September 16, 2019

ADL Briefing Addresses Rise in Security Threats

For the past 18 years, Mark Canole, director of security and safety at the Skirball Cultural Center, has been busy. And this past year has been one of his busiest.

In August 2017, the Center received a robocall bomb threat. A few months later, Patriot Front, a far-right hate group, hung banners from the 405 freeway overpass at the Skirball exit, displaying white supremacist messages including, “Resurrection through Insurrection” and links to the group’s website, “Blood and soil” is a Nazi Germany reference to those with pure Aryan blood. 

More banner incidents followed earlier this year.

The uptick in threatening activity has put Canole, a retired military police officer who trains local law enforcement in homeland security tactics, on edge. 

“[Patriot Front] has been active on the UCLA campus nearby too, and it’s a big problem with them focusing up here on the hill with so many Jewish institutions in the area,” Canole told the Journal at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) offices in Century City. 

Canole, along with representatives from over 20 Los Angeles Jewish institutions, convened at the local ADL offices on Aug. 15 for the organization’s annual security briefing. ADL officials hold the meeting ahead of the High Holy Days to share best practices and provide regional security updates. The session was also open to non-Jewish community members and ADL supporters.

Each attendee was given a mound of paperwork, including sheets on: “Security Recommendations For the High Holidays,” “What Every Congregant Should Know About Security” and “18 Best Practices for Jewish Institutional Security.” The pile also included “Charlottesville: One Year Later,” the ADL’s six-page report on the state of far-right extremism in America since the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va, led by torch-wielding neo-Nazis in August 2017.  

Joanna Mendelson, senior investigative researcher and director of special projects for the ADL’s Center on Extremism, delivered a presentation outlining details of the report.

With her “Jeopardy Board of Hate” — a chart of extremist groups — Mendelson walked through the groups’ distinctive ideologies and just how close to home certain threats are. California has the second-largest racist skinhead population in the country, trailing only Texas, she said.

“I’ve been doing this work for almost 20 years and there has never been more to do. Groups that have long been in the shadows, ones I would monitor online, are front and center stage, proud to bare their faces and ideology. — ADL’s Joanna Mendelson

Mendelson told of her recent experience taking her 6-year-old daughter to a Sherman Oaks park, where they encountered a skinhead with “88” tattooed on his head — a reference to “Heil Hitler.”

The scariest part, Mendelson said, is these groups appear to be picking up steam, even fielding openly anti-Semitic, virulently racist political candidates whose campaigns the ADL closely monitors. 

The ADL’s audit of anti-Semitic incidents, which includes everything from leafleting to vandalism to assault, determined there was a 57 percent increase from 2016 to 2017 — the largest year-to-year increase in a decade, and one of the biggest leaps since the ADL began the annual audits in 1979. 

“I’ve been doing this work for almost 20 years and there has never been more to do,” Mendelson said. “Groups that have long been in the shadows, ones I would monitor online, are front and center stage, proud to bare their faces and ideology.” 

The culmination of these tactics, Mendelson said, took place in Charlottesville last year. She noted that the more than 500 alt-right agitators comprising various groups put aside differences that have traditionally kept many of them from unifying in action. She singled out President Donald Trump and his public response to the tragic events. 

“The act of vocation after Charlottesville, that there’s ‘both sides,’ well, that rubber-stamps this behavior,” she said. 

A highlight of the morning was the visit via Skype from Rabbi Tom Gutherz and President Alan Zimmerman of Congregation Beth Israel, Charlottesville’s lone synagogue.  

Gutherz and Zimmerman recalled the frightening details of Aug. 11, 2017, with vivid detail. Situated a block away from Market Street Park, the violent rally’s epicenter, Beth Israel members found themselves after Shabbat services confronted with camouflage-clad, gun-toting men loitering out front and neo-Nazis marching by with “Heil Hitler” signs, chanting “Jews will not replace us.” 

“It’s a miracle nothing happened to anyone in our congregation,” Gutherz said.

After sharing lessons learned in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, Zimmerman closed by encouraging the attendees in the ADL office to lean on the strength of national Jewish networks for vital support. 

“The ADL has been very helpful to us. I also think, prior to last August, we weren’t part of any Jewish federation,” Zimmerman said. “Since then, the Richmond, Va., Jewish Federation has taken us under its wing, and with that has come a lot of support, which has helped in communicating to us potential threats and helping communicate with law enforcement. That’s not something that comes naturally to myself or the rabbi.”

After Gutherz and Zimmerman signed off, Mendelson fielded questions from attendees, including several inquiries into how the ADL deals with anti-Semitism permeating much of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, particularly on college campuses.

“We work behind the scenes in many incidents because we want to empower the students to create solutions on their campuses,” she said. “It’s still a grave concern. BDS is nefarious in how they’re strategically trying to target and attack.”

Canole has witnessed the ADL’s work firsthand, thanks to a 15-year formal relationship with its Los Angeles staff, including Mendelson. 

“The ADL is great at making sure resources from the federal level are accessible to the local community,” Canole said. “To have that kind of horsepower in our backyard is a big deal. I go out of my way to email and meet with them regularly.”