Michael Kaydar, the prime suspect behind a wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and other institutions, hides his face during his arrest in Israel. Credit: Nir Keidar/Associated Press

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Since the November election, a wave of bomb threats against hundreds of Jewish institutions across the country have incited worries about a resurgence of anti-Semitism in America.

But so far the two suspects who’ve been arrested haven’t fit the profile of a newly motivated neo-Nazi or white supremacist.

On Thursday, Michael Kaydar, an 18-year-old Jewish American was arrested in Israel with his father and charged with making hundreds of threatening phone calls to Jewish community centers, schools and museums across the United States and other countries. His lawyer told reporters the teenager has a brain tumor that could have impacted his behavior.

This is the second suspect to be arrested in the threats, which have led to evacuations and panic at some of the sites. Earlier this month, police arrested former journalist Juan Thompson on charges he made some of the threats as part of a bizarre retribution campaign against a former girlfriend.

Call it fake hate.

The Jewish community responded with shock to the news that the suspect is Jewish, reported the Religion News Service:

Jews worldwide uttered a collective gasp when they found out the suspect allegedly behind more than 100 bomb threat hoaxes at Jewish institutions across North America is Jewish himself.

“Stunned,” said Michael Feinstein, who heads a Maryland Jewish community center that received two threats since the beginning of the year.

“Stunned,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the immediate past president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“I don’t know if it would be better if we found out if it was a right-wing white supremacist, neo-Nazi or follower of ISIS,” said Deborah Lipstadt, who studies anti-Semitism at Emory University.

Right-wing commentators used Kaydar’s arrest as both justification for President Donald Trump’s suggestion last month that the Jewish community could be threatening itself, and as proof that the level of hatred and anti-Semitism in America isn’t really as significant or serious as some people think it is.

The fears of a rise in anti-Semitic activity are based on more than just the bomb threats. American Jewish sites and cemeteries have been desecrated on a weekly basis. Neighborhoods and homes have also regularly been spray-painted with anti-Semitic graffiti across America.

Still, the bomb threat arrests highlight how little we often know about these incidents when they’re initially reported.

Just this week, a man in New York was charged with painting swastikas on his own home to fake a hate crime. And there have been numerous reports in recent weeks of people faking hate crimes that they later admitted were fraudulent. Someone calling themself Laird Wolf (a possible reference to a character in romance novels) has even created a website and database of these fake hate crimes.

Our goal is to roundup the reported hate events as they occur each week. And we’ll be sure to report when those events turn out to be bogus.

James Harris Jackson is accused of randomly killing Timothy Caughman, a 66-year-old black man on the streets of New York by stabbing him with a sword.
James Jackson is accused of killing Timothy Caughman, a 66-year-old black man, on the streets of New York by stabbing him with a sword. Credit: Steven Hirsch/New York Post via AP, Pool

There was one major attack this week that was hate related, according to the very guy who carried it out.

James Jackson, a 28-year-old white Army veteran from Maryland, traveled to New York City in a racist quest to find and kill African American men, police said.

Jackson stabbed 66-year-old black man Timothy Caughman in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday morning with a sword that he had purchased online. He told police he is a white supremacist and had traveled to New York to “make a statement.”

Some media reports, however, seemed as interested in what Jackson was wearing as in the fact he had just taken a man’s life, a trend pointed out by journalist JJ MacNab, who writes about anti-government extremism for Forbes (and who you should follow on Twitter):

By Friday, community leaders in New York were asking the Manhattan district attorney to label and prosecute the crime as an act of domestic terrorism.

The weekend: a spike in hate crime in the nation’s capital

A disturbing note addressed to “Children of Satan” and calling Muslims vile and filthy was left at an Iowa mosque over the weekend, prompting the Council on American-Islamic Relations to demand a hate crime investigation:

We call on state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate this message of intimidation targeting a house of worship as a hate crime and to bring the perpetrator to justice,” said CAIR-Iowa Executive Director Miriam Amer.

