A Miami boat captain and his sister were driving on a street near Coconut Grove on Thursday afternoon when they saw a group of men using markers to scrawl on a van with swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs. Shocked, they turned around to video-record them — and at least six men began raising their arms in the Nazi salute.
“To see actual Nazis gleefully writing on their presumably rented van was just shocking,” Todd Amelung-Wilson said. “They seemed pretty proud of themselves. ... We were really shaken.”
The bizarre encounter happened on Southwest 27th Street near 24th Avenue in Miami about 1:30 p.m. Miami police later arrested one of the men during an unrelated traffic stop.
The man, Joseph Bounds, 33, of Denver, Colorado, was charged with misdemeanor resisting a police officer without violence and failure to obey a police officer.
According to a police arrest report, an officer had stopped the van on Biscayne Boulevard at Northeast First Street about 3:40 p.m. when Bounds stepped out and into the middle of the street to video-record the encounter. A Miami police sergeant “gave him 3 lawful commands to step away from traffic” and he repeatedly refused, according to the report.
The men are part of a small virulently anti-Semitic hate group, which regularly engages in stunts to harass Jewish people and have been in Florida this month. Last week, they were in Central Florida protesting at a Holocaust education center. The Anti-Defamation League has identified Bounds as part of the group.
Their arrival in South Florida has alarmed local Jewish leaders, which circulated warnings about the group this week. The Herald is not publishing its name because the group’s goal is publicity.
“It is imperative that no matter what they say you DO NOT ENGAGE them in any way, even though it may be very tempting to do so,” one warning circulated online said. “The goal, our goal, is to simply ignore them and to avoid a confrontation of any kind. Be aware that various law enforcement agencies are engaged in gathering intelligence and making sure that everything stays peaceful.”
The group spreads conspiracy theories and myths about Jews, and often drives around in vans similar to the one seen in Miami on Thursday. On Tuesday, the group was video-recorded holding up anti-Semitic flags on Griffin Road in Dania Beach, in a Jewish neighborhood.
The van was also seen Wednesday in Boca Raton disrupting a pro-Israel rally, according to a tweet by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg.
“We rally for peace and this van filled with hate, call for genocide and threats kept circling,” he wrote. “Thank you to our local law enforcement for keeping us safe. Hard to believe in the heart of Boca Raton if didn’t see it myself.”
The group was also blamed for distributing hate pamphlets to at least one street in a Fort Lauderdale neighborhood on Friday
One expert on domestic extremism, Jared Holt, wrote on Twitter that the Boca stunt was live-streamed on a site aimed at white supremacists, and included a former member of the right-wing Proud Boys group.
Florida has been a hotbed for anti-Semitic incidents, according to an audit by the Anti-Defamation League in 2020. According to the ADL’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents released in April, the state saw an increase of 40 percent in harassment and vandalism last year over the previous year; in 2019, there were 91 incidents.
Among the incidents: someone hurling anti-Semitic slurs at a Jewish father and his 12-year-old son as they walked in Miami Beach; graffiti at a construction site in Broward blaming Jews for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; and anti-Semitic remarks made during a Zoom welcome session for Jewish students at Florida International University.
In April, a man was arrested by Coral Gables police over a series of anti-Semitic phrases written on public sites across the city.