Vandals strike Maywood synagogue
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Vandals strike Maywood synagogue

Decoding the symbolism of hate

Over the past two years, the number of hate crimes in New Jersey has remained fairly steady, says Etzion Neuer, the Anti-Defamation League’s Director of Community Service and Policy.

Still, said Neuer, “We always want to see it go down. There’s little consolation in seeing it be constant.”

Neuer pointed out that the ADL website maintains a visual database of hate symbols (adl.org/hatesymbols), used frequently by law enforcement agencies but accessible to the public, as well.

At a crime scene, he said, “These numerical and graphic symbols are critical indicators for law enforcement of just what they’re dealing with – much the same way as law enforcement learned that numbers scrawled on walls may indicate gang affiliation.”

Given the nature of the symbols scrawled on the Maywood synagogue, he said, “It’s fair to ask whether it indicates the presence of a hate group in the area.”

One symbol, 14/88, “is often used to indicate a belief both in the ideology of Nazism and the validity of the 14 words…that have become a rallying cry for the white supremacist movement,” said Neuer. The words, he said, are, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

That allusion is often used with the number 88, he said, “a well-known neo-Nazi designation for ‘Heil Hitler.'” “H,” he pointed out, is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

“The significance of those numbers, when coupled with the swastika, are powerful symbols of hatred,” he said. “They are shorthand, but it does indicate that the offenders were a little more knowledgeable of extremist ideology.”

“On the other hand,” he said, “they’re not complete secrets.”

So while there is a long history of hate groups in New Jersey and Bergen County – including, he said, American Third Position in Butler and the local Bergen County Hooligans – this does not necessarily indicate the presence of an organized group.

“We’re finding more and more with extremists that they are not necessarily affiliated with a particular group, but may still be committed as ‘lone wolves,'” said Neuer.

The ADL director said any time a Jewish institution is targeted with hatred, “It needs to be treated very seriously,” since its impact is felt not just by one group, but by the entire community.

“If there’s any consolation here, and we seek to find some comfort, [Maywood] has reacted very strongly and appropriately, and that should not be underestimated,” he said. While there may be some extremists or haters in the area, “We know definitely that the vast majority of residents there find it repulsive [and] have been outspoken in rejecting the message of hatred.”

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