“If this incident was motivated by hate, which news reports indicate, then this is another incident in a long line of violent incidents targeting the Jewish community. This hatred is a disease and right now we are experiencing an epidemic. Leaders must lead and call out hate wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head — regardless of politics. This is about principle.” — Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director, Anti-Defamation League
For the third time in just over a year, the nation is reeling in the face of a deadly mass shooting that appears to have been motivated by anti-Semitism.
Earlier this week, a man and woman killed a police detective near a Jersey City cemetery and then stormed a nearby Jewish market, shooting and killing three people there. The two were killed in a subsequent shootout with police.
The suspects have been linked to a religious sect that includes factions designated as anti-Semitic hate groups. In the stolen van they were driving, investigators found a note that contained anti-Semitic and anti-police sentiments. Similar sentiments were found in social media posts linked to the suspects.
In April of this year, a gunman opened fire in a San Diego synagogue on the last day of Passover, killing a 60-year-old woman and wounding three other people, including a rabbi and an 8-year-old girl.
Shortly before the attack, the gunman posted an anti-Semitic and racist manifesto on social media, citing conspiracy theories, expressing admiration for the gunmen who perpetrated the anti-Muslim killings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Six months earlier, in Pittsburgh, 11 people were killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue. That shooter, too, deeply enmeshed in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on social media.
These acts are part of a horrifying three-year trend that has coincided with a spike in course and heated racial rhetoric in political discourse. It is one that demands action on several fronts, including gun policy, moderation of social media terms of service, and a sweeping reexamination of racial and religious intolerance.
As a child of the civil rights movement and the leader of the nation’s largest racial justice organization, I have witnessed the recent rise of white nationalism with equal parts dismay and a sickening sense of familiarity. Our nation’s history is sullied with racial and religious intolerance and violence. What has sustained us, as famously expressed by Martin Luther King Jr., is that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In this particular period of history, the arc seems especially long. Leaked emails recently revealed that one of the president’s closest advisers, Stephen Miller, has cited and promoted white nationalist ideologies and conspiracy theories about “white genocide,” the criminality of immigrants, and the reviled eugenics movement. Congressional response to the emails has been almost nonexistent.
Meanwhile, personal attacks motivated by bias or prejudice reached a 16-year high last year, according to the FBI.
More than 4,300 attacks on people, motivated by racial or religious hatred, were recorded by the FBI. State and local police forces are not required to report hate crimes to the FBI, and as many as half the victims of hate crimes never file a report, so the actual number of hate-fueled assaults is significantly higher than the official record.
Lately, it seems that the atrocities and outrages of racism and intolerance are falling too fast and too frequently to respond appropriately. But we must not lose sight of our ideals as Americans — as brothers and sisters and parents and neighbors — to love and protect one another. Let your elected representatives know that these incidents call for responsible gun reform, holding social media companies accountable for dissemination of hate speech, and a moderation of their public rhetoric. And join us in our prayers for the victims and their families.
Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.