Violence based on religious bias was widely reported in 2007—2008, with attacks on people of diverse confessions, on homes and property, and on places of worship, including Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon churches, mosques and prayer rooms of Islamic community centers, and synagogues.
In many cases, religious bias combined with racism and xenophobia. Jews victimized by antisemitism were targeted for both their religion and their identity as a people. Muslims were sometimes victimized because of both their religion and their ethnicity—with some anti-Muslim attacks targeting non-Muslims due to misperceptions. Churches with majority black congregations were attacked because of racist antipathy toward the attendees. Catholic churches were sometimes attacked for providing support to Hispanic immigrants.
In the report on 2006, the Federal Bureau of Investigation registered 1,462 “religious bias” incidents, a 19 percent rise from 2005. These incidents constituted 1,597 offenses, and resulted in 1,750 victims—a 25 percent rise over the 1,404 victims in 2005. Religious bias data is broken down further into “anti-Christian,” “anti-Jewish,” and “anti-Muslim” and categories, with the FBI recording increases in antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents.
Antisemitic crimes in 2007 and 2008 included assaults on individuals and attacks on synagogues, schools, and Jewish community centers, and on the homes and automobiles of Jewish families. There were a number of particularly serious assaults on community leaders.
The FBI’s 2006 hate crime data identified 967 incidents of “anti-Jewish” bias (up from 845 in 2005), and 1,027 offenses (up from 900). There were 1,144 reported victims, in contrast to 977 in 2005). Of the 324 crimes against persons (31 percent of the total offenses), there were 22 cases of aggravated assault, 58 of simple intimidation, and 244 of intimidation. There were 703 crimes against property, of which 672 were classed as destruction/damage/vandalism,” and 8 arson.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported a decline in antisemitic incidents for the third consecutive year in 2007. The ADL registered 1,460 incidents for the year, a decline of 6 percent from the 1,554 in 2006, and down from a peak of 1,821 in 2004. There were 699 incidents of vandalism (which included cemetery desecration, graffiti, and other forms of property damage), and 761 of harassment (which in the ADL typology includes “physical or verbal assaults directed at individuals or institutions”). The ADL’s annual report also cited high levels of antisemitic harassment and vandalism at U.S. schools and universities.
In a disturbing number of cases, Jews were victims of antisemitic violence and intimidation at their homes, in the streets, and at community centers. Attacks on people who were “visibly Jewish,” in particular Jews wearing distinctive or religiously prescribed dress, were reported in many parts of the country.
- On February 15, 2007, Nobel Peace Prize winner Eli Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and human rights activist, was physically assaulted at his hotel in San Francisco, California. In July 2008, court found 24-year-old Ethan Hunt, a reportedly self-proclaimed holocaust denier, guilty of a felony charge of false imprisonment as a hate crime and of misdemeanor counts of battery and elder abuse. Hunt was sentenced to two years imprisonment.
- In Los Angeles, California, on August 23, 2007, two Orthodox Jewish Yeshiva students were reportedly harangued with antisemitic remarks and shot with a pellet gun. One student was hit in the neck, and the other in a shoulder, but neither suffered a serious injury. No arrests were made, but public authorities denounced the attack as a hate crime. Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss called the attack “an absolute outrage” and made a promise to find the attackers. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had likewise condemned the crime.
- On October 9, 2007, Orthodox Rabbi Mordechai Moskowitz was beaten with an aluminum baseball bat in Lakewood, New Jersey. The 53-year-old victim was hospitalized with head injuries in critical condition; the alleged perpetrator, a man with a history of mental illness, was detained.
- On December 11, 2007, four college students returning home from a Hannukah celebration were verbally abused, spat upon, and physically assaulted on a New York City subway train. Twenty-year-old Hassan Askari, a Muslim of Bangladeshi origin, intervened to protect them. Askari was then himself attacked. Police responded and arrested eight men and two women, aged 19 to 20, who were arraigned on charges of assault, menacing, harassment, and inciting a riot. Police were investigating whether the incident should be considered a hate crime.
As in past years, synagogues were a frequent target of attacks in 2007-2008, with vandalism and hateful graffiti targeting specific congregations and threatening the broader Jewish community. Cemeteries were also a major target of antisemitic vandalism.
In the year 2007, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found the swastika present “in hundreds of attacks against buildings, synagogues, cemeteries and private homes.” In one case profiled by the ADL, in Brooklyn, New York City, a single vandal was alleged in September 2007 to having spray-painted swastikas and antisemitic slogans “in at least 23 different locations in Brooklyn Heights, including on two synagogues, an apartment building, several homes and cars.” The alleged perpetrator, Ivaylo Ivanov, was arrested in January 2008 and charged with hate crimes in connection with the incidents.
