PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — Over the past week, the Anti-Defamation League has received 21 reports from 21 different Florida cities that have had anti-Semitic flyers in their area. Southwest Florida has seen it in Punta Gorda and Naples.
"This just sinks my feelings. It sinks their feelings," said Rabbi Solomon Agin with Temple Shalom in Port Charlotte. "I'm really shocked."
We showed him the flyers for the first time on Thursday, though he had heard of others being passed around with other messages this past week.
"It’s very disturbing. I mean you see anti-Semitism raising its ugly head," Agin said.
Fox 4 is only showing part of the flyer to show historic similarities of the anti-Semitic language being used. "COVID" and "media" messages are contextually similar to examples like Nazis blaming Jewish people for financial problems.
Punta Gorda Police confirm they were spread across neighborhoods such as Punta Gorda Isles.
"It’s terrible, and then I learned later on that it was not only Punta Gorda, but Sarasota, Venice," said Bob Sholtes.
Sholtes found the flyer in a bag with rice in it. It was on his driveway last week.
The trend is something the Anti-Defamation League, one of the nation's top anti-hate group organizations, is tracking.
"So the flyering that they’re using is very anti-Semitic in nature," said Sarah Emmons, the Florida Regional Director for the ADL. "It’s blaming the Jewish community for a variety of different things. Blaming the Jewish for the COVID pandemic, blaming the Jewish community for 9/11."
Punta Gorda Police say they identified the people who put out the flyers and say they are not from here. Emmons says that's not uncommon.
"What we do find is that small groups of people will travel across the state into other states, into other communities in order to perpetuate these types of crimes," Emmons said.
We have reported on these flyers for months. At one point, a Bonita Springs rabbi's home was targeted and vandalized.
While it's been seen before, Rabbi Agin says it does not make the reality of having to email his congregation about this any easier.
"We have this, we have to think of ways to combat, to promote awareness, and to get our co-religious colleagues to come aboard and note their displeasure," Agin said.
He says the profound, community effect goes beyond Jewish people.
"We can say we’re acknowledging this, we don’t accept it. We find it horrific," Agin explained. "We find this to be offensive to all people of all religions, of all ethnics, of all persuasions."
The Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte counties is in the process of creating an advocacy group. It's called the Community Relations Council. The goal is to advocate for the community, educate, and combat anti-Semitism.
Temple Shalom will ramp up its security due to these flyers. The ADL is also working with local law enforcement agencies to put a stop to the flyers whether through education or stopping the messages online.
It's important to note the flyers are protected as freedom of speech. As we previously reported, Fort Myers Police said it's only a littering citation.
The ADL does encourage people to report any flyers like this or other hate messages to them here.