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Neo-Nazi groups spew hate outside Disney World and near Orlando, officials say

Groups of neo-Nazis and white supremacists spread antisemitic, white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ messages outside of Disney World and in the nearby Orlando area on Saturday, in the latest examples of rising antisemitism in the U.S., officials said.

A group of about 15 people wearing clothing and bearing flags emblazoned with Nazi insignia demonstrated outside the entrance to the Disney Springs shopping center, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Office, who said deputies were dispatched to the scene around 10:40 a.m.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights organization dedicated to countering extremism, participants carried antisemitic, white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ flags and signs. The group consisted of members of the neo-Nazi groups Order of the Black Sun, Aryan Freedom Network and 14 First, a now disbanded group that has been absorbed into the National Socialist Movement, the largest neo-Nazi group in the U.S., according to the ADL.

The extremists dissipated after about two hours, and no arrests were made, according to the sheriff’s office.

Representatives for Walt Disney World did not respond to requests for comment Sunday afternoon.

The iconic theme park has been embroiled in controversies this year, garnering criticism for abolishing its diversity, equity and inclusion programs earlier this month, facing a legal challenge from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and encountering backlash from some Disney devotees for closing its famous Splash Mountain ride in January due to its incorporation of characters from the 1946 film “Song of the South,” which featured racist stereotypes.

In a statement, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said the extremist groups gathered outside Disney were looking for attention and that the office condemned their actions.

“We know these groups demonstrate in high profile areas in order to agitate and incite people with antisemitic symbols and slurs,” the sheriff’s office said. “The Orange County Sheriff’s Office deplores hate speech in any form, but people have the First Amendment right to demonstrate. What these groups do is revolting and condemned in the strongest way by Sheriff [John] Mina and the Sheriff’s Office. They are looking for attention, and specifically media attention.”

Later in the day, a group of more than 50 members of two different extremist groups — the Goyim Defense League and Blood Tribe — gathered in the greater Orlando area and waved swastika flags, saluted Hitler and shouted hateful messages including “White power” and “Jews will not replace us,” according to the ADL.

The Goyim Defense League is a small network of antisemitic and white supremacist conspiracy theorists that was behind various antisemitic stunts that made headlines last year, including hanging a banner over a busy Los Angeles freeway that said “Kanye is right about the Jews” — referring to comments made by Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West — and projecting the same message onto a building outside the TIAA Bank Field stadium in Jacksonville following a football game between the universities of Georgia and Florida, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The Blood Tribe is a neo-Nazi group that espouses white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ views, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

A video posted to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, by state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D., shows the extremists chanting “we are everywhere” as they march in what appears to be identical clothing while waving flags inscribed with swastikas. Eskamani said the incident took place at Cranes Roost Park, a waterfront area in the suburban city of Altamonte Springs, about 12 miles north of Orlando.

The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office directed questions about the incident to the Altamonte Springs Police Department, whose representatives could not immediately be reached.

An ADL spokesperson said the group was not aware of any arrests or injuries from either incident.

In a statement, the group called on leaders to denounce the extremists’ gatherings.

“This type of hateful activity has no place in our community,” the group’s Florida Regional Director Sarah Emmons said, noting that the incidents came just a week after the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington and the murders of three Black people in Jacksonville by a white gunman.

“We cannot allow for hate and extremist beliefs to become normalized in our society,” Emmons added.

Representatives for the Orlando Police Department and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer could not immediately be reached on Sunday afternoon.

Earlier this year, an ADL report found that 2022 saw the highest amount of recorded antisemitic incidents since the group began tracking them in 1979: there were 3,697 reported incidents last year, compared to 2,717 in 2021 — an increase of 36%. Most incidents — nearly 2,300 — were characterized as harassment, while more than 1,200 were acts of vandalism and 111 were assaults.

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