For the past few months, a sheriff who employs a distinctly old school style of policing has been clashing with a very new-school band of extremely online neo-Nazis.
Mike Chitwood is a second generation cop who doesn’t shy away from the spotlight — or from a fight. His swashbuckling and hard-nosed approach has clear echoes of his father, who was also named Mike Chitwood and drew comparisons to Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” during a more than half-century law enforcement career that started in the 1960s; he eventually became one of Philadelphia’s most famous and decorated cops. The elder Chitwood was known for making headlines, breaking down doors, cracking high-profile cases, and attacking criminals with colorful insults like “bum” and “scumbag.”
Chitwood followed his father into the Philadelphia Police Department where he worked from the late 80s when, as he puts it, “crack cocaine was running the cities,” until 2005. Chitwood spent time in narcotics and ultimately became a homicide detective as the City of Brotherly Love earned a reputation as one of the country’s most dangerous cities. After a stint on a gun task force gave him a taste for leadership roles, Chitwood moved south and headed departments in Oklahoma and Florida. In 2016, he was elected sheriff of Volusia County, which sits on the Atlantic coast north of Orlando and includes Daytona Beach.
Along with sunshine, Chitwood’s new post found him engaged in what he calls a “war on anti-Semitism” against a hate group known as the “Goyim Defense League.” These neo-Nazis, who set up shop in Central Florida within the past year, are known for a high volume of rage-filled livestreams and vulgar, aggressive protests in front of Jewish institutions that have earned them a reputation as “the nation’s most prolific antisemitic propaganda group.” As the GDL has harassed Volusia’s residents with flyers at their homes and vile epithets hurled through megaphones outside their synagogues, Chitwood has fired back with the same kind of insults and sharp elbows that made his father famous.
The fight has made Chitwood and his family the target of death threats and left him wishing federal law enforcement agencies would do more to take on extremism. And even after years facing violent crime, in interviews with TPM, Chitwood said the things he has seen in recent months have disturbed him.
“It’s all so different now,” Chitwood said.
“Maybe I’m getting old. It just seemed back then everything was straightforward,” he explained. “Now, with the weaponry, social media, this huge division of no common sense, people will read a blurb and it’s religion, and they’ll die on that hill of misinformation, of lies, of deceit.”
“I don’t know how you overcome that,” he added.
Earlier in his career, Chitwood regularly worked at protests and dealt with political movements, he said. But he never worried about threats to his family.
“Social media turned this into a new animal,” he said.
The sheriff also alluded to the fact that the rising tide of digital extremism is a problem on the streets and within the ranks of the police force. Mounting research has found links between members of law enforcement, white supremacist organizations, and militant groups. Last year, an analysis from USA TODAY found at least 19 current or former police officers were charged with taking part in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“That can destroy your department,” Chitwood said of the “misinformation.” “It could destroy individual officers. It destroys lives and it really, at the end of the day, makes the community unsafe.”
Yet even as he is frank about the dangers of the new wave of internet-fueled extremism, Chitwood almost seems to relish facing it.
“I’m armed,” Chitwood said. “Come and get me. If you’re mad enough, come and get me, because I shoot back. I’m not some old person walking into a synagogue. … I’m not some mother with their children walking down the street. … I’ve been shot at before and I know how to return fire.”
The current outbreak of anti-Semitism in Central Florida began in December 2022 after a neo-Nazi activist named Jon Minadeo II moved to the area from Northern California. A one-time rapper, Minadeo now makes regular broadcasts on his own video platform, Goyim TV. In some of these clips, Minadeo indicated he moved eastward after feeling targeted on the West Coast and expressed hope that Florida would be more fertile ground for his movement. Chitwood wants to prove him wrong.
