Jewish temple in Columbus targeted by white supremacist group
If Monday night’s show of white supremacy was meant to intimidate Temple Israel, it had the opposite effect.
Congregants of Columbus’ 1617 Wildwood Ave. synagogue instead were angry that two men wearing masks brazenly walked past notices warning they were on surveillance video and posted flyers for a national white supremacist group on handicapped parking signs, part of the temple building and nearby utility poles, said Rabbi Beth Schwartz.
It happened about 9 p.m. Monday, according to the camera footage.
“It was light enough to see what they were doing very clearly,” Shwartz said. And they knew they were on camera: “They had to know because there’s signage up that we have surveillance,” she said.
The temple’s facilities manager found the flyers about 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, and immediately called the police, who retrieved the security video. Officers also took the flyers, which peeled right off, Schwartz said: “There was no damage to our property.”
Police confirmed they are investigating, saying any suspects they find may, at least, be charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass.
Investigators cannot confirm the intruders are associated with a national group calling itself the Patriot Front, which the handbills promoted. The flyers did not make any overt threats, nor explicitly denigrate the Jewish religion.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center that tracks hate groups, the Patriot Front split from another white supremacist organization called Vanguard America after the deadly August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a woman was killed.
“Patriot Front is an image-obsessed organization that rehabilitated the explicitly fascist agenda of Vanguard America with garish patriotism,” the SPLC says, later adding, “PF was one of a number of hate groups that sought to recast itself as mainstream, patriotic Americans by dressing up their propaganda and rhetoric in Americana.”
Some of the red, white and blue flyers posted at Temple Israel bore images of an eagle grasping arrows in its talons, a shield on its breast and stars arching overhead. “Reclaim America,” those read.
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of victory,” read another. “Better dead than red,” said one with a blue arrow through a red hammer and sickle.
Schwartz said insinuating Jews are communists is a racist trope with deep roots in anti-Semitism.
“That has made us quite angry,” she told reporters Wednesday. “Jews have been a part of Columbus almost since the founding of our city, which is almost 200 years ago.”
Columbus is not known for this type of prejudice, she added: “We don’t have this history here. This is not an anti-Semitic community.”
While not wanting to give the vandals publicity, Schwartz said the incident had to be addressed, once the flyers appeared on social media, to show Columbus does not accept this.
“We will remain vigilant as a congregation, vigilant as a Jewish community,” said Schwartz, who spoke to reporters along with Tiffany Broda, temple president. “We don’t hide our heads in fear. We have no reason, in Columbus, to want to hide, which is one of the reasons that we are speaking publicly.”
Chartered in 1859, Temple Israel built its current facility in 1956, and now serves about 120 families, Schwartz said.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
Why we chose to not include images of the flyers
After a staff discussion, the Ledger-Enquirer editors decided not to include images of the flyers containing white supremacist propaganda. Publishing the photos on our platforms would contribute to the organization’s efforts to spread its propaganda, a goal the L-E does not want to contribute to. Additionally, the L-E follows Associated Press style, which says “When hate speech or images are the basis of a news story, it is often sufficient to briefly refer to the speech or images in a text story rather than carry the speech or propaganda at length or redistribute the images.”