Wake-up call in Kansas: Anti-Semitism is alive and dangerous in America

Apr 17, 2014

Inside the First Amendment — April 17, 2014

Wake-up call in Kansas: Anti-Semitism is alive and dangerous in America
By Charles C. Haynes

     “I hate all Jews” was Frazier Glenn Miller’s mantra, repeated time and again by the well-known white supremacist at rallies, in publications and on the Internet over a period of many years.

     This week, on the eve of Passover, Miller translated his words of hate into violent action by opening fire on a Jewish community center and Jewish retirement home in Overland Park, Kansas.

     Although Jews were Miller’s apparent targets, his bullets killed three Christians — including Reat Underwood, a 14 year-old boy who was at the community center to audition for a singing competition.

     It might be tempting, even consoling, to treat Miller’s hate crime as an isolated case of a deranged man losing control. But that would be a mistake for at least two reasons.

     First, Miller is not alone. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors hate groups, Miller is just one of thousands of people who belong to more than 1,000 anti-Semitic, white supremacist, neo-Nazi hate groups in the United States. Many of these people are armed and dangerous. We ignore or underestimate them at our peril.

     Second, anti-Semitism is a bigger problem in America than is commonly acknowledged. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 62% of 1,340 religiously motivated hate crimes recorded in 2012 were directed at Jews.

     Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League reported that although the total number of anti-Semitic incidents fell by 19% in 2013, the number of violent attacks on Jews rose to 31 from 17 in the previous year.

     Beyond the hardcore “white power” and neo-Nazi adherents, Americans are generally less anti-Semitic than we were some 50 years ago when the ADL began surveying attitudes toward Jews. Nevertheless, deep-seated anti-Semitic beliefs persist.

     An ADL survey released last October found that 14% of Americans believe that “Jews have too much power in the U.S. today,” 15% agree with the statement “Jews are more willing to use shady practices,” and 18% say that Jews have “too much influence over the American news media.”

     History teaches that ignorance and fear are root causes of hate and violence. That’s why the best way to counter the growth of hate groups is to educate young people about Judaism — and other religions — and give them the civic skills needed for engaging people of different faiths and beliefs with civility and respect.

     If your local school district largely ignores issues concerning religion (and far too many do), here are three sound resources for teaching civil discourse in a diverse society while simultaneously educating students about a range of religions and beliefs:

  • The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Tolerance” program provides a wealth of resources for k-12 educators, including classroom lessons, professional development opportunities and publications on key issues of religious diversity in our society. www.tolerance.org
  • Tanenbaum has in-depth materials and workshop offerings for schools interested in addressing religious diversity and teaching conflict resolution. www.tanenbaum.org
  • Face to Faith is a program offered free to schools that enables American students to engage directly with students of many faiths and beliefs in more than 20 countries through videoconferencing and secure online community. www.tonyblairfaithfoundation.org

     Little can be said or done that will assuage the grief of those who lost family members and friends in the Kansas shooting. But we can act to inoculate the next generation against the sick and twisted ideology that inspired Frazier Glenn Miller to gun down three innocent people in a fit of rage against the Jews.

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20001. Web: religiousfreedomeducation.org Email: chaynes@newseum.org.