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Watertown police investigating at least 50 anti-Semitic flyers, bags of rice distributed across town

Rehorst said the right to free speech places the Watertown Police Department in a bit of an awkward spot, as it doesn’t necessarily fall under South Dakota’s hate crime statute.

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WATERTOWN, S.D. — Police in Watertown are seeking information relating to anti-Semitic flyers distributed throughout town this week, an act officials call “disgusting” and “unacceptable.”

On Monday, the Watertown Police Department shared on their Facebook page that they’ve been receiving reports that citizens have discovered anti-Semitic flyers attached to bags on rice across the city.

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Captain Steve Rehorst

The flyers include altered images that depict various politicians, executives and political journalists with Stars of David on their foreheads, accusing them of engaging in scandalous behavior. There is no evidence to corroborate any claims made by the flyers.

The Watertown Police Department has received roughly 50 reports of residents receiving these flyers, according to Captain Steve Rehorst, though it’s nearly impossible to know how many flyers were disposed of without residents making a report.

“Our thought on it is that obviously that behavior is unacceptable, and we don’t want to give it momentum,” Rehorst said. “We believe that anything like that is disgusting material and unacceptable.”

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Rehorst said the flyers appear to be a part of a national campaign of hate, after flyers with similar sentiments were found in California during Passover. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, consuming rice during Passover had been banned for Ashkenazi Jews living outside of Israel since the 13th century, until the Jewish Conservative movement relaxed the restriction in 2016.

Though Rehorst is quick to speak against the sentiments shared by the flyers, he said the right to free speech places the Watertown Police Department in a bit of an awkward spot, as it doesn’t necessarily fall under South Dakota’s hate crime statute.

The Attorney General’s Office defines a hate crime as one committed against a person, property or society which is partly or wholly motivated through bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity or national origin.

“Based on how the acts are happening, there’s not enough to make it fit those elements [of a hate crime]. Unfortunately, some of those things — as much as it doesn’t fit with the mainstream — are protected by the first amendment,” Rehorst said. “A lot of times people say things and, unfortunately, sometimes there’s not a lot we can do with freedom of speech and the First Amendment.”

If police are able to track down the individual or individuals responsible for the distribution of the flyers, Rehorst said it’s possible authorities could pursue a littering charge.

“It’s totally unacceptable behavior and actions that are happening,” Rehorst said. “We’re going to do what we can to find who did it.”

South Dakota saw 20 hate crimes in 2020, according to the Attorney General’s annual report, the same number as 2019 and a decrease from 27 in 2018.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTS
Dunteman covers general and breaking news as well as crime in the Mitchell Republic's 17-county coverage area. He grew up in Harrisburg, and has lived in South Dakota for over 20 years. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 after earning his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He can be reached at HDunteman@MitchellRepublic.com, or on Twitter @HRDunt.
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