Unlike many of the other far-right would-be influencers who have gained traction in recent years, Minadeo is openly pro-Nazi. His videos typically begin with Sieg Heil salutes and footage of Hitler before descending into streams of curses, racial slurs, Holocaust denial, and attacks on the LGBT community. Minadeo also has taken his activism offline. He and his followers in the so-called “Goyim Defense League” have made headlines by distributing flyers with anti-Semitic slogans and conspiracy theories in residential neighborhoods, dropping banners over highways, and filming themselves shouting at Jews outside of religious institutions.
In February, the GDL began stepping up its activities in Minadeo’s newly adopted home state. After the group made headlines with a series of flyer distributions and message displays around this year’s Daytona 500, the famed stock car race which takes place in Volusia County, Chitwood responded with an offensive of his own.
On Feb. 27, Chitwood held a press conference where he presented footage of the Goyim Defense League’s activities and detailed their links to alleged criminal activity.
“These scumbags came to the wrong county,” Chitwood declared at the event. “We have unity in this county.”
Chitwood, who said he hoped to confront the GDL with “unity and sunshine” invited an array of religious leaders to participate in the event, including rabbis, an imam, and members of a local Black clergy alliance. Many of the leaders present expressed gratitude towards Chitwood for his efforts to highlight the issue.
“Sheriff Mike, from the moment we heard you … we felt like there was somebody around who was looking out for the everyday people,” Rabbi David Kane of Congregation B’Nai Torah in Ormond Beach said. “So, thank you so much for being here.”
National Jewish leaders have also taken note of Chitwood. Amy Spitalnick, the CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, who has helped lead successful lawsuits against neo-Nazi groups and advised the White House as it crafted a strategy to combat anti-Semitism that was unveiled in May, said she appreciated Chitwood even if she can’t endorse every aspect of his approach.
“Look, accountability is in such short supply and what we’ve seen across the board is an unwillingness by many officials to call out this fascist bigoted extremism for what it is,” Spitalnick said in an interview with TPM. “It’s incredibly important to have people in positions of power making clear exactly what’s happening, calling this out for what it is. Do I agree with every single tactic he uses? Probably not, but he is unique among many law enforcement officials and others in positions of power in that he hasn’t shied away from making clear what this is, who these people are, and just how at odds it is with every value we’re supposed to represent.”
Chitwood told TPM he was motivated to throw a spotlight on the GDL after he found out about their ties to crimes, including a shooting in Los Angeles that took place in February. According to federal prosecutors, the suspect in that shooting, which wounded two Jewish men, had a history of disseminating GDL flyers. Chitwood presented a detailed rundown on these cases in his press conferences, and in his various public appearances the sheriff has stressed the idea that white supremacist and anti-Semitic rhetoric can lead to violence.
“I said, you know what, our community’s got to know what came in here,” Chitwood told TPM of his strategy for the event.
In their various videos, Minadeo and other Goyim Defense League members describe their actions as free speech. However, at his February press conference, Chitwood rejected that notion. He also acknowledged going after the group could make him a target.
“I don’t see anything where people can say, ‘This is First Amendment.’ This is nothing but pure, pure, pure evil,” Chitwood told the crowd, later adding, “These clown groups want to shut my mouth and put a bullet in the back of my head, go for it. That’s my message to you: Go for it. … I challenge you. Go for it … You came to the wrong county. I stand with my Jewish friends and I’m honored to be on your hit list. It’s an honor to be sought after by a bunch of punk thugs like you. That’s my personal message.”
Chitwood’s challenge to the GDL opened the floodgates.
“It was about three hours later that all hell broke loose,” Chitwood recounted to TPM as he phoned in from one of his regular 30-mile bike rides from the woodsy trails near his home. “These keyboard commandos … were able to get my mother’s cell phone number, my mother and father’s address, my middle daughter … they got her place of work, her cell phone number, her Facebook page, her address. They were publishing my address,” Chitwood told TPM. “Then, the death threats came in, the SWATting calls. They SWATted my parents’ house. … They SWATted me twice.”
