On Jan. 20, Voice of America reported that hate crimes increased across most major American cities over the year of 2022. While the FBI releases annual reports on hate crimes, it is noteworthy that their report for 2021 excluded New York City, Chicago and large parts of California.
“Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the University of California San Bernardino, said while national hate crime trends generally mirror those of big cities, his data show a more modest uptick of 1.2% for the 20 cities surveyed,” VoA reported.
The report showed that African Americans remained the dominant target of hate crimes, though both hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community and Jewish people showed sharp increases. Antisemitic hate crimes in particular climbed 31% from 2021.
“We are living in a period of unease and unrest, whenever you live through these types of crises, people look for very simple solutions to complex problems. Antisemitism serves as an explanation for these problems and has been one for centuries” said Avinoam Patt, director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Connecticut in an online interview.
Dr. Patt remarked how comments made by celebrities have contributed to a situation where antisemitism has become increasingly mainstreamed in public discourse. He referenced both Kyrie Irving and Ye West, who in fall 2022 used their influence and position to promote conspiracy theories or threaten Jews and praise Adolf Hitler, according to the New York Times and Vox.
Both Irving and West referenced the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement in their statements, a conspiracy theory which claims African-Americans are the lost tribes of Israel, while Jewish people are impostors or active antagonists of the “real Jews,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
White supremacy uses “replacement theory,” online media to spread hate
Among the countless acts of hate committed throughout 2022, it was the tragic mass shooting of 10 men and women in a Buffalo grocery store on May 14 that brought the “white replacement” narrative used by white supremacists to the forefront of the public consciousness.
According to CNN, after the shooter’s arrest, police discovered a large document on their computer including plans for the crime, a sketch of the store and their justification. The shooter explicitly stated they chose the location due to the high number of African Americans in the surrounding area who visited the store.
“In the document, Payton Gendron allegedly called himself a White man ‘seeking to protect and serve my community, my people, my culture, and my race’ and said he has never been diagnosed with a mental disability or disorder. He allegedly stated that his goal was to kill ‘as many blacks as possible’ and to ‘avoid dying,’” CNN reported.
The shooter’s statements fall in line with “replacement theory,” a right-wing conspiracy theory that modern immigration policies are part of a larger plan to replace and undermine white people, particularly in Western countries. The process, according to a document by the National Immigration Forum, is believed by its followers to lead to a “conquest” and “undermining” of Western civilization, often blaming Jewish people as those responsible.
An article on Apr. 19 2021 from the Anti-Defamation League provides a timeline of replacement theory, from its beginnings in the 20th century to references and plausibly deniable endorsements by today’s right wing influencers, American and European politicians and several mass shooters, one of whom caused the deaths of 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019.
“In an interview on Fox News’ Justice with Judge Jeanine in July 2020, GOP Congressman Matt Gaetz claimed that an ‘attempted cultural genocide’ was occurring in the US and that the left wanted to ‘replace America’” the ADL said.
Dr. Patt calls antisemitism a “canary in the coal mine” in regards to other forms of hate.
“When antisemitism appears, it is soon followed with rising transphobia, racism, xenophobia and more. That’s why it’s so important to work in a coalition with other groups to combat hatred” Patt said.
Transphobic policy and misinformation leads to violence
On Nov. 21 2022, several members of congress called upon the Department of Justice to investigate the growing number of threats and acts of violence against transgender people after a mass shooting at a Colorado LGBTQ+ nightclub which left five dead, according to Boston.com. Attendants of the club eventually subdued the shooter, who was then arrested by police. On the same day, Boston Children’s hospital received another surge of harassment and bomb threats, nearly all of which centered around the hospital’s program for gender-affirming care for transgender and non-binary youth.
“For example, attacks against Boston Children’s began earlier this year when conservative Twitter account LibsofTikTok posted various false information about the services Children’s provides,” Boston.com reported.
The letter to the DoJ came after state legislation across the country restricted access to gender-affirming services and the teaching of LGBTQ+ topics in education. Among these bills include Florida HB 1557 which bans discussion or reference in literature to LGBTQ+ matters for kindergarten to third grade in Florida public schools, Arizona SB 1138 which forbids gender reassignment surgery for minors, several bans of transgender student athletes participating according to their identified gender and new bills to ban drag shows or designate them as sexual businesses or events.
In Texas, several drag events including family-friendly shows and book readings have been met with protests, often with armed protesters present, according to the Texas Tribune.
“‘This hate does not happen in a vacuum,’ said Jay Brown, a senior vice president at the Human Rights Campaign who is also transgender. “In Texas — an open carry state — we see multiple armed protests in opposition to LGBTQ+ bars, culture and events each week. These attacks in Texas aim to perpetuate lies about who LGBTQ+ people are and set a dangerous precedent of singling out members of the community that will only result in higher instances of violence,’” the Tribune reported.
These incidents are becoming increasingly common and spreading nationwide. On Dec. 4 2022, CBS reported a drag queen story time event in Columbus, Ohio was canceled after armed protests by far-right organizations and militias, such as the fascist Patriot Front and the Proud Boys. A protest on Dec. 17 against a drag show in Grand Prairie, Texas included the Aryan Freedom Network, carrying flags bearing Nazi SS insignia. On Jan. 5 2023, individuals at a protest in Jackson Heights, New York were seen vandalizing property and wearing white supremacist symbols on their clothing. On Jan. 17 a similar event in Taunton, Massachusetts was interrupted by masked men belonging to the neo-Nazi organization NSC-131 who verbally attacked the readers before being escorted out by police.
The New York Times reveals that not only have these groups frequently appeared armed to protest drag shows. Members, supporters and leaders of Patriot Front, neo-Nazi Vanguard America, Proud Boys and more have been seen armed against Black Lives Matter protests, attended white supremacist marches and have members or leaders involved in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 and the deadly Unite the Right rally in 2017.
According to Professor Avinoam Patt, the people affiliated with these groups serve as an intersection of hatred against several communities, fueling online misinformation and propaganda alongside their appearances at transphobic, white supremacist or antisemitic events.
The bulwark against hatred
As violence and threats of violence grow rapidly against marginalized communities, several tactics are being tested independently to combat hatred in real life and online, from instructional classes to identify hate to community defense against armed terror groups.
Two members of the Connecticut John Brown Gun Club, Oliver and Watson, provided their opinions on community defense and their experiences combating inequality and bigotry in the state. As per their requests, their last names have been excluded for anonymity.
Watson explains that the organization primarily serves in Connecticut, sharing resources on self and community defense as well as providing protection for events that could become targets for the aforementioned groups. While not a traditional gun club, the CTJBGC provides courses in firearm safety, self-defense and emergency medical care, particularly for people of color and those in the LGBTQ+ community.
“The CT JBGC isn’t a social club —we exist to provide accountable community-led defense to combat the existential threats of fascism and white supremacy,” Oliver said, “We engage in direct action. As far as I’m concerned, the time for changing hearts and minds is coming to a close. From here on out, minds will be changed primarily by events.”
Dr. Patt hopes to combat hatred through education, running a pop-up section of UNIV-3088 titled Why the Jews?: Confronting Antisemitism since spring 2022. Dr. Patt was surprised initially at the high attendance for the course, calling it reassuring that so many students were interested in the topic.
“We live in a day and age where it gets much, much easier to circulate irrational illogical conspiracy theories because they spread much quicker online than ever before. We know where these ideas spread, it’s a challenge to know how to respond to it in the present moment. The class has helped students identify antisemitism they find online and prevent it from being spread,” Dr. Patt explained.
Why the Jews? Is now expected to be available every spring as a result of the high attendance. Dr. Patt states that contrary to what many sources on modern antisemitism state, college campuses tend to be incredibly diverse places which allow for the celebration of diversity and reassurance to Jewish students that they are protected.
Watson and Oliver believe that a more direct approach is needed to put an end to hatred both within Connecticut and nationwide, done through confronting far-right organizations and providing aid to economically and socially disenfranchised communities. Watson remarked that the nature of the threats to minorities in Connecticut is different from other places in the country where larger displays of anti-LGBTQ+, racist or antisemitic thought are rare. Practices such as redlining, segregation through schools and a legacy of sundown towns have impacted civil rights in the state to this day, according to the Hartford Courant.
“I grew up in a small, racially diverse city that’s a stark contrast from where I live and work now —which is predominantly white and suburban. I work in firearms too, and the culture perpetuated there is grotesque. Every workplace I’ve inhabited has been racist and homophobic, but never as overtly and proud as it is in the area I live now. It’s not sustainable,” Oliver said.
Both members of the CTJBGC advocate for those who feel worried for themselves and communities against the rising trends of hate of the past year to form networks against fascism, arm themselves and organize together.
“Individuals are as good as that— a lone person. Teams have strength,” Oliver and Watson said.
Aid and education on campus
As well as Dr. Patt’s course on antisemitism, UConn has several courses and organizations meant to provide safe spaces for people of color, those in the LGBTQ+ community, Jews and other communities. This includes other UNIV 3985 section 2, U.S. Anti-Black Racism Course, UNIV 3800 section 1, Confronting Anti-Asian Racism, WGSS 3269, Gender, Sexuality, and Social Movements and UNIV 3369, Gender, Justice, and Hashtags.
Campus organizations from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to the various cultural centers provide resources and safe spaces for students, as well as work collaboratively to combat injustices. Student organizations such as the UConn National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Black Student Association, Muslim Student Association, Queer Collective, Hillel Student Organization, Women’s Circle and countless others provide a supporting and welcoming community for all on campus.