Florida’s Sheriff Chitwood: Exclusive interview with ‘Guardian of Israel’ Award Winner

Florida’s Sheriff Chitwood: Exclusive interview with ‘Guardian of Israel’ Award Winner

When his county was flooded with antisemitism, Sheriff Michael Chitwood went into action, relentlessly tracking down a network of would-be neo-Nazis. Putting himself at the forefront, the top cop and his family were targeted for protecting Jews. His story is remarkable and his efforts are being recognized with an Israel365 “Guardian of Israel Award”. 

Israel365 will be presenting the Guardian of Israel Award to Sheriff Michael Chitwood for his role in combating antisemitism in Florida. The ceremony will take place in Florida at the National Religious Broadcasters Conference (NRB) on Wednesday. 

Last month, when neo-Nazis attacked the Jewish community in Ormond Beach, Florida, Sheriff Michael J. Chitwood took a bold and courageous stand against anti-semitism. With a dramatic surge in anti-Semitism in America in recent years, violent hate groups have targeted Florida’s Jews. Orthodox Jews have been attacked and even murdered in Florida and so when the “Goyim Defense League” (GDL) started harassing Jews in his area, Sheriff Chitwood announced with his colorful language, that he would be coming after the “thugs and scumbags.” He successfully mobilized law enforcement and fought against hate and racism, earning national support and international recognition.  

“I am beyond honored about the award,” Sheriff Chitwood told Israel365 News. “It is really touching that Israel is excited about a cop just doing his job. It’s mind-boggling. It’s humbling. And it is probably the greatest honor that I’ve received in 36 years in law enforcement.”

Sheriff Chitwood has been police chief for 17 years and stated that the plague of antisemitism is spreading at an alarming rate.

“They’re using social media to pastor messages of hate and they’re even doing it to recruit vulnerable teenagers,” he said. “They’re on a lot of these platforms which target kids and they preach their anti-semitism. They are also anti-black, anti-gay, and anti-anybody that’s not like them.”

He noted that the internet allows the GDL to recruit members anywhere and several have been arrested in several locations around the country.

“We can track the locations on the internet and some of these knuckleheads are even in Australia and Mexico,” he said. “One guy lived in a remote fishing village in Alaska. He probably had never even met a Jew but he was a raging antisemite.”

The sheriff combats hate groups with the tactic of “hatred dies in sunlight.”

“I felt that in the cover of darkness, my community was attacked so we’re trying to turn the spotlight on them and reveal who these cowards are,” he said. “When they first began operating in our area, we were able to identify them with the help of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and some other police departments. First thing I did was to arrest photos and their criminal histories, and hold a press conference to show who they are.”

He emphasized that as overall bad actors with an antisocial streak, most had a criminal record.

“Some have been locked up for attempted murder or drugs. One was arrested for soliciting sex from a 14-year-old who, fortunately, was an undercover deputy. This group of antisemites are a rogue’s gallery of criminals and thugs that are out there, spewing hate.”

The sheriff noted that while the posts on the internet were clearly antisemitic, he was limited in his response due to free-speech considerations.

“They’re all interconnected in the shadows,” he said. “They have a daily podcast that goes on for hours, spewing all this hateful rhetoric that attracts other like-minded knuckleheadsThey don’t have the guts to pull the trigger but they are getting things pumped until one of their followers decides to be an avenging angel. There might be 300 people posting, all saying that they’re gonna go into a synagogue and kill as many Jews as possible. But until they act, we’re powerless. And it’s impossible to monitor 300 people. And, of course, most of them don’t act on this. They are just putting the poison out there until one sicko who’s having a bad day decides to act on it.”

While these hate groups target many at-risk minorities, antisemitism plays a key role in their agenda.

“They really really go after the Jewish folks,” Sheriff Chitwood said. “That’s their number one target and everything else is residual to that. That’s what they preach. It’s a special kind of hatred. They have all those crazy theories and they’re and they’re attaching themselves to the National Socialist Movement.”

“But it isn’t just theories,” he emphasized. “They are dangerous. One of these GDL members, we just put in federal prison for trying to burn out a synagogue. One of their members was arrested for stalking two Orthodox Jews as they walked to the synagogue with the intention of shooting them. So this is not a group that can be taken lightly.”

Sheriff Chitwood, who describes himself as a “recovering Catholic”, was pleased that his fight against antisemitism generated a multi-faith response from the community. 

“It was very rewarding when I held a press conference that included Muslims standing next to black Baptists who stood with Catholics and nonbelievers. It was everybody saying that they were making a stand with our Jewish friends and that antisemitism is not going to be tolerated in our community. That was pretty refreshing.

For his efforts at protecting Jews, Sheriff Chitwood and his family have been personally targeted by threats.

“I’m a second-generation cop and it is ingrained in me that my job is to protect everybody, no matter what your religion, no matter what your race, your ethnicity, or sexual orientation. That’s my job. And if you come into my community, and you try to destroy that, then I will act.” adding, “I’m honored to be threatened alongside the Jews” 

“And sometimes it’s not about throwing handcuffs on,” he said. “Sometimes it’s about being out there being a lightning rod and saying, ‘Hey, man, we’re not going to have this’. These knuckleheads came to the wrong county and picked the wrong sheriff to mess with.”

Sheriff Chitwood was surprised that he would get an award for his remarkable work. 

“I did this for my community and my friends, the folks that I’ve worked with, folks I see in restaurants in the supermarket, and my neighbors,” he said. “They’re my community. That’s what I did. I had no idea that this thing was just going to take off like it has and it’s been very humbling. I got emails from Jews around the world, thanking me for taking a forceful stance. It’s kind of mind-boggling. My whole life is in Volusia County. I don’t really focus on what goes on outside of my community. But the flood of emails from Holocaust survivors, their children, and grandchildren, writing me poignant emails about how they lost their family. It’s really humbling. “

In eighth grade, he learned about Martin Niemöller, a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany, who initially supported the Nazi regime but later repented. His quote is often used to describe the motives of non-Jews who stand up for the Jews against antisemitism.

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Many of the antisemitic incidents are based on Nazi references and the historical precedent of the Holocaust is central to Sheriff Chitwood’s repsonse.Governor Desantis recently passed legislation allowing the county to run its own police academy and Sheriff Chitwood has incorporated a visit to the Holocaust museum as part of the curriculum.

“The Nazis couldn’t have really risen to power if they didn’t corrupt the police,” Chitwood emphasized. “There’s a lot of reasons why they rose to power but the police were a part of that. We have to be on guard against the US being corrupted into allowing that to happen again.” 

In a recent case of high-school vandalism that involved carving Swastikas into bathroom walls, the sheriff recommended to the judge that the culprits be taught about the Holocaust. And the sheriff’s office picked up the tab.

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