Lawmakers Told Antisemitism is a Symptom of Bigger Domestic Extremism Problem
TEANECK, N.J. — A congressional hearing Monday started by discussing antisemitism in New Jersey but evolved into an examination of what can be done about domestic extremism.
The Jewish public advocacy group Anti-Defamation League reported 370 antisemitic incidents in New Jersey last year, a 25% increase over a year earlier.
They included a May 2021 incident at Princeton University in which Jewish students were verbally harassed by other students.
Four months later, a man smashed the windows of a Teaneck, New Jersey, doctor’s office with a hammer then asked whether the patients were Jewish.
During the Hanukkah celebration last year, someone placed a sticker with a swastika on it outside a Mount Laurel, New Jersey, synagogue.
Homeland Security Committee members and witnesses from among the Jewish community said during the field hearing in Teaneck, that the rise in antisemitism in New Jersey tells only part of the story of what’s really happening.
“The uptick in antisemitism goes hand in hand with rising extremism across the country,” said Scott Richman, regional director for the New York and New Jersey chapters of the Anti-Defamation League.
Richman blamed Facebook and other social media for making it easier for like-minded extremists to connect with each other and to spread messages of hate. He also said the Great Replacement Theory was hardening sentiments against what he called “marginalized groups.”
The Great Replacement Theory appears to date from a Sept. 22, 2021, broadcast by conservative cable television talk show host Tucker Carlson in which he gave his own ideas on the southern border crisis.
He said U.S. border policy is designed to “change the racial mix of the country. … In political terms this policy is called the ‘great replacement,’ the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.”
Carlson said President Joe Biden’s immigration policies have put the U.S. on a “suicidal” path.
Far right groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys seized on Carlson’s comments to support what they called the “great replacement” theory, or alternately the “White replacement theory.”
“Such hate yields deadly results,” Richman said.
Examples mentioned during the House hearing included the May 14, 2022, Buffalo, New York, supermarket shooting in which a White supremacist gunman killed 10 Black people; the Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, in which a young man shot and killed 23 mostly Latino people; and the Oct. 27, 2018, antisemitic shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in which 11 people were killed.
Several proposals are pending in Congress to confront hate crimes. One of them would require social media platforms to alter their algorithms to make it harder for extremists to connect with each other.
“So what happens on social media does not stay on social media,” said Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y.
Another proposal would give grants to religious groups that face threats to beef up their security. A third would fund recruiting and training for law enforcement to counter domestic extremist threats.
“This shouldn’t be the new normal,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.
He added that anti-Asian hate crimes rose 379% last year, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic traced to China.
As the congressional field hearing convened, the trial was starting in federal court in Washington, D.C., for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and four other members of the group he founded. They are charged with seditious conspiracy for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The defendants have argued they believed they were acting under a lawful directive from then-President Donald Trump to march to the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying the election in Biden’s favor.
Rhodes’ attorney said during his opening statement that prosecutors would describe the Oath Keepers as “a paramilitary group, a racist group, a violent group.”
In fact, defense attorney Phillip A. Linder said, the Justice Department was engaging in “government overreach” by prosecuting Rhodes and his followers.