Department of Justice Highlights Work Combating Anti-Semitic Acts
Today, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen presented remarks highlighting the Department of Justice’s work combating anti-Semitic acts at a virtual conference hosted by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo entitled “Ancient Hatred, Modern Medium”—the first ever government-sponsored event focused on online anti-Semitism. Deputy Attorney General Rosen described just a few of the Department of Justice’s many recent accomplishments in combating anti-Semitism, focusing on social media and the internet. His remarks as prepared for delivery are available here, and the full State Department conference may be viewed here.
Attorney General William Barr has emphasized that anti-Semitic acts, like other acts of violence motivated by hatred or bias, “violate the personal security of individuals, threaten the freedom of communities to pursue their faith and way of life, and disregard the common ties that bind our Nation together.” The Department is committed to combating anti-Jewish hatred on multiple fronts and in a multi-faceted approach, using both criminal and civil statutes. In this effort, federal law enforcement agencies work in conjunction with state law enforcement, local officials, and religious communities. In the last three years, the Department of Justice has worked to protect the rights of the Jewish community, and of all faith communities, through a variety of initiatives and engagements. In addition to those set out in today’s remarks at the State Department conference, those include the following:
Summit on Combating Anti-Semitism
On July 15, 2019, at its headquarters, the Department of Justice held a Summit on Combating Anti-Semitism. The Summit brought together 150 leading members of the Jewish community and featured speeches by Attorney General Barr, Deputy Attorney General Rosen, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Education Secretary Betsy Devos, Assistant Attorney General Beth Williams, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, and Special Envoy Elan Carr, as well as prosecutors, academics, and community activists. Speakers addressed the increase in anti-Semitic incidents on campuses, the balance between fighting anti-Semitic rhetoric while respecting First Amendment freedoms, and the Department’s record in prosecuting hate crimes against Jews.
Attorney General’s Meeting with Religious Leaders in Brooklyn, New York
Attorney General Barr traveled to Brooklyn, New York on January 28, 2020 to meet with the heads of local Jewish community councils in areas of Brooklyn suffering from a spike in hate crimes against Jews, as well as heads of major Jewish organizations in the city. The Attorney General personally heard stories of how the Jewish community was affected by the hate crimes and exchanged ideas on how the Department could assist the community in responding to the spike. At the meeting, the Attorney General announced that in recognition of an increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes across the country, the Department would prioritize investigating and federally prosecuting these crimes, even those that would typically be prosecuted at the local level.
Attorney General’s Memorandum on Combating Anti-Semitism
In conjunction with his Brooklyn visit, Attorney General Barr issued a directive to all United States Attorneys directing them to initiate or reinvigorate contacts with the Jewish community in their respective districts to reassure the Jewish community of the Department of Justice’s commitment to protecting Jewish citizens. The memo directed the United States Attorneys to establish a point of contact in each of their offices for the Jewish community to report hate crimes or other discrimination. During the spring of 2020, United States Attorneys across the country met with Jewish clergy, local non-profits, and branches of national Jewish organizations.
Prosecutions of Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes
Since January 2017, the Department has charged more than 80 defendants with anti-Semitic hate crimes and related conduct, and has obtained convictions of more than 65 defendants for the same.
The Department, through the diligent work of its Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country, has obtained convictions in a number of high-profile hate crime prosecutions affecting the Jewish community:
- U.S. v. James Fields—The United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia indicted James Fields for his August 12, 2017 deadly car attack at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which killed Heather Heyer and injured several other individuals. The defendant pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges and the Court sentenced him to 29 sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, along with restitution.
- U.S. v. Chadwick Grubbs—The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin charged the defendant with hate crimes for mailing letters to a Jewish community center threatening to attack the center with firearms and explosives. The defendant pleaded guilty to three federal hate crime charges and the Court sentenced him to 36 months’ imprisonment along with supervised release and fines.
- U.S. v. Nolan Brewer—The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana charged the defendant for conspiring to attack an Indiana synagogue. The defendant pleaded guilty and the Court sentenced him to 36 months’ imprisonment.
Active cases the Department is currently prosecuting include the following:
- U.S. v. Grafton Thomas—The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York indicted Grafton Thomas for hate crimes after his December 28, 2019 machete attack against a rabbi and five others celebrating Hanukkah at the rabbi’s home.
- U.S. v. Robert Bowers—The United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania indicted Robert Bowers for his October 27, 2018 armed massacre of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- U.S. v. John Earnest—The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California indicted John Earnest for his April 27, 2019 fatal shooting at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue and for his attempted arson of a California mosque.
- U.S. v. Tiffany Harris—The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York indicted Tiffany Harris for assaulting three Orthodox Jewish women during Hanukkah in December 2019 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
- U.S. v. Ethan Melzer—The Counterterrorism Section of the National Security Division, along with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, indicted U.S. Army soldier Ethan Melzer for providing sensitive classified information about his unit to members of a Neo-Nazi group (whose core tenets include Holocaust denial), and urging them to disseminate the information to terrorists so that they could attack his fellow service members in Turkey.
- Atomwaffen prosecutions—The United States Attorney’s Offices for the Western District of Washington, Middle District of Florida, Southern District of Texas, and District of Arizona, in coordination with the National Security Division, arrested multiple members of the white supremacist group Atomwaffen for making threats against African-American and Jewish journalists.
Supporting Religious Freedom including through the Place to Worship Initiative
On June 13, 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Place to Worship Initiative, which focuses on protecting the rights of religious individuals and communities to build, expand, buy, or rent houses of worship and other religious facilities as guaranteed by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Since launching the initiative in 2018, the Civil Rights Division doubled the number of RLUIPA investigations to 15, up from an average seven a year since 2010. Cases involving the Jewish community include:
- U.S. v. Borough of Woodcliff Lake—The Department filed a lawsuit alleging that the Borough of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey violated RLUIPA when its zoning board denied zoning approval for the Valley Chabad to build a new place of worship on its land. This case was resolved in a settlement announced September 15, 2020, which will allow the congregation to build its facility.
- U.S. v. Township of Jackson—The Department filed a lawsuit alleging that the Township of Jackson, New Jersey had taken various actions to stop yeshivas from locating in the Township.
Defending Constitutional Rights During the COVID-19 Pandemic
On April 27, 2020, Attorney General Barr directed the Department, including the Civil Rights Division and all United States Attorney’s Offices, to review state and local policies to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- On June 19, 2020, pursuant to this initiative, the Department sent a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio alerting him that the city’s response to COVID-19 must respect the First Amendment’s protection of religious exercise. The Department urged Mayor de Blasio to reconsider his posture toward religious gatherings in the Jewish community and expressed concern over reports that the city “sent police officers to break up numerous gatherings of the Jewish community in New York, including outdoor gatherings for funerals.”
- The Department continues to work to protect all communities of faith and will continue to take action when the constitutional rights of the Jewish community are infringed.
As Deputy Attorney General Rosen stated in his remarks at today’s conference, “the United States Department of Justice stands firmly and unequivocally against anti-Semitism. We will not hesitate to take action where anti-Semitic conduct rises to the level of a federal crime. That is as true online as it is offline. We have no tolerance for that behavior and will continue to prosecute such conduct as appropriate. Most importantly, we will continue to uphold the rule of law for all Americans.”