MIAMI, Fla. — The erection of a neo-Nazi billboard near Orlando has triggered a showdown between a local business owner and a group of self-described Jewish militants.
At issue is a billboard on Florida’s Turnpike, which sports the phrase “WHO RULE$ AMERIKA?” and contact information for the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group that the Anti-Defamation League has described as the most dangerous extremist organization in the United States. As part of a series of moves dubbed “Operation Nazi Kicker,” the militant New York-based Jewish Defense Organization is organizing protests against the Florida-based Sunshine Outdoor Inc. and its owner, Jerry Sullivan, for renting the billboard to the National Alliance.
Leaders of JDO, known for their small but aggressive protests, are calling for a boycott of Sunshine Outdoor and urging activists to inundate the company with angry telephone calls. The group has posted Sullivan’s phone number and address on its Web site.
The executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, Eric Geboff, has been attempting to broker an agreement between the two sides. The JDO says it will not call off its campaign until the New Alliance billboard is removed. Meanwhile, Sullivan has said that the sign, located in Sumter County just north of Okahumpka, is staying up until the JDO publishes an apology to him on the group’s Web site and stops any protest actions.
Federation leaders sent a letter to the company last week, identifying what they described as the billboard’s offensive message and requesting that it be removed.
Neither Sullivan nor his associate Dennis O’Neil were available for comment. In an article published January 5, the Orlando Sentinel quoted Sullivan as saying: “It’s free speech. … There’s no law against it.”
As long as the billboard was paid for, Sullivan reportedly told the newspaper, he would not take it down.
According to Geboff, the National Alliance pays $300 per month to rent the billboard as part of a one-year deal that expires in May. Geboff told the Forward that he has been in contact with Sunshine Outdoor, and that O’Neil “has been extremely reasonable and upset that anyone has inferred that they are associated with Nazis.”
The head of the JDO, Mordechai Levy, dismissed Sullivan’s comments about free speech.
“There’s no free speech for psychotic Nazis,” Levy said.
Art Teitelbaum, the Miami-based director of the ADL’s southern region, characterized the National Alliance’s ideology as a “poisonous brew of antisemitic, racist and anti- immigrant ideas framed by a hostility towards government and democracy.” Though the name of the alliance is not specifically mentioned on the billboard, it does include a plug for the group’s Web site. The billboard, Teitelbaum said, is “a cost-effective way to trap unknowing persons into viewing their Web site since they don’t identify themselves on the billboard as the National Alliance.”
According to Teitelbaum, the ADL is “exploring every avenue consistent with the First Amendment to determine if the billboard message can be removed.” But Teitelbaum argued against the JDO-organized boycott, warning that it could end up hurting innocent people.
The National Alliance has chapters in Tampa and Orlando, yet Geboff and Teitelbaum both insisted that Central Florida is no more receptive to the group’s antisemitic messages than other areas of the country. “Florida has the toughest hate [crimes] laws in the United States,” said Teitelbaum. “They were written by the ADL and passed by Florida legislation in 1989.”
Rabbi Daniel Wolpe, religious leader of The Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation-Temple Ohalei Rivka, said that the billboard had virtually no impact on his congregants because it stands in a rural location on the side of the highway. “My congregants tend not to drive by it and see it,” Wolpe said.
Daniel Coultoff of the Orlando Federation’s community-relations council, described the billboard as offensive, but said it was not erected in an area with a high Jewish population. “It’s not like it’s sitting in the middle of Orlando — it’s an outlying county,” Coutloff said. “People whiz by it at 85 miles per hour. I don’t even know if you could read the Web site going past.”