Bay Area yoga teacher fired for ties to antisemitic group

A Bay Area yoga instructor was fired from two popular studios due to her personal beliefs and relationship with a man who runs an organization that the Anti-Defamation League said was founded on “virulent antisemitism,” the business owner confirmed to SFGATE.

Kelly Johnson, a former instructor and owner at Hella Yoga Berkeley and former instructor at Yoga Hell Petaluma, was fired Saturday because of her involvement with a “business of hate,” Jeff Renfro described in an email to customers.

“Kelly was fired and we severed our business ties because of statements that were coming out of her mouth and that she had a very long-term, serious relationship with somebody who is a quite well-known white supremacist, antisemite, gay-basher,” Renfro, who is Jewish, told SFGATE in an interview over the phone.

Johnson’s boyfriend, Jon Minadeo Jr., leads the Goyim Defense League, an organization classified by the ADL as a network that “espouses vitriolic antisemitism and white supremacist themes via the internet, through propaganda distributions and in street actions.” Minadeo also operates a YouTube-style video sharing platform called Goyim TV where conspiracist, antisemitic content is distributed. According to J., the Jewish News of Northern California, which first broke the news, Minadeo hosted a regular 4-hour livestream in which he peddled a multitude of baseless, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, including that Jewish people were responsible for 9/11 and that the Holocaust was fabricated. 

The Press Democrat also confirmed Saturday that Minadeo operates both the Goyim Defense League and Goyim TV. 

The Goyim Defense League is believed to have distributed antisemitic flyers accusing Jewish people of creating the “COVID agenda” throughout the Bay Area in January and February. The organization also has espoused anti-Black, anti-Latino and anti-LGBT views, the ADL said.

Renfro, the yoga studio owner, told SFGATE that he first met Johnson about eight years ago — and for the past six or seven years, they were business partners and close friends. He even sold his stake in Hella Yoga to her, buying it back just about a month ago as his knowledge of Minadeo’s work grew. In recent years, Johnson began spewing hateful sentiments, such as complaining about “sitting next to two smelly Jews on an airplane,” Renfro told SFGATE.

“When … she started talking like that,” he said, “I Googled John because I thought he was into QAnon.” Renfro said he knew Minadeo had previously shared anti-vaccine and conspiracist views. “I just thought he was kind of an idiot,” Renfro said.

Renfro believes Johnson may have aided Minadeo in setting up his streams on Goyim TV, using the same technology that she had set up for Hella Yoga and Yoga Hell’s livestreams early in the pandemic. He said he also found paperwork on Johnson’s computer to register Goyim TV as a California company.

“It was obvious — Kelly’s really good at doing stuff like that — that she was the one who registered Goyim TV,” he said.

Johnson denied these claims, saying that Renfro’s allegations are “all lies” in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. (SFGATE and the Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of one another.)

Minadeo did eventually stop his streams, Renfro said, but around this time, the flyer campaigns started. Minadeo confirmed to the Chronicle that Goyim TV was responsible for the flyers but said he did not distribute any himself.

Renfro said that he wanted to help Johnson privately, having one-on-one conversations and attempting to stage an intervention for Johnson to change her views. “Kelly started to withdraw more from us, just emotionally just not communicating with us very well,” Renfro said. “It just seemed like she was stuck in a world that wasn’t our world.”

Since the firing was made public, Renfro said he’s received plenty of phone calls — some hostile, but most grateful for his decision.

“It’s necessary,” he said. “I’m a believer in tough love. She’s going down a rabbit hole, and we explained that to her.”