Jewish centers open doors again after fifth recent wave of bomb threats

As many as 19 Jewish community centers received bomb threats Monday morning, the latest wave of such incidents.

Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP
Police officers stand by as adults and children return to St. Louis Jewish Community Center on Jan. 18, in St. Louis, Mo., after canine units cleared the building following a bomb threat.

More than a dozen Jewish community centers received bomb threats Monday morning in the latest in a string of hoaxes and vandalism attacks targeting Jewish organizations across the United States. 

At least 19 community centers and day schools received threats on Monday, the national Jewish Community Centers Association told NBC. Most were reopened within a couple of hours, after police did a sweep of the facilities and determined the calls to have been hoaxes.

"The Jewish community is back in business," Paul Goldenberg, the director of the Secure Community Network, told the Associated Press.

Monday's threats are the fifth wave of bomb threats targeting Jewish institutions since January, and come on the heels of vandalization at two Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Some say there has been a clear rise in anti-Semitic incidents in recent months, while others argue it’s difficult to tell from the data available. Many analysts have argued that President Trump's ascension to the White House has empowered the extreme right in general, pointing to factors such as the appointment of now-chief strategist Steve Bannon, the former editor of Breitbart News.

When asked earlier this month about increased reports of anti-Jewish hate crimes, Mr. Trump told reporters it was "not a fair question" and said he was "the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your life."

Under increasing pressure to comment on anti-Semitic attacks, however, Trump called bomb threats "horrible" and "painful" last Tuesday, urging greater efforts to "root out hate and prejudice and evil." His daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner – a senior adviser to the president – and their three children are all Jewish.

Speaking after a tour of the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump said, "This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance, and hatred in all of its very ugly forms."

Statistics on hate-related incidents in the most recent few months are hard to come by, though there did appear to be a spike following Trump’s election. The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks such crimes, but the latest data are from 2015.

More apparent is the rise in the number of hate groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit that tracks hate groups and extremists, there were 917 such groups nationwide in 2016, up from 784 in 2014 but still shy of the all-time peak in 2011 of 1,018. The number of anti-Muslim hate groups nearly tripled between 2015 and 2016.

The SPLC attributes the increasing number of such groups, in part, "to a presidential campaign that flirted heavily with extremist ideas."

These groups "see Trump as someone giving them hope that the state will act on their interests," Carolyn Gallaher, a political geographer at American University in Washington and author of “On the Fault Line: Race, Class and the American Patriot Movement,” told The Christian Science Monitor this week. 

"It'll be interesting to see what happens to memberships in [far-right] groups: Will it only get bigger as they feel they now have a conduit to the White House? Or do people say, 'Now we can just do it on our own, say what we want to say, and enjoy protections for it'?" she added. "It will depend in large part on what the administration's posture is going forward."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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