Amer also said a forthcoming report on Islamophobia in America is expected to show that 2016 was the worst year on record for bias incidents against mosques.

In California, an employee of a Sonoma County elementary school was attacked late last week in an incident local police are investigating as a hate crime. The employee’s car was spray-painted with the word “beaner” and another racial epithet.

In New York, a man was charged with a hate crime after attacking two transgender women outside a McDonald’s in Queens. He allegedly shouted homophobic slurs at the women and beat one of them with a cane.

The Washington, D.C. police and mayor’s office reported over the weekend that the number of hate crimes reported in the district spiked last year from 2015. There were 107 reported hate crimes in D.C. last year, up from 66 in 2015. Here’s a snippet from the Washington Post:

Although D.C. leaders attributed the increase in part to residents feeling more comfortable and confident in reporting crime to police — “I believe we have a city that is less tolerant of this type of behavior,” the mayor said — they also noted the contentious presidential election and divisive rhetoric embedded in the nation’s discourse.  

Monday: A target for white supremacists – high schools

There have been at least four instances of white supremacists targeting high schools with leaflets in apparent recruitment drives, the Anti-Defamation League reported. This comes on the back of more than 120 incidents the ADL has collated of white supremacy at college campuses.

Targeting kids isn’t new for these guys, the ADL says:

It is not unusual for white supremacists to target young people who have not yet matured and are susceptible to new ideas. The original mission statement of the Traditionalist Youth Network, a largely inactive white supremacist group founded by Matthew Heimbach and Matt Parrott, called for outreach to high school and well as college students.

Two of the four incidents occurred in schools in California.

Meanwhile, more than 100 hand-drawn swastika leaflets were discovered in the front yard of the Virginia Tech University Chabad Jewish Center.

The leaflets were left a day after the center announced it would be hosting a Holocaust survivor for a lecture.

These leaflets serve a couple of purposes. For one, they stoke fear in the communities. But, as ProPublica pointed out this week, the perpetrators have a second clear goal: getting media attention.

On Monday, a man in La Crosse, Wisconsin was also charged with a hate crime after allegedly harassing his neighbor for a month. The man, Leslie Beach, allegedly pounded on a neighbor’s door for hours and hurled racist slurs at him.

And an Associated Press report released Monday outlined that the 2009 expansion of the federal hate crime law to include crimes based on disability or sexual preference, has led to relatively few prosecutions across the country. Here’s a snippet:

… 47 people nationwide have been prosecuted using the law, with 37 convictions.

Another 300 people were referred for prosecution, but hate crimes charges were never filed. In at least half those cases, there wasn’t enough evidence or prosecutors couldn’t prove intent, a key threshold.

The AP has previously raised the question of whether hate crime prosecutions will become a thing of the past under Trump. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, vocally opposed the 2009 expansion of the hate federal crime law.

Tuesday: American Muslims under fire

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, D.C. released its annual American Muslim Poll on Tuesday.

The poll had some startling findings, including:

  • More than two in five (42%) Muslims with children in K-12 school report bullying of their children because of their faith, compared with 23% of Jews, 20% of Protestants, and 6% of Catholics.
  • Muslims (38%) and Jews (27%) are most likely to express fear for their personal safety or that of their family from white supremacist groups as a result of the 2016 elections. This compares with 16% of people not affiliated with a faith, 11% of Protestants, and 8% of Catholics.
  • Muslims are more than twice as likely (30%) as Jews (13%), Catholics, and Protestants (11%) to be stopped at the border for additional screening.

The institute hired two firms to interview 800 American Muslims and 340 Jewish respondents for the survey.

Meanwhile, America’s “most prominent anti-Muslim activist” is apparently holding meetings at the White House. The Atlantic examines the role of Brigitte Gabriel, who runs an organization called ACT for America and who has been bragging about her access to the Trump administration. Here’s the key section from the article:

Many conservatives claim they oppose only “radical Islam.” Gabriel doesn’t bother with such euphemisms. “Islam,” she wrote in her 2008 book, They Must Be Stopped, “has created and unleashed an uncontrollable wave of hatred and rage, on the world, and we must brace ourselves for the consequences. Going forward we must realize that the portent behind the terrorist attacks is the purest form of what the Prophet Mohammed created. It’s not radical Islam. It’s what Islam is at its core.”

