I interviewed an antisemitic internet hatemonger face-to-face. Here’s why.

It started, Minadeo said, when he began looking into the chemical company Monsanto. Or maybe it was when he got into acting and discovered the religious affiliation of media moguls. Or was it in solidarity with the people of Palestine? His story was fluid.

This was how we spent most of our time, with Minadeo citing reams of “evidence” of a nefarious worldwide conspiracy. But I had no desire to debate him. Nor am I particularly interested in analyzing his points now. All of them have been thoroughly debunked for anyone who isn’t in the tiniest and most toxic of echo chambers.

Minadeo called his examples “pattern-recognizing.” I call them fabrications, or at least cherry-picking.

I’ll offer one example here. It’s from one of the flyers that led me to this strange moment — the one that trumpeted “EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION IS JEWISH” and offered, as proof, mug shots of 12 prominent people surrounding the President, along with their roles.

Put aside for a moment an obvious retort, that Jews should rightfully be proud of their individual success stories after centuries of persecution. Let’s just analyze what Minadeo was positing.

I do believe all 12 of the men and women on the flyer are Jews. But if EVERY SINGLE ASPECT of Biden’s team is Jewish, how convenient to leave out the 18 members of the cabinet who, in fact, are gentiles. Or all four of the United States’ senior military leaders. Or President Joe Biden, who of course is Catholic.

If that argument falls apart so easily, why even bother with an outlandish assertion like “Jews control 96% of American media?”

For the most part, my interview with Minadeo was a repetitive game of cat and mouse. He constantly worked to highlight his more mainstream-sounding views.

He said his main problem with Jews is that they are overrepresented in positions of leadership. He advocated for free speech, noting that several countries have outlawed Holocaust denial. (Minadeo believes the number of Jews killed by Adolph Hitler’s regime was far smaller than the accepted estimate of 6 million.) And he decried Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

I would attempt to point out the videos he hosts on his site go far beyond what he was telling me in the car. In the virtual setting, Minadeo does Nazi salutes, talks about “these f**king Jews and their f**king schemes,” and tars not just ruthless CEOs, but every member of a faith, and a cultural heritage, that may count 20 million worldwide.

When I brought that up, Minadeo would pivot to another fringe theory or worn-out trope.

The other theme I tried hard to center was the potential for harm freighted in Minadeo’s words. He replied over and over that he preaches nonviolence.

But antisemitic incidents are on the rise in America. The Anti-Defamation League, which has been counting them since 1979, reports that 2019 and 2020 were two of the three worst years it has tracked. It hasn’t tallied 2021 yet.

Jews are living in fear again — or maybe they’ve never stopped.

As Minadeo denied culpability for encouraging violence, I thought of Jeff Renfro, owner of the Yoga Hell studio in Petaluma. Renfro told me he took his gun out of storage and loaded it for the first time in ages after he fired Minadeo’s girlfriend, because you never know who Minadeo’s followers are.

I thought of Michéle Samson, president of Congregation Shir Shalom in Sonoma, describing how she finds herself watching a dear old lady during worship services and wondering if she’d have the strength to lift the woman out of a window if the synagogue were attacked.

I also thought of my own family. My mother was Jewish, so I am Jewish. I don’t practice the religion, but I lost relatives to the German death camps. My Uncle Louis, now deceased, begged his children never to get tattoos; to him, tattoos were numbers inked onto arms at Auschwitz.

I was surprised Minadeo didn’t ask me about my religion. Maybe he assumed. When he posted the video of our interview, he included a Star of David emoji in the description. Of course, that might simply have been his way of insinuating I’m controlled by the Jews in those spooky shadows of mainstream media.

Anyway, I kept asking Minadeo: Do you not take some responsibility for the terror one of your followers, juiced up on your theories and implications, might inflict on innocent Jews?

“I do not want, and do not ever endorse violence,” he would answer.

Especially violence against Minadeo, perhaps. He said he was assaulted by a Jewish man during a stunt in Florida, and that his neighbor’s apartment was vandalized “by Antifa” during one of Minadeo’s trips to Texas. He claimed he’ll probably have to leave Petaluma because things are growing so uncomfortable for him.

“I’m scared for my life, man,” Minadeo said. “You gotta understand, a lot of people are willfully ignorant. And those people can be dangerous.”

Scared for his life? Willful ignorance? Dangerous people? He seemed oblivious to the obvious irony of his statements.

Minadeo clearly wants to live in two worlds simultaneously. In one, he goes about his business in Petaluma, running errands and drinking microbrews like any typical dude. In the other, he’s an internet hatemonger, basking in applause from racists and avowed Nazis who gleefully riff on burning Jews in ovens.

The truth is that Minadeo can no longer be both those people, not in Petaluma. And he has already made his choice.

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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