Kelly Johnson had been Hella Yoga’s owner until a few weeks ago. She was fired last weekend. Courtesy: Hella Yoga

The owner of a Berkeley yoga studio has broken with a co-founder because she won’t denounce the views of her boyfriend, a vocal white supremacist linked to the blanketing of the Berkeley Hills last month with flyers claiming COVID-19 is “a Jewish agenda.”

Jeff Renfro co-founded Hella Yoga with his wife, Lynn Whitlow, and a business partner, Kelly Johnson, about six years ago. Johnson is the longtime girlfriend of Jon Minadeo Jr., a Petaluma resident behind a group called the Goyim Defense League, known for social media and publicity stunts spreading its antisemitic, racist and anti-LGBT views. 

Johnson was a yoga teacher at Hella Yoga, as well as Renfro’s other studios, Funky Door Yoga in Berkeley and Yoga Hell in Petaluma, who also helped with the business end of the enterprise.

Renfro said he fired Johnson — who had been Hella Yoga’s owner until a few weeks ago — last weekend after learning that she’d used company computers to set up Minadeo’s “Goyim TV” business. 

Minadeo said Goyim TV produced the flyers found in the Berkeley Hills, across the Bay Area and in Southern California, as well as in other states. He said he didn’t distribute them. The flyers were packed in plastic baggies, weighted down with rice and found in the front yards and driveways of hundreds of Berkeley homes the morning of Feb. 20.

Renfro, Johnson and Minadeo all live in Petaluma and have known each other for years. Minadeo helped with the launch of Hella Yoga. 

Renfro sold Hella Yoga, formerly on Oxford Street, to Johnson at the start of the pandemic; she was the main one running the business, Renfro said. At that point, Hella Yoga and Yoga Hell were switching to online classes.

About a month ago, Renfro and Johnson mutually decided she’d sell it back to him, he said, when the escalating publicity about Minadeo’s stance on Jews was threatening their relationship, as well as the business. 

Renfro announced this week that he’s donating all of Hella Yoga’s profits to the Auschwitz Memorial Fund. Johnson’s firing was first reported by J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

A message posted on the Hella Yoga website. Courtesy: Hella Yoga

According to Renfro, who is Jewish, recent attention paid to Minadeo by law enforcement, anti-hate groups such as Anti-Defamation League and the media, led him to take a closer look at his views. The FBI is investigating a distribution of the flyers in Colleyville, Texas, where a man held a rabbi and others hostage in a synagogue in January.

Renfro said he was shocked by what he learned. He knew Minadeo was an anti-vaxxer and suspected he might be into Q-Anon, Renfro said.

“I’m friends with people who have different political views than me. I thought he was an idiot,” he said. 

But he had no idea the extent of Minadeo’s hate platform, he said.  

“When this came out, he called me up to tell me that when he was badmouthing Jews, he wasn’t including me,” Renfro said. Renfro describes himself as not religious. 

Renfro said that in December he listened to Minadeo’s podcasts and watched his videos for the first time. “I spent a couple of days kind of infatuated with him,” he said.

“I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know there were people like this out there in the world.”

He confronted Johnson, he said, as a friend and business partner. He asked her what she thought of her boyfriend’s views. “She didn’t express remorse,” he said. He said she withdrew. “She was really shut down.”

He considered doing an intervention with Johnson, and spoke with her friends and family, Renfro said. “I was very emotional about this. She was like a sister to me. We were really close.”

Johnson confirmed to Berkeleyside that she sold back the Berkeley business to Renfro on Feb. 1. But she said she has been “advised” not to comment to the media after recently speaking with the San Francisco Chronicle. She said her comments to the Chronicle reflect her views.

She told the Chronicle she didn’t share Minadeo’s views.

“I am really hurt that they have gone this far to lie about me and say these things about me that are untrue,” she told the paper. “I am a very loving person and have relationships and friendships with all kinds of people. It’s really hard to read this. It’s all lies.”

Minadeo told Berkeleyside his girlfriend doesn’t share his beliefs.

Renfro said Johnson’s comments to the Chronicle are lies. 

He said he started to get concerned about her when she came back from a trip in November and said she’d sat next to “smelly Jews” on the plane. He reminded her, he said, that he’s Jewish.

“It was such a bizarre thing to say; I thought I heard her wrong,” Renfro said. “I got suspicious from the language she started using around myself and other people.”

He said he is “100%” sure this is what she said. “You don’t forget when someone says something like that and you’re Jewish. And I confronted her on it.” 

“This is the most slanderous, lying, evilest thing I have ever seen someone do to anyone else,” Minadeo said of his girlfriend’s firing to the Chronicle. 

Referring to her boyfriend, Johnson told the Chronicle, “I’m not responsible for someone else’s beliefs and what they do.”

Freelancer Catherine "Kate" Rauch has been contributing to Berkeleyside for several years. Her work as a journalist has encompassed everything from 10 years as a daily news reporter for the East Bay Times,...