The FBI has joined a local police probe of hate crimes in the Annapolis area, and its agents already have begun interviewing potential suspects and witnesses in the area, Special Agent John Huntley said yesterday.
Annapolis city police alerted the FBI to the case Monday after vandals spray-painted swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs on the walls and doors of the Kneseth Israel Synagogue over the weekend.
"We'll go wherever the evidence goes," said Mr. Huntley, supervisor of the Annapolis office. "We're already doing interviews in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County."
The incident at the city's only Orthodox synagogue came little more than a day after a hair salon in Edgewater that is owned by a black woman was defaced with racist graffiti. Authorities are trying to determine whether the incidents are related.
Aside from conducting interviews, authorities plan to match spray paint samples, compare crime scene evidence and step up patrols to uncover potential suspects.
Some authorities suspect that five hate crimes in the last six weeks are linked to an Oct. 29 rally by the Ku Klux Klan at the State House in Annapolis. Sgt. Terry Katz, head of the state police Criminal Investigative Service, wrote in a memo to Annapolis and Anne Arundel police that the Klan often retaliates after demonstrations with leafleting and vandalism.
Shortly after the rally, bundles of racist fliers bearing the KKK emblem were dropped in predominantly black neighborhoods.
Annapolis Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson said police beefed up patrols around synagogues, monuments to local civil rights heroes and the homes of local government officials after the vandalism.
Mr. Johnson said the investigation would not center solely on the Ku Klux Klan.
Nevertheless, the Maryland KKK already has been brought into the probe.
Imperial Wizard Roger Kelly, who heads the state's largest branch of the KKK, said police had contacted him for questioning yesterday.
"They just asked if I knew the names of anybody doing it," he said. "I told them, 'No, I don't.' And it better not be by Klansmen because that sort of thing gives us a bad image."
The results of the FBI and police probe will be forwarded to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Baltimore, where officials will decide whether to order a grand jury investigation and pursue possible felony charges, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Jordan.
A violation of federal civil rights law carries a maximum 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The investigation, however, is likely to be meticulous and lengthy, Mr. Jordan said. "Don't expect anything overnight. We're trying to be as deliberate as we can."
Mr. Kelly said his fellow Klansmen have been "going around with our guys to bars and restaurants and stuff to see whose doing it and what's the scuttlebutt."
Mr. Kelly complained that state and city police violated his group's civil rights during the October demonstration by ushering them away from Lawyer's Mall at the State House before they were ready to go.