Pittsburgh shooting comes amid sharp rise in reported anti-Jewish incidents in Maryland, across U.S.

Before Saturday’s deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, there was a surge in anti-Jewish incidents reported in Maryland and across the nation.

Anti-Jewish incidents reported to Maryland police agencies jumped 47 percent to 78 incidents in 2017, compared with 53 the year before, according to reports of hate or bias collected by Maryland State Police and obtained by The Baltimore Sun through public information requests.

That’s faster growth than the overall 35 percent increase in hate or bias incidents to 398 last year, up from 295 in 2016.

Among the dozens of anti-Jewish incidents reported to police over the past two years:

• A 44-year-old rabbi in Montgomery County received several anonymous threatening emails and text messages, including "get into the Facebook with Jew boy Zuckerber," "swastika, swastika, swastika" and "holocaust Jews want all of you in Camps ASAP swastika, swastika, swastika, burn in the chamber shower ..."

• A 60-year-old Jewish man in Baltimore County received a voicemail and call from anonymous person stating "Holocaust is a lie...You can't stop the (death or blood) ...Heil Hitler...six million Jews...”

• An unknown person defaced papers and posters at approximately 20 places associated with Jewish faculty and staff working in a University of Maryland, Baltimore County, building.

• A 14-year old Jewish girl in Montgomery County received a text message that featured a song in a German accent and said, "take a trip to a place called Auschwitz and its shower time, little Jews dying."

After anti-African-American incidents, anti-Jewish incidents were the top reported hate events in Maryland last year.

The rise in Maryland tracks with what is happening nationwide. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the number of anti-Semitic incidents rose nearly 60 percent in 2017.

“We saw the largest increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 40 years in 2017, including a substantial increase in Maryland, and for the first time since at least 2010, an incident occurred in every U.S. state,” said Doron Ezickson, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, which has tracked anti-Semitic incidents since 1979. “Unfortunately, we continue to see that level of activity in 2018.”

Ezickson said the ADL recorded a near doubling of incidents in schools and on college campuses between 2016 and 2017. ADL operates an anti-hate educational program called “No Place for Hate” to address such issues in several Maryland schools.

Many of the hate incidents reported by police and the ADL do not represent a crime. For example, spreading anti-Semitic propaganda on college campuses is not a crime.

Reported hate crimes motivated by anti-Jewish sentiment were up 3 percent to 684 in 2016 from the year before, according to the FBI. Overall hate crimes were up 5 percent to 6,121 during that same time frame.

Many experts believe the reports to police and the FBI do not capture all the incidents. Law enforcement and criminologists say such incidents are under-reported by the victims as well as police, who might not identify that a crime was motivated by hate.

Much of what is spread online is never reported. For example, the ADL found 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets were shared or reshared in English on Twitter over the 12-month period ending Jan. 28, 2018. ADL also has tracked a rise of online anti-Semitic hate targeting journalists.

The Pittsburgh shooting suspect reportedly spread anti-Semitic views online through a social media platform called Gab that is similar to Twitter.

“The difference in 2018 is the ease within which people can spew hate,” said University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell, a former state police superintendent. “We’ve gone from rallies, cross-burnings and people in sheets and pillow cases to electronic means to spew hate and cause fear worldwide.”

The former University of Maryland student charged with murder and a hate crime for the killing of Richard Collins III, a newly commissioned Army officer, was a member of a white supremacist Facebook group called Alt-Reich Nation, according to police records. That site has since been deleted, and the alleged killer’s membership had not been recorded or reported to police before Collins’ death, Mitchell said.

Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, has studied hate crimes for three decades.

Levin said Maryland has had a long history of anti-Semitism in part due to its robust Jewish population. He said he began studying hate in the state in the mid-1980s during a rash of anti-Semitic incidents at the University of Maryland, College Park. One student was convicted of assault and battery after shooting a BB gun at a female Jewish student five times while shouting Nazi slogans.

Levin cited the increasing diversity of the U.S. population, the spread of white nationalism, and decreasing trust in institutions as some of the factors contributing to the recent increase in reported hate incidents. And, he said, social media provide a ready platform to spread hateful views.

Of the nearly 80 anti-Jewish reports sent to Maryland police agencies last year, most — 46 — were either were vandalism incidents, or written or verbal intimidation incidents — 26.

crentz@baltsun.com

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