Groups of neo-Nazis and white supremacists spread antisemitic, white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ messages outside Disney World and in the nearby Orlando, Florida, area Saturday in the latest examples of rising antisemitism in the U.S., officials said.
About 15 people wearing clothing and bearing flags emblazoned with Nazi insignia demonstrated outside the entrance to the Disney Springs shopping center, said the Orange County Sheriff's Office, which said deputies were dispatched 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 dispersed after about two hours, and no one was arrested, the sheriff's office said.
Representatives for Walt Disney World did not respond to requests for comment Sunday afternoon.
The theme park has been embroiled in controversies this year: Its governing district drew criticism for abolishing its diversity, equity and inclusion programs last month, and the theme park is mounting a legal challenge against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and has encountered backlash from some Disney devotees for closing its famous Splash Mountain ride in January because of its incorporation of characters from the 1946 film “Song of the South,” which featured racist stereotypes.
In a statement, the sheriff's office said that the extremist groups were looking for attention and that it 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, 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 antisemitic stunts that made headlines last year, including the hanging of 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 TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville after a football game between the universities of Georgia and Florida, according to the ADL.
A video posted to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, by Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani shows the extremists chanting "we are everywhere" as they march in what appears to be identical clothing while they wave 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, which released a statement saying that authorities believe many participants traveled from out of state for the gatherings.
"Their message of hate and discrimination was disgraceful and does not align with the values and beliefs of our City, nor does it represent the residents of the Altamonte Springs community," the statement said.
Altamonte Springs Police said the group walked from Sanlado Park to Cranes Roost Park, about a mile and a half away.
"Although the message was disturbing, no actions rose to the level of arrest," the police department statement added.
Altamonte Springs Mayor Pat Bates condemned the gatherings.
“Racism and hatred do not belong in any community," Bates said in a statement. “Good people with good hearts don’t have to conceal their identities. Altamonte Springs is strong, vibrant, and diverse, and hate-filled language won’t change that. Their hate speech may be protected but it is absolutely revolting.”
An ADL spokesperson said the group was not aware of any arrests or injuries in either incident.
In a statement, it called on leaders to denounce the extremists' gatherings.
"This type of hateful activity has no place in our community," said the group's Florida regional director, Sarah Emmons, 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 for comment Sunday afternoon.
An ADL report found this year that 2022 had the most recorded antisemitic incidents since the group began tracking them in 1979: 3,697 incidents were reported last year, compared with 2,717 in 2021 — an increase of 36%. Most incidents — nearly 2,300 — were characterized as harassment, more than 1,200 were acts of vandalism, and 111 were assaults.
CORRECTION (Sept. 3, 2023, 7 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when Walt Disney World’s governing district abolished diversity, equity and inclusion programs. It was Aug. 1, not earlier this month.