Breaking News
More () »

Antisemitic remarks overtake city council meeting's public comment

Speakers identified themselves with names like Andy Zemite, Judy Stroyer and Sieg Heil.

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — Antisemitic rants overtook public comment during a city council meeting in Wheat Ridge. 

It is the most recent example in a string of public comment takeovers by individuals promoting an antisemitic group’s website. 

During Monday night’s Wheat Ridge council meeting, virtual speakers participated in public comment. Some of the speakers identified themselves as: Andy Zemite, Judy Stroyer and Sieg Heil. 

“You know, I think when I got to ‘Sieg Heil,’ I scratched the name down and somewhere in there I figured out that we were getting bogus people calling,” Wheat Ridge Mayor Bud Starker told Next with Kyle Clark

Starker led the meeting and public comment section that began with an in-person comment from a resident talking about the Wadsworth Improvement Project’s impact on streets. 

After her public comment, the remainder of the speakers participated virtually, a practice that began during the 2020 pandemic. 

“We haven’t had this problem happen before last night,” Starker said. 

The public comment included many antisemitic remarks about Jewish people, with several people referencing an antisemitic group’s website. 

“There was a lot of vitriol,” Starker said. 

Speakers were given three minutes each, until the council took a recess and shortened the public comment period to one minute each. 

“We had business before the council. The council had public hearings and other business that we needed to get to,” Starker said. 

The council did not end public comment based on the antisemitic comments, and it probably would not have been legal to do so. 

“There’s a First Amendment that we have in the United States that’s dear to the freedoms that we enjoy, and part of that is the freedom to express your opinion. We’re a public body. People are welcome to come and talk and speak to the councilors, speak to the representatives. We don’t infringe upon that,” Starker said. 

The Anti-Defamation league recently published an article on antisemitic, racist and bigoted hijackings of public meetings, including meetings that reference the same antisemitic group named in the Wheat Ridge council meeting.

“If it's a public forum, then the standard for restricting that comment in the public commentary is going to be very high. If it's not a public forum, you have an easier basis for restricting speech. But that situation was indeed a public forum,” said Jessica Smith, an attorney with constitutional law expertise at Holland & Hart. 

Some government agencies have given public comment total time limits, or even limiting the comment to content that relates to items on the current agenda. 

“It really becomes a tricky path for government bodies to try and engage in content-based restrictions. It's something that we really don't like in this country, regardless of how hateful the messages,” Smith said. “They were incredibly hateful, false, antisemitic, incredibly horrific. They were terrible. And the law protects most of that speech.” 

She gave two examples where the speakers, perhaps, opened themselves up to scrutiny or even legal trouble. 

“One was a call to an imminent lawless action. And so. there were a couple of speakers that made comments about potentially putting people in camps and rounding people up in the United States and putting them in camps. That would be illegal and that is not protected speech. And so, the question would be whether or not that was imminent enough, whether or not it was a call for imminent action, and if it is, then that is not protected speech. That would be something that they could restrict,” Smith said. 

The speakers also named several people in President Biden’s administration, as well as the Trump campaign. Smith said that could be problematic for the speakers, if they were ever identified. 

“People whose names were mentioned might have a cause of action against those speakers for defamation, and defamation is not protected by the First Amendment,” Smith said. 

Before each speaker received their time, the mayor asked for the person to say and spell their name and provide their address. 

Most of the addresses were clearly not in Wheat Ridge city limits, if they were real at all. 

“I don’t really think that it’s my role or our councilors’ role to ferret out the honesty of the person that’s calling at the time,” Starker said. 

Could the council have limited speakers to only people within Wheat Ridge city limits? 

“We ask for people’s names, we ask for an address in order to see whether they are talking about things that are happening in Wheat Ridge, and they’re a resident of Wheat Ridge,” Starker said. “The point of the address is, really, to allow the councilors to understand whether constituents are calling or whether they live out of the city, and we certainly take all comments, inside and outside of the city.” 

Even the clearly fake names would not be enough to prevent the person from speaking. 

“For the purposes of the First Amendment, you don't need to know whether or not all of those names are true, accurate names for them to be able to speak at that public forum. That's not really a requirement for the First Amendment to trigger. It just needs to be that that is a city council meeting, and they opened up the floor to public comment,” Smith said. 

In an unusual step, the city tried to track the IP addressed for some of the virtual speakers. A spokesman for the city said they traced locations to Salt Lake City, Chicago, San Jose, Portland and New Jersey. Though, IP addresses can also be masked. 

“We don’t normally check IP addresses for typical council meetings but decided to look after what happened last night to confirm our suspicions,” the spokesman said. 

At the end of the council meeting, several of the councilmembers took a moment to comment on the public comment period. 

“What I wasn’t expecting to do tonight, but I feel compelled to do, is to read back to us our resolution condemning racism and hate that we passed in June of 2020,” Councilwoman Rachel Hultin said. 

That resolution condemning racism and hate was a response to the George Floyd killing at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

“I thought that was gross and disturbing,” Councilmember Korey Stites said. 

So, what will the mayor do if there is another antisemitic takeover of public comment? 

“I think we’ll listen to those comments again,” Starker said. “I think we’ll try to, once again, balance the First Amendment rights that people have to come and talk to the representatives, even with the vile speech that they put out there.”

More from 9NEWS:

SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Next with Kyle Clark

Before You Leave, Check This Out