Over the past week or so, there was rising alarm over reports that some neo-Nazi groups had called for a “Day of Hate” against the American Jewish community. While the day thankfully came and went with no reports of any incidents, it seems to me that there are several important takeaways from this frightening “non-event.”
The first, of course, is that we should never take the threat of anti-Jewish violence for granted. In the wake of the “Day of Hate” warning, there was increased security at synagogues and Jewish institutions in major cities throughout the US. This response was certainly understandable, particularly following the news of a recent shooting of two Jewish worshippers outside an LA synagogue.
At the same time, as I wrote last Friday to my congregation, I was particularly heartbroken to know that extra police presence at synagogues would surely cause many in our community – particularly Jews of color – to feel less safe in their own houses of worship. As Erika Gatson, a black-Jewish activist and writer recently wrote:
I very deeply understand the need for some sort of security at synagogue, but it does not make for a comforting expereince. As a Black Jew, if feels like I have to continue to worry about not being protected by those brought in to protect the community.
It should also be noted that authorities made a point of saying there was no evidence of any imminent threat to the Jewish community. The initial report of the threat came from a leaked internal memo by the New York Police Department’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Bureau, originally stemming from a January 4 message left on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, by members of Crew 319, an Iowa-based white supremacist group whose most visible action to date had been a relatively minor flier campaign. Indeed, one ADL leader noted that “the activism of the day will most likely be limited to small demonstrations with banner drops or graffiti, rather than violent acts.”
It might well be said that under the circumstances, the strong Jewish community response was justified, However it can also be argued that it was overblown – that in the end, the attention given to this news was disproportionate to that threat and ultimately counterproductive. A report released yesterday by the Network Contagion Research Institute, in fact, came to this very conclusion:
The recent “National Day of Hate” event planned by an obscure Iowa-based white
nationalist group received little attention (roughly 20 likes) within its own subcultural
ecosystem on Telegram, yet received widespread amplification from mainstream media and organizations such as the ADL. There is little publicly available evidence to suggest larger white nationalist groups engaged with posts associated with the planned event or were planning to participate…
Sounding an undue alarm about low-signal extremist content can potentially elevate
security risks and embolden bad actors, as they see the attention generated by their
actions as a sign of success and validation, and may be motivated to carry out further
It is sobering to consider that the ADL and other similar organizations helped to drive up #DayofHate to over 100,000 tweets while a post on an underground site from a small and little-known hate group received 20 likes. It’s worth asking whether this kind of “undue alarm” may have boosted the profile of Crew 319 while simultaneously emboldening their followers. As Ben Lorber, an analyst at Public Research Associates tweeted in response, “Is this what keeping Jews safe looks like?”
And while we’re on the subject of Jewish communal response to the threat of antisemitism, this disconcerting mass email from the Jewish United Fund of Greater Chicago landed in my inbox just this morning:
Whatever we might think about the wisdom and effectiveness of the Jewish communal reaction to the “Day of Hate,” I would say it’s generally a good rule of thumb to avoid cynically capitalizing on a non-existent antisemitic event in order to raise money for your organization.
In the end, if there were any positive takeaways from this horrid affair at all, I found it in the numerous messages of heartening solidarity from our friends and allies in the greater community, including several that I received personally. I was particularly heartened by a message to my congregation from my friend and colleague Rev. Tom Gaulke of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Cicero, Illinois, who ended his remarks with these beautiful words: “As your family, we’ve got your back, come what may. Together, we’ve got a love that will conquer hate and a love that can only overcome.”
What else can I say to that but Amen?