Minadeo responded to Chitwood the next day with a broadcast of his own on Goyim TV. In it, through a steady stream of curses, Nazi salutes, slurs, and shouts of “white power!” he claimed Chitwood had “very Jewish” features and dubbed him a “crypto Jew.” Minadeo also disputed the allegation his group had done anything wrong.
“All we are doing is passing out flyers and exposing Jewish supremacy, exercising our freedom of speech,” Minadeo said on the broadcast. “No one ever made a death threat on this guy. This is total slander.”
Minadeo’s streaming channel features a chat that runs alongside him as he speaks. As he was denying that anyone had threatened Chitwood, some of his fans, who use anonymous usernames, piped in.
“You may get a rope after a trial for treason Shitwood,” one wrote.
“A bullet to the head is too easy for you,” another added. “Family is where it hurts.”
In an email to TPM, Minadeo presented himself and his group as victims of the brash sheriff. Minadeo forwarded mocking Facebook posts Chitwood made about him and messages he said members of the GDL received from the sheriff, including insults such as, “you are a cowardly scumbag piece of shit.”
“FUCK YOU! KEEP IT COMING! No one fears you clowns,” Chitwood wrote in another message Minadeo forwarded, adding, “Paper tigers. Come get me. I’m waiting.”
Minadeo, whose signature stunt is shouting curses and insults at elderly Jews as they leave temple, suggested he was positively scandalized by Chitwood’s harsh words.
“Tell me if you think messages like this from a Sheriff are appropriate,” Minadeo asked TPM.
Naturally, when TPM brought this up to Chitwood, he did not dispute sending the emails — and said he did not apologize for them “at all.”
“Here’s my theory. If you’re going to take the time to leave fucked up messages on my phone and send me fucked up emails, then I’m going to take the time to send back fucked up emails to you,” Chitwood said.
Chitwood has said GDL members have responded to his insults by attempting to file an ethics complaint against him and by making legal threats. The pugilistic sheriff answered back by posting a Facebook video where he tore up their complaints and offered to mail them specially branded pacifiers labeled with “MIKE CHITWOOD HURT MY FEELINGS.” Chitwood has also made his own merch, the proceeds from which, he said, would go to taking young people who are charged with hate crimes on a trip to the Florida Holocaust Museum near Tampa.
“I’ll supply the bus, I’ll supply lunch, I’ll supply the admissions fees. … We’ll open their eyes. … That’s the best of what we’re going to get out of this,” Chitwood said. “That’s what the money’s for.”
The sheriff’s merch includes “VOLUSIA STRONG” mugs and “SCUMBAG ERADICATION TEAM” t-shirts featuring a caricature of the sheriff stuffing Nazis in a toilet.
Along with expressing dismay at the messages his allies have received from Chitwood, Minadeo defended his flyers in his email to TPM.
“I will apologize to the jewish community [sic] and stop protesting them if they debunk my flyers,” he wrote.
Of course, it is not hard to find major issues with the claims in Minadeo’s flyers, which declare, among other things, that Jews control “every aspect” of various historical and contemporary events and issues, from “the media,” to “the slave trade,” to the Biden administration, and even “hookup culture.” Even at a glance, the flyers are filled with blatant factual errors, like a false claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin is Jewish and a description of Sony, a conglomerate founded and headquartered in Japan, as a “Jewish Corporation.”
As something of a thought experiment, we took Minadeo up at his offer that he would halt his activities and apologize if the flyers were debunked and pointed out a few issues. Once his flyers were fact checked, Minadeo stopped responding.
Since the February press conference in which Chitwood denounced Minadeo and the GDL, multiple men have been arrested for making death threats against the sheriff. Authorities in Florida have pursued charges and some of the men were extradited to Volusia County. Chitwood met two of the suspects at the airport as they were brought to the state in cuffs. He described the experience to TPM.
“When they stepped on that escalator and they looked down, there was the guy who they wrote all this stuff about,” Chitwood said of their arrival. “They didn’t expect to see that guy standing at the bottom of the escalator.”
