JERSEY CITY, N.J. — For Jews in North Jersey and beyond, the deadly Jersey City shooting follows a frighteningly familiar pattern.
The brazen, broad-daylight attack on a kosher supermarket ended with three civilians and a police officer dead. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop on Wednesday branded the assault a “hate crime” and said surveillance video showed that the two shooters, who also died, had targeted the market.
But the state’s top law enforcement officials said it was too early to know what motivated the shooters.
The attack would join a list of recent assaults on Jewish sites in the U.S. The deadliest came in Pittsburgh last year when 11 people were killed by a white supremacist gunman. In April of this year, a worshiper was gunned down at a Poway, California, synagogue, followed by a July shooting that targeted a Miami temple.
“That is something that needs to make us take pause as a country,” said Evan Bernstein, director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York and New Jersey, on Tuesday. “We need to figure out what we’re going to do at the highest level, federally and also locally, to make sure that these things do not continue.”
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A law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation told the Bergen Record, part of the USA TODAY Network, that one of the suspects was a onetime follower of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. The group’s members believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. It includes factions that have been designated as “hate groups” by watchdogs including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
The Israelite Church of God, an extremist sect of the Hebrew Israelite movement, has chapters in Jersey City, Camden and Asbury Park, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ in New York said through an attorney Wednesday that it has no connection to the shooting and does not know the suspects.
“There’s no relationship to the events in Jersey City,” Gerald Lefcourt said. “There is no connection whatsoever, no knowledge of the individuals” who have been named as suspects in the shooting.
“Although most Hebrew Israelites are neither explicitly racist nor anti-Semitic and do not advocate violence, there is a rising extremist sector within the Hebrew Israelite movement,” the SPLC wrote in a 2008 report. Adherents to that fringe “believe that Jews are devilish impostors and who openly condemn whites as evil personified, deserving only death or slavery.”
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Hate crimes on the rise
New Jersey reported 561 hate crimes last year, marking the third consecutive year that such crimes rose in the state, according to an annual FBI report.
In nearly 200 incidents, people were targeted because of their religion. The vast majority of those — 172 in total — were directed at Jewish individuals or institutions. Incidents included swastika graffiti, threats and harassment.
Nationally, the number of incidents jumped 17% in three years, even with a slight retreat in 2018. There were 7,120 reported hate crimes in the U.S. last year, down by five from a year earlier, the FBI said. About 20% of those were linked to religious bias.
The most serious attack occurred in October 2018, when a white supremacist obsessed with anti-Semitic conspiracy theory opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Tree of Life massacre: A year later, US Jewish communities still facing ‘significant threats’
However, the FBI hate crimes report gives an incomplete picture because reporting by local law enforcement agencies is voluntary and victims don’t report hate crimes in about half of cases, experts say.
“We’ve seen an increase in K-12 schools; we’ve seen an increase on college campuses; we’ve seen an increase in assaults especially in Brooklyn,” Bernstein said. “Anti-Semitism, we’re almost dealing with an incident a day in this region.”
White supremacist movements, in particular, have been on the rise.
At a panel on domestic terrorism last month in Garfield, Gov. Phil Murphy and other speakers called the phenomenon a “titanic threat” and blamed rising disinformation and hate-mongering online, in media and in political rhetoric.
Last year, 49 of 50 extremist killings in the United States were committed by individuals with extreme right-wing ideologies — as were 73% of all extremist killings over the past decade, according to an analysis by the Anti-Defamation League.
“We must recognize the greater context in which this outrage occurred,” the Orthodox advocacy group Agudath Israel of America said in a statement Tuesday. “Jews have been targeted in city streets, in their houses of worship and online. The increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents is alarming and needs to be urgently addressed.”
As recently as Saturday, President Donald Trump was accused of playing to anti-Semitic tropes during a speech at a Florida conference sponsored by the Israeli-American Council, where he said many Jewish Americans do not “love Israel enough” and called those in the real estate business “brutal killers” who were “not nice people.”
Amid rising threats, synagogues in the area have added or expanded safety measures, including security guards, cameras and lighting.
In January, Murphy and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness announced new security grants for institutions deemed vulnerable.
Applicants can receive up to $10,000 to hire security personnel or up to $50,000 to buy and install equipment such as cameras, card access readers, lighting, fencing and barriers.
The Jersey City rampage targeted “not just the city but the values that the city stands for,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said at a news conference Wednesday. But, he promised, “we are stronger than the hate that fueled this tragedy.”
Hannan Adely is an education and diversity reporter for NorthJersey.com. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @adelyreporter