Last month, as stay-at-home orders across the country increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of police departments issued tongue-in-cheek pleas asking that, in the words of one, “all criminal activities and nefarious behavior… cease.”
That department, in Washington state, added, “We appreciate your cooperation in halting crime & thank the criminals in advance.” Salt Lake City police told criminals that the department would let them know when they could return to their “normal behavior.”
It was reported, in fact, that overall crime did dip noticeably over ensuing weeks following calls from authorities to stay indoors and practice social distancing.
In New York City, the area hardest hit by the outbreak, the number of serious felonies dropped 16.6% from March 16 to March 22 compared to the same period in 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal. Violent crimes fell significantly in Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities as well.
What hasn’t seemed to have fallen, though, unfortunately, is the rate of expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment.
Over recent weeks, anti-Semitic graffiti has been scrawled on the facades of a number of buildings and walls across the country: A Chabad Center in Brookline, Massachusetts; a private structure in nearby Bedford; a park wall in Ames, Iowa; a public school in Toronto; a shul in Los Angeles; and, most recently, a Jewish congregation and a Chabad Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
And last week, authorities charged a man with trying to blow up a Jewish assisted living home in Massachusetts.
According to federal prosecutors, John Michael Rathbun tried to ignite a five-gallon plastic gas canister outside the home, Ruth’s House, in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, on the morning of April 2.
They said that Mr. Rathbun’s DNA matched bloodstains that were found on the handle of the canister and on a charred Christian religious pamphlet that had been stuffed in the nozzle as a fuse.
The 64-unit Ruth’s House facility, which operates under Jewish auspices and serves kosher food, had been among places a white supremacist website suggested would make good targets for anyone interested in giving vent to his hatred of Jews.
The assisted living home is located in a section of Longmeadow that includes several Jewish institutions.
State Senator Eric P. Lesser said that the planned attack “really targeted this small but tight-knit Jewish community. People are on edge and people are concerned.”
While the alleged would-be bomber has not yet been proven to have been motivated by, or to have posted on, a white supremacist website, one such internet presence included a user’s discussion of a possible mass killing at “that jew nursing home in longmeadow Massachusetts,” and another created a calendar listing April 3 as “jew killing day.”
None of us need to be reminded of the many acts of anti-Semitic violence that the country has witnessed over the past year —the attacks on Jewish houses of worship in Poway, California, last April and in Pittsburgh in 2018. And the killings at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, N.J., and the knife attack at a Rav’s home in Monsey, N.Y.
Federal agents said they discovered gas cans at Rathbun’s home and cuts on his hands. They also found that the suspect’s narcotics clinic is on the same street as Ruth’s House.
When investigators accosted Rathbun, they said, he at first denied the allegations. When told about the DNA evidence, though, they noted, his “demeanor visibly changed, and a short while later, he stated that he did not know what he was going to do and that he wanted to cry.” Over having gotten caught, it can be safely assumed.
Disturbingly, Mr. Rathbun, who hasn’t yet entered a plea, was released by federal magistrate judge Katherine A. Robertson, over the objections of prosecutors, to his home in East Longmeadow. The accused told a reporter who called him that “I have nothing to say.” Neither did his public defender, Timothy Watkins, have any comment.
In a statement of the obvious, Joseph R. Bonavolonta, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Boston division, said that the case “highlights the very real threat posed by racially motivated violent extremists.”
It also highlights something that all of us know but always bears recalling and reflection: Even when contemporary events unconnected to Jews or Judaism are challenging society and should be occupying the minds of all citizens, a subset of them, obsessed with hatred for others — and, in particular, Jews — are undeterred by what should be great concern for their and their neighbors’ health and wellbeing, and seek to express their inner evil by plotting against the targets of their animus.