“I said to the guy, ‘I want to welcome you to Volusia County and I hope you … enjoy your stay at the happiest place on Earth, the Volusia County Branch Jail,” Chitwood recounted.
Chitwood has taken his fight into the legislative arena, too. At his press conference in February, Chitwood joined with local leaders in calling for stepped-up hate crime legislation. That legislation, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April, would make it a crime to project an image onto a building or structure without the permission of its owner or to harass, threaten or intimidate a person “based on the person’s wearing or displaying of any indicia relating to any religious or ethnic heritage.”
The measure had bipartisan backing. Chitwood has also enjoyed strong support in Volusia County. He defeated four opponents in his first election in 2016 and was unopposed four years later. The county went for former President Trump in 2016 and 2020. Even as Trump gained traction in Volusia, Chitwood blended his old school tough talk with a surprising progressive streak as he cast himself as a defender of immigrants and open to police reform.
For his part, Chitwood said he has been a registered independent for over three decades. He voted for President Trump twice — in 2016, because he appreciated Trump’s “outsider” approach and, in 2020, because he was happy with the “economy.” Chitwood said he no longer supports Trump following the Jan. 6 attack. And, while he is aggressively targeting neo-Nazis in his community, Chitwood said he does not see himself as an “anti-fascist,” which is a politically charged term.
“I would consider myself anti-hatred, anti-bigotry,” said Chitwood. “I think if you profess trying to attack and wipe somebody off the face of the earth because of their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, I am one thousand and one percent anti-you and will use every legal means I have to stop you.”
Along with strengthening hate crimes laws, Chitwood said he believes federal law enforcement needs to do more to investigate the funding of extremist groups. He said the various local agencies who are dealing with Minadeo and the GDL’s activities in Florida have been trying to “spur the feds on to look at the money.”
“He’s got to be getting money from somewhere because he certainly isn’t getting it off of YouTube — so you know, FBI stands for Forever Being Investigated, so I don’t have a lot of faith that they’re really treating this the way they can,” Chitwood said. “I’m speculating that, but I would think you would want to cut the head off this thing as quick as possible.”
Minadeo has been deplatformed from mainstream social media sites and accepts donations on his Goyim TV streams, which attract modest, four-figure audiences. He also sells merch. Chitwood said, from what he has seen of the group, they must have more substantial outside funding.
“They’re renting U Haul trucks. I know that they’re renting a house in Palm Beach County,” Chitwood said. “That’s not a cheap place to live. … There’s got to be a funding stream there. … You know, is there someone of prominence that’s funding him?”
Minadeo claimed to TPM that he has a job, but he would not say what it is.
“I have a job… but telling you would get me fired,” Minadeo wrote.
Along with aggressively taking on the GDL, Chitwood said he is focused on keeping his own department free of the white supremacist ties that have been found in other law enforcement agencies.
“I recruit and train my people the way I want,” Chitwood said. “All new hires, they have to go to the Holocaust Museum. That’s part of the curriculum.”
Despite his best efforts, Chitwood fears he has not been able to completely eradicate the problem even among his own workforce.
“It scares me. … I have a thousand employees. … I’m not deluding myself at all thinking … I don’t have anybody that’s racist or … anti-Semitic, I don’t have any of that. Well, I’m sure I do, but we screen it as best I can,” Chitwood said. “We monitor social media. When I hire you, you gotta strip down to your skivvies. We check every fricking tattoo that’s on you. … And then, I just pray that we’re doing the best job that we can to keep those people out of this line of work.”
Chitwood believes history has shown law enforcement has an important part in confronting bigotry. It’s a part he’s eager to play.
“I’m not the smartest guy in the world and … there were a lot of reasons that Nazis rose to power, but one reason they rose to power was my profession,” Chitwood said. “Because if they didn’t corrupt the police, if somebody would’ve stood up, it just made things easier when the police laid down. So, that’s one small thing that I can lead, that we’re not gonna lay down. You know, maybe we are the last line of defense. I don’t know.”