The organizer of an upcoming Holocaust history event at downtown Los Angeles' Last Bookstore put up her guard recently when a well-known alt-right figure based in Orange County encouraged his more than 1,800 Facebook friends and followers to attend.
The development was particularly "alarming," organizer Jennifer-Lynne Brack says, in wake of weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a woman died and 19 others were injured in a suspected vehicular attack on counter-protesters at a white nationalist demonstration.
The founder of Holocaust education organization Lessons of the Past is hosting two survivors, Robert Geminder and Gabriella Karin, for a discussion Saturday titled "An Evening With a Holocaust Survivor." When alt-right figure Johnny Benitez caught wind of the event he posted live video, now archived, to his Facebook page in which he urged followers to "get her" and "bombard her." Benitez held up an iPad with Brack's Facebook page displayed.
"You guys can go flood this page," he said. "Ask them questions."
He also posted a photo of Brack on his own page. That was enough to inspire Brack to notify the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Anti-Defamation League, which encouraged her to hire security for the upcoming bookstore discussion. "We gave her some general security advice," says Alison Mayersohn, associate director of the ADL in Los Angeles.
"We also notified law enforcement," she says. "We're always concerned when we get a complaint from someone in the community who feels jeopardized."
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said she wasn't aware of the event or of Brack's concerns. She sent us this statement:
"The FBI investigates activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security. Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on criminal activity. The FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or the exercise of First Amendment rights, and we remain committed to protecting those rights for all Americans."
We reached Benitez, whose real name was reported in an OC Weekly profile as Juan Cadavid (a similar name appeared on our caller ID when he phoned L.A. Weekly at our request). He says he did not "target" Brack. "I wanted to attend and hear and see if there were anti-white narratives at the Holocaust thing," he says.
Ultimately, Benitez says, "I can't make the Holocaust thing." He said he has an "America First" rally to attend in Laguna Beach that weekend, "in support of victims of illegals," he says.
Of Brack, he says, "I was trying to connect these people who always put the Holocaust narrative down our throats" to what he describes as anti-white activists. "They push an anti-white agenda."
He says his views are "not anti-Semitic" and that he sees eye-to-eye with Jewish people who are conservative on issues such as gun owners' rights. "We're not against Jewish people for being born Jews," he says.
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When asked if he identifies as white, Benitez said yes. "Our family is Spanish — majority Western European heritage," he says.
Brack also identifies as white; she says she's not Jewish. She said that, as a historian, she feels it's important to get the stories of Holocaust survivors out there before they leave this world. "This isn't about me trying to get attention," she says.
In fact, the last few Holocaust survivor discussions at the Last Bookstore drew capacity crowds without a lot of press, she says. The shop's manager, Katie Orphan, says, "We'll do our best to be prepared."
"I'm happy we have a forum to hear from Holocaust survivors while they're still around," Orphan says.