The Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office praised Passaic’s police department this week after it arrested three young men who allegedly posted signs of neo-Nazi rhetoric around the city’s heavily Jewish Third Ward. But, the organization cautioned, the state’s hate crime laws still need work.
Scott Nibbling, ‘0, Michael Holly, 18, and Christopher Bogart, ‘1, were charged with three counts of harassment, two counts of biased intimidation, one count of posting signs of violence, and one count of conspiracy. They were arraigned Monday in Passaic Municipal Court and are set for an Oct. ‘3 superior court hearing.
Witnesses reported their license plate to police Sunday after the trio allegedly posted a sign on the doors of Cong. Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton, in Passaic.
"We are pleased to see that the police department made an arrest," said Etzion Neuer, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office. "We’re glad to see the New Jersey bias crime laws are being used to try the perpetrators. [But w]e’re still concerned by the use of extremist group materials."
Police believe the trio acted on their own, rather than as part of a hate group, said Police Detective Andrew White. However, the posters contained references to the Ku Klux Klan, Nazi imagery, and material from the National Socialist Movement.
Young Israel congregants discovered the sign Sunday when they gathered at the shul for a morning service. Other signs were placed on a utility pole on the corner of Main and Van Houten avenues and another on a pole on Main Street at Aycrigg Avenue.
Rabbi Yaakov Glasser of Young Israel had no comment beyond his comments published in The Record earlier this week that the incident was "very disturbing and upsetting, and it makes people insecure."
Mark Levenson, president of the UJA Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic, expressed outrage over the incident.
"The federation is appalled that such grievous and unfortunate incidents are still taking place in today’s day and age, particularly around our High Holiday period," he said. "When you see such actions and you hear the garbage that comes out of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s mouth, it shows that our work is far from done and we need to remain ever-vigilant on these matters."
On Sept. 14, neighbors of the Clifton Jewish Center found posters nearby of a man with a swastika armband throwing a Star of David into a trashcan. A similar poster was found in a tunnel under Route 46, and a third was found Sept. ‘3 near the Jewish Memorial Chapel on Allwood Road. The City of Clifton intends to charge two of the men for those acts, White said. The description of those signs matches one found on the National Socialist Movement’s Website, Neuer said.
Levenson was not concerned that the vandalisms were indicative of a larger trend in the area, calling them "isolated incidents."
Neuer agreed, but noted that there have been other high profile anti-Semitic incidents in New Jersey lately, including the carving of a giant swastika into a Mercer County cornfield last week.
"People still harbor sickening prejudices against Jews and still feel absolutely free to express them in ways that can be painful and traumatizing to the Jewish community," he said. "It shows the need for education. It shows the need for hate-crime laws. It’s not just about Passaic."
The trio’s motivation likely stemmed from "an upbringing where they appeared to be picked on," White said. While their signs targeted the Jewish community, White said it is more likely that "they hated everybody."
That explanation was not good enough for Neuer, who said that New Jersey’s hate crime laws need to "toughen" in order to provide better training for law enforcement officers so they can better understand the laws, how to recognize bias, and how hate crimes affect victims.
"To the Jewish community this is personal," he said. "We have adults who took the time to target the Jewish community. It’s no solace to say we have no record of them with a hate group."