In 2007, she declared that “If a Muslim who has – who is – a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day – this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.” After Khizr Khan held up a copy of the US Constitution in his speech at last year’s Democratic national convention, Gabriel accused him of lying. “Waving the Constitution,” she declared, “is a misrepresentation when one’s religion teaches that it and any other man-made law, for that matter, are to be removed and superseded by the Quran.”

The Atlantic reports that while the White House has not yet confirmed Gabriel’s claims that she has attended meetings there, she has posted photos of herself in the White House on Facebook.

In a bizarre case of terror-by-Twitter, a Maryland man was charged with a hate crime after sending an image to journalist Kurt Eichenwald that allegedly gave him a seizure.

Eichenwald, who is epileptic, opened the tweet to find it contained a gif of strobe lighting, which can cause seizures for epileptics. He promptly collapsed, The New York Times reports:

His wife, Theresa, found him on the floor and saw the Twitter post on his computer screen. She called 911 and then replied on Twitter: “@jew_goldstein This is his wife, you caused a seizure. I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.”

Mr. Eichenwald was incapacitated for several days, lost feeling in his left hand and had trouble speaking for several weeks, according to his lawyer.

The sender of the tweet, who police identified as John Rayne Rivello of Salisbury, Maryland, has since been supported by anti-Semitic rants on social media and a fundraising campaign in his name, the ADL reports.

Wednesday: Hate crimes down in Boston

An analysis of police data by The Boston Globe found that the LGBT community is the top target for hate crimes and hate acts in the Boston community. The Globe reported:

The number of reported hate crimes and bigoted actions last year against the LGBT community surpasses those aimed at Muslims, Jews, Latinos, and Asians combined, Boston Police Department figures indicate. And it is a trend that appears to be persisting: Numbers from the first two months of this year indicate a similar pattern.

The analysis found that hateful acts overall are decreasing in Boston, however, down 9 percent in 2016 from 2015.   

Thursday: A church named for Trump burns down

In San Francisco, a man was arrested after he threatened to shoot a woman wearing a hijab because she was Muslim, police said Thursday. The woman was playing with her toddler son in a public park when the alleged abuse happened.

Also on Thursday, a North Dakota white supremacist whose church burned to the ground recently said he wants the fire investigated as a hate crime.

The self-proclaimed white supremacist, Craig Cobb, said he had big plans for the church, which he had recently bought. He was going to rename it the “President Donald J. Trump, Creativity Church of Rome,” but he never got the chance because the building burned down in a suspicious fire.

Friday: A tiny community and an 80-year-old shooter

An 80-year-old man in the tiny community of Junction City, Wisconsin, was arrested earlier this month for aiming a gun at his neighbor, a woman of Hmong descent. Henry Kaminski, who allegedly told police after his arrest that he didn’t like Hmong people and that they were taking over Junction City, was quickly released on a $5,000 bail and returned home.

Kaminski’s release scared the Hmong family who had been the target of his anger, and the incident led to a protest in the community asking the local district attorney to charge Kaminski with a hate crime.   

Will Carless can be reached at wcarless@revealnews.org. Follow him on Twitter: @willcarless.

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Will Carless was a correspondent for Reveal covering extremism. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Asia and South America. Prior to joining Reveal, he was a senior correspondent for Public Radio International’s Global Post team based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Before that, Will spent eight years at the Voice of San Diego, where he worked as an investigative reporter and head of investigations. During his tenure in San Diego, Will was awarded several prizes, including a national award from Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has been a finalist for the Livingston Awards for young journalists twice in the last five years. He surfs, spends time with his family, travels to silly places and pretends he’s writing a novel.