Crime

Thanks, Donald Trump: Anti-Semitic Incidents in Colorado Double

The profile pic on William Scott Planer's alternative Facebook page, created under the name Wilhelm Van Panzer.
The profile pic on William Scott Planer's alternative Facebook page, created under the name Wilhelm Van Panzer. Facebook
According to an analysis by the Anti-Defamation League, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Colorado doubled during the first nine months of 2017 as compared to the same period last year. And while an ADL representative doesn't directly blame President Donald Trump for mainstreaming such behavior, he makes it clear the Commander-in-Chief isn't helping the situation.

"When President Trump talks about the rally in Charlottesville and says there are good people on both sides, it doesn't send the direct and clear message we would want, that this type of bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism is just not acceptable," notes Scott Levin, the ADL's regional director.

The numbers are disturbing. From January 1 to September 30, 2016, the ADL counted 23 anti-Semitic occurrences in the state. Within that frame this year, there have been 46, or a 100 percent increase. And that's not to mention incidents targeting other groups, including refugees, immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans and members of the LGBTQ community. ADL stats show 24 instances of harassment and threats in Colorado, 21 cases of vandalism, and one physical assault against a Jewish individual.

click to enlarge A swastika was scratched into the front door of a Jewish couple in Lafayette this past September. - DENVER7
A swastika was scratched into the front door of a Jewish couple in Lafayette this past September.
These increases haven't happened in a vacuum. "Unfortunately, we've experienced a pretty dramatic rise in anti-Semitism over the last few years," Levin acknowledges. "In 2014, we monitored ten incidents. In 2015, there were eighteen. Last year, there were 45, and it looks like we're well on our way to having seventy incidents just in Colorado this year."

The activities of William Scott Planer, which we've covered in this space, offer an example. In July, the Capitol Hill white supremacist was arrested for putting an anti-Semitic sticker on the door of Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center in Colorado Springs — and after his arrest, authorities discovered that he'd been accused of assault with a deadly weapon in regard to a 2016 clash in California.

In August, we reported about hateful vandalism at a second synagogue in the Springs, Temple Beit Torah. More recently, a swastika was carved into the door of a Jewish couple living in Lafayette, swastikas appeared in three Durango subdivisions, and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights confirmed anti-Semitic activity at West Jefferson Middle School in Conifer.

Vandalism on the sign of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs circa August. - CBS4 FILE PHOTO
Vandalism on the sign of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs circa August.
CBS4 file photo
This last issue is one Levin's noticed elsewhere. "We've seen a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic language that's happening in schools. I don't know if it's a rise in anti-Semitism or if it's students picking the meanest thing they can say to someone. But unfortunately, some of these anti-Semitic stereotypes are easily passed to school kids, who are using them against fellow students, teachers and the like."

Other scenarios tracked by the ADL "can be everything from a hate crime, where there's actually some form of direct harassment or violence against someone or vandalism of a property, to being a non-criminal-type event where someone uses fairly dramatic hate speech based on anti-Semitic tropes." Levin adds, "I've seen more swastikas this year than I've ever noticed before, and I've been the director of this region for seven years."

What's changed? Levin has a theory.

click to enlarge Earlier this month, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights confirmed anti-Semitic activity at West Jefferson Middle School in Conifer. - CBS4
Earlier this month, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights confirmed anti-Semitic activity at West Jefferson Middle School in Conifer.
"From our perspective, the general discourse that's going on out there in the country has lowered the common levels of decency and respect," he maintains. "I think it has become all too easy to pick on a person's religion or race or whether they're documented, or perceived to be documented, in this country. All of these things have lowered the level of discourse, and unfortunately, the modeling that's going on nationally trickles down."

Levin understands "that anti-Semitism has been around for a very long time. But it's a bit of a bellwether, because things like this are not just happening with Jewish people. These incidents are also happening to people with other religions — Muslims, in particular — and people of color in general. And empowering people to express themselves in the worst way starts at the top. We really need our leaders, starting with the President of the United States, to speak out about this."

Presumably, Levin isn't holding his breath.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts