Last Saturday morning, a large campaign sign for Representative Josh Gottheimer, the first-term Democrat representing New Jersey’s Fifth District in the United States Congress, was defaced with anti-Semitic and racist graffiti.
Swastikas, racist slogans, profanity, a penis, incongruous smiley faces, and oddly worded apparently pro-Trump messages were scrawled on the four-by-eight-foot sign, which was planted outside a house in Hampton Township, and a large swastika was painted on the garage.
The house next door is for sale, and the realtor’s sign on its lawn was vandalized as well; a swastika and a penis were painted on it. (The painting was crude – not only in intent but in execution as well — but recognizable).
There also were handprints on the garage that led police to think that the vandals may have attempted to enter it, although that effort was not successful.
“The people who lived in the house” — that’s Colleen Murch, who owns it, and her partner, Adam Stolarsky — “put up the sign, and a few days ago some vandals came and pulled it down,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “And then about 1 or 2 a.m. on Saturday they came by again — we think it’s probably the same people — and vandalized it.”
Mr. Stolarsky is Jewish. Ms. Murch is not.
Along with the Nazis symbols and male genitalia, the sign on their house featured the words “MAGA dems suck literal tears go to Cali dems.” There was an arrow drawn from Mr. Gottheimer’s name to a profanity and then the unprintable slur used for black people.
“Interestingly enough, last year there was another, similar incident in Sussex county,” Mr. Gottheimer said. In September 2017, the Airport Diner in Wantage was vandalized; photographs from that incident show crude scrawling that looks very much like the vandalism last week in Hampton Township.
“I don’t think this is at all reflective of the people of North Jersey, or their values, or their issues,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “I spend time with both Republicans and Democrats, and this is not reflective of their values. Of our values.
“We always have had people who are extremists. That is not new.”
In fact, Mr. Gottheimer faced some anti-Semitism at the end of his 2016 campaign. A flyer showed a black-and-white picture, smiling menacingly, one front tooth blacked out and a goatee and horns drawn in, next to text, written in a Gothic font, saying that the candidate was in favor of “11th hour partial birth abortions,” “open borders for fentanyl and heroin,” and “slander.” A balloon coming from the Faustian-looking candidate warns the potential voter that “Big media owns me.”
That ludicrous and ultimately unsuccessful flyer might have been an early sign of what was to come.
“If you look at the ADLs numbers, you’ll see that the number of white supremacists and anti-Semitic activity has more than doubled,” Mr. Gottheimer said.
What happened is “disgusting,” he continued. “I really have zero patience for it. I also think that Sussex County in general, and certainly the people I have talked to, have zero patience for it.”
The local Republican politicians have responded appropriately, he said.
The statement from state Senator Steve Oroho, Assemblyman Parker Space, Assemblyman Hal Wirths and Sussex County Republican Chairman Jerry Scanlan was straightforward.
“We have heard about the horrible and hateful defacing of Congressman Josh Gottheimer’s campaign sign in Hampton,” their joint statement read. “We all unequivocally condemn what some sick person has done. We hope the individual or individuals responsible for these appalling and disgusting actions are caught and charged with a hate crime.”
But Mr. Gottheimer’s Republican opponent, John McCann, apparently couldn’t help but add a zinger both at the beginning and at the end of his statement, as well as an appeal to the Jewish community in the middle.
“There is no room for racism in our politics, in our state or in our country. As we saw with the Democratic Sheriff of Bergen County, who endorsed Gottheimer, racism cannot be tolerated.
“The anti-Semitic actions in Sussex county are abhorrent. It is truly unfortunate that this is the second time this happened to the congressman right before an election.
“I find this particularly offensive because I had the honor of serving as Shabbos goy in the neighborhood where I grew up.
“These types of actions happen when Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters spread messages of hate.”
Bergen County’s sheriff, Michael Saudino, a Democrat, resigned last week, after the media reported that he’d made racists comments. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and Maxine Waters both are Democrats who represent California in the House; both are Republican bêtes noires. Neither has anything to do with anti-Semitic, racists signs in rural Sussex County.
Halie Soifer is the executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Jewish Democratic Council of America. “We are very disturbed that anyone would deface not only a sign but someone’s home,” she said. “The swastikas indicate that this person was trying to send a message specifically targeting Jews — both the people who live in the house and Josh Gottheimer.
“This is a pattern. This rise in anti-Semitism that we see in this country, clearly has happened since Trump has taken office. We think that the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists and the other bigots have existed in our country all along, but it does seem that they have been emboldened in the Trump era, whether it’s through the defacing of property, incidents in our schools, or marching in the streets of Charlottesville or Washington.
“We are deeply disturbed by this. We don’t see it through a political lens, but it is troubling that the neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers and white supremacists who are running for office are doing so as Republicans.”
It’s not that it’s surprising that they’re running, she elaborated, it’s that they’ve been able to move from the fringe parties that used to be their natural home to the Republican party, which until recently would not have allowed them on its ballot line. “I think that Trump has given these people enough sense of legitimacy that they are now running as Republicans,” she said.
Neil Boylan Strauss is the national spokesman and digital director for the Republican Jewish Coalition. “This is disgusting,” he emailed about the vandalism.
“The RJC condemns this act. We have zero tolerance for hate, whether anti-Semitism or any other form. This behavior has no place in politics or our society.”
Josh Gottheimer believes that there is some good that can come out of the vandalism, and he takes heart from it.
Ms. Murch and Mr. Stolarsky got a new sign and put it up right away, he said, and there is a great deal of symbolic importance in that move.
“It’s an important lesson for us,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “It’s about resilience and determination and the resolve not to be intimidated. They will not be cowed.
“I have optimism about our country because of things like this. These incidents are painful, but the response to it is hopeful.”