GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The man who distributed hateful antisemitic flyers in at least two Kent County communities is not from West Michigan, according to law enforcement sources.
Target 8 has learned the man allegedly seen tossing offensive flyers onto driveways in the Caledonia area is from Mt. Morris, a town north of Flint in Genesee County. He’s 43 years old.
The Anti-Defamation League said Monday the group behind the distribution often brings people in from outside communities to deliver the flyers, an increasingly common practice known as “papering.”
A source described the man to Target 8 as “uncooperative” with investigators who questioned him.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department, which is not revealing the man’s name, tracked him down with the help of surveillance video in one of the subdivisions he visited.
Several citizens reached out to the sheriff’s department to report the flyers’ disturbing content. A neighbor also reached out to Target 8 on Sunday to report the activity.
“These hateful flyers were left in driveways throughout my neighborhood today,” wrote a resident of Crystalline Avenue off Kalamazoo south of 68th Street.
Ring doorbell video on another street off 76th Street SE captured a man in a beige Dodge Caravan flinging Ziploc baggies out of the passenger window onto residents’ driveways.
The baggies contained a flyer and seeds, ostensibly to prevent the wind from carrying them away. The documents, of which there were several versions, spread conspiracy-laden lies, blaming Jewish people for the war in Ukraine and the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. It also promoted the website of the antisemitic organization responsible for disseminating the flyers.
Wyoming Public Safety confirmed to Target 8 it, too, received a complaint from a citizen who spotted flyers in Chateau Estates off Burlingame Avenue.
The sheriff’s department has turned the case over to the office of Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker for potential charges. Becker told Target 8 he could not provide a timetable for any decision on the case.
Other jurisdictions across the country have tried to cite the hate group for littering, though it’s not clear if the man’s actions constituted a violation of Michigan’s littering statute.
The sheriff’s department noted Monday that an ethnic intimidation charge requires a “direct, credible threat” to a person or property. The flyers were extremely offensive but did not appear to make specific threats.
The Anti-Defamation League told Target 8 Monday the group distributing the flyers started showing up in Michigan in the spring of 2022.
“This group is a loose network of individuals connected by their virulent antisemitism,” said Carolyn Normandin of ADL in Michigan. “It includes five or six primary organizers and many, many supporters; thousands of online followers. This group operates a video platform that streams antisemitic content.”
Normandin said the group has been known to hang anti-Jewish banners from highway overpasses and pull head coverings from Jews on the street, among other offensive stunts.
She said the organization started in Arizona, California and Florida before moving to New York, South Carolina and Texas.
“What we’ve seen in the last several years is a rise in antisemitism, and so this group in particular is trying to foment antisemitism through conspiracy theory, and that’s what concerns me the most,” Normandin said. “These antisemitic flyers blame the Jewish community for everything: starting COVID, owning banks… Jews were responsible for 911, Jews have done these nefarious things. You name it, these flyers say it. Don’t believe this garbage.”
Katie Harrington received one of the flyers at her home in the Crystal Springs subdivision. She found it so disturbing that she had her husband burn it.
“The second I saw it, it made me (get) goosebumps all over and just this really disgusting feeling,” Harrington recalled. “I didn’t want any part of it in my home. I want nothing to do with that, any of that sentiment, any of these conspiracy theories… It made me feel so uncomfortable to have that in my home, around my children.”