden’s second hate-speech incident in two weeks.

Nazis at Disney
Order of the Black Sun neo-Nazis demonstrate outside a Disney World entrance on June 10, 2023. Photo: Lisa Gause

Updated June 17, 2023, 12:30 p.m. to reflect comments by the Winter Garden city manager.

The four suspects apprehended for throwing “White Lives Matter” flyers, emblazoned with swastikas, throughout several neighborhoods in Winter Garden and Oakland Saturday night are believed to be connected to the neo-Nazi group Order of the Black Sun that demonstrated outside of the Disney World entrance on State Road 535 earlier that day.

“We think it’s the same people,” Winter Garden Police spokesperson Capt. Scott Allen confirmed to VoxPopuli in a phone interview Thursday.

Allen said there didn’t seem to be “any rhyme or reason” why the four chose Winter Garden and Oakland to distribute their antisemitic screeds. Neither municipality is known to have large Jewish populations or synagogues.

Oakland Town Commissioner Salvador Ramos ventured that Oakland offered a convenient target because of its proximity to the turnpike.

This the second hate speech incident in as many weeks for Winter Garden.

On May 31, the day before the start of Pride Month, the Winter Garden eatery MoonCricket Grille ran a beer promotion featuring 49-cent Bud Light that was widely perceived on social media as anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ and denigrating of the 49 killed in the Pulse Nightclub shooting seven years ago. The seventh anniversary of the shooting was Monday. Owner Bert Valdes has denied that the beer price was a reference to the second deadliest mass shooting in the country. Valdes later told VoxPopuli his staff received threats related to the social media response to the beer promotion.

Across the country, antisemitic incidents have increased exponentially, according to a recent report from the Anti-Defamation League. Not only did the number of antisemitic incidents jump 36 percent in 2022 — the highest level since the ADL began tracking in 1979 —the last decade has seen a 500 percent increase in anti-Jewish assaults, harassment and vandalism.

White Lives Matter flyer
Flyers like this one were thrown into driveways in neighborhoods in Winter Garden and Oakland. Photo: from Facebook

ADL has also seen white supremacist groups' efforts to distribute antisemitic propaganda, like the flyers Winter Garden and Oakland residents received, double in the last year.

Florida ranks fourth nationally for antisemitic incidents, after New York, California and New Jersey, according to ADL’s report. Antisemitic incidents in the Sunshine State have more than doubled since 2020. Southern Poverty Law Center also ranks Florida second only to California in the number of hate and anti-government groups. The state had 89 extremist groups in 2022 compared with 53 in 2021.

"The rise in antisemitic incidents across the country and here in Florida should trouble everyone,” Sarah Emmons, ADL Florida Regional Director, said in a statement provided to VoxPopuli. “It’s incumbent upon our state and local leaders to clearly and consistently denounce antisemitism wherever and whenever it shows up. The Florida Jewish community relies on allies to speak up and make clear that hate, in all its forms, will not be tolerated in the Sunshine State.”

Winter Garden City Manager Jon Williams declined to comment specifically on the neo-Nazi action, but said, "I condemn anybody that spreads hate. Period. You know the city's campaign with respect to unity and community, so we totally disregard anybody that spreads hate or fear."

Oakland Mayor Kathy Stark and Winter Garden Mayor John Rees did not respond to requests for comment. Oakland Town Manager Andy Stewart referred a request for comment to the town's Deputy Chief of Police Mike Bryant who did not respond to emailed questions.

“It is disheartening to see such intolerance and bigotry in our midst,” wrote Winter Garden District 2 Commissioner Ron Mueller, in part, on social media. “I want to assure you that this behavior goes against the values we hold dear in Winter Garden.

“I commend the swift action taken to apprehend all four suspects involved in this act of hate. We must stand united against any form of discrimination, prejudice and hate towards our residents. Winter Garden is a place that values diversity, love and respect for one another. We believe that our community is made stronger by the contributions and unique perspectives of each individual.”

“I don’t like to give people with hate issues the time or feed their agenda,” Oakland’s Ramos said in an email message to VoxPopuli. “I only pray God works on their hearts and plants the seed of love in them.”

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