Bergen County is home to more than 70 synagogues, 13 day schools, and an ever-growing number of kosher restaurants. Jewish life is flourishing here, so the recent anti-Semitic attacks have raised questions about how “it” could happen here and how safe Jews are in northern New Jersey generally.
“We’ve always known that New Jersey is not immune from hate groups,” said Etzion Neuer, acting director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office and a Bergen County resident. “As long as extremist groups have operated in this country, New Jersey has been a home to these movements, as well.”
The nature of the recent attacks raise suspicions that, rather than somebody having a bit too much to drink, the vandalism may have connections to extremist organizations. The timing of the first two attacks, 11 days apart, suggests that planning was involved, said Neuer. The “14/88″ slogan – representing the combination of a 14-word mantra of white supremacists and the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, for “Heil Hitler” – also suggests an extremist connection.
“That was deeply alarming,” Neuer said, “because we had the incidents of graffiti and then a heightened level of aggression against a Jewish institution, culminating with Jan. 11 and the attempted murder of the rabbi and the firebombing.”
Other possibilities include copycats of similar vandalism in New York, personal vendettas, or that the perpetrators may share philosophies with extremist groups, but have no official connections. It is increasingly common, he said, for extremist organizations to tell people not to affiliate and carry out operations on the local level to stay off law enforcement radars.
Many traditional extremist groups have also splintered in recent years, according to Neuer, and as a result ever more extremists are no longer affiliating, acting instead as “lone wolves.”
“Though this is not always reported by the media, most plots and conspiracies that occur in the United States are detected and prevented by law enforcement officers before their planned acts of violence can be carried out,” Neuer said. “‘Lone wolves,’ though, are particularly challenging for law enforcement because their acts are difficult to prevent.”
Neuer pointed to “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski as an example. The primary goal of a lone wolf, he continued, is usually to cause human casualties and their actions tend to be very deadly.
“It’s critical that the community understands that it may very well turn out to be that whoever the perpetrators are have no connection to any of these movements,” Neuer said. “Whether or not it’s organized extremists, it’s important for law enforcement to investigate that possible angle. Law enforcement has to keep the investigation broad and that’s what they’re doing.”