- In San Francisco, California, a swastika was found painted on the synagogue of Congregation Emanu-El on April 2, 2007.
- In August 2007, a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida, was defaced with a swastika.”
- On May 13, 2007 vandals in Chicago, Illinois, damaged tombstones at the Rosemont Park Jewish Cemetery and marked a swastika on a tomb at the entrance to the cemetery.
- On September 5, 2007, more than two dozen grave markers were toppled at Jewish cemeteries in Springfield, Massachusetts.
- In July 2007, vandals attacked a synagogue on three occasions over several weeks, breaking 17 windows, in the Bronx, New York City.
- In April 2007, in Eugene, Oregon, intruders entered an Orthodox synagogue and damaged prayer books and two Torah scrolls. Four men were subsequently arrested and indicted for burglary; police said there was insufficient evidence to charge them with a hate crime.
- In November 2007, grave markers in a Jewish cemetery were defaced with swastikas and profanity in Collingdale, Pennsylvania.
- In June 2007 in Victoria, Texas, antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas, Nazi, and profane messages, was spray-painted on the front the historic Temple B’Nai Israel.
The Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit for 2007 identified 197 antisemitic acts that were reported at K-12 schools nationwide; “these incidents took the form of swastikas and hate graffiti painted or written on desks, walls and other school property, name-calling, slurs, mockery, bullying and assaults, with some directed at teachers, as well as at Jewish students.”
Antisemitism was also present on college and university campuses. The ADL reported 81 antisemitic incidents on college or university campuses in 2007, down from 88 in 2006. Incidents ranged from graffiti on the dormitory room doors of Jewish students and on Jewish fraternity houses to swastikas scratched into automobiles.
- On January 3, 2008, and again on January 6, vandals targeted the Wheaton Woods Elementary School and surrounding areas in Montgomery County, Maryland, by spray-painting racist and antisemitic epithets around school property. Police said they were investigating the acts of vandalism as hate crimes.
- In June, 2007, vandals in Worcester, Massachusetts, smashed eight windows at the New Jewish Academy and painted a nearby public school with antisemitic graffiti. The Jewish school had been spray-painted repeatedly with antisemitic graffiti over the previous two weeks.
- In Minnesota, antisemitic graffiti and threatening drawings appeared on the campus of the St. Cloud State University in December, 2007. Swastikas were carved into doors of a multicultural center, and drawings of burning crosses and Ku Klux Klan hoods were found in the Student Center. Police were investigating the incidents.
Hate crime attacks on Muslims and Muslim institutions, including mosques and community centers, continued to be reported in 2007 and 2008. The prejudices underlying anti-Muslim violence are often a combination of racism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance. But the true numbers of incidents involving anti-Muslim religious bias are difficult to assess, not least because national and local monitoring systems that register bias attacks on individual Muslims tend to classify such attacks as founded primarily on racist or ethnicity/national origin bias. Most official monitoring systems make no practical provision for logging an incident as involving both racist and antireligious bias, and accordingly register each case as one or the other. Classification of crimes as anti-Muslim bias cases is generally reserved for that minority of cases involving Muslims who were targeted for wearing traditional dress or while attending a mosque, who were subjected to expressly anti-Muslim epithets, and others in which a religious bias was both explicit and unambiguous.
In a number of serious crimes committed in 2007 and the first half of 2008, the expressly antireligious/anti-Muslim dimension of attacks was shown in the selection of targets, notably in attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, and in the epithets used by the attackers.
The FBI’s 2006 data on hate crimes included a category of “anti-Islamic” crimes, registering 156 incidents (up 22 percent from the 128 in 2005) and 191 offenses, with 208 victims (up 38 percent from 151 in 2005).
The FBI monitoring system does not identify specific Middle Eastern, South Asian, or East Asian minorities in statistical breakdowns of victims of attacks motivated by anti-Muslim bias. Consequently, official statistics do not reflect either the true extent of anti-Muslim bias in hate crimes, or the levels of victimization of particular population groups that are predominantly Muslim.
Assaults on non-Muslims, notably members of the Sikh community, are commonly accompanied by anti-Muslim and anti-Arab epithets, and can accordingly be logged as anti-Islamic/anti-Muslim attacks. In other cases, attacks on Muslims of South Asian origin may be classified as anti-immigrant incidents. As bias attacks on Arabs, South Asians, Sikhs, and other important demographic groups in the United States are not expressly reflected in disaggregated statistics in the hate crime statistics, such incidents are often categorized as “other ethnic/national origin” bias crimes.
Two nongovernmental organizations in the United States undertake regular monitoring and advocacy on behalf of victims of racial and religious violence and harassment from the Arab-American and Muslim communities.
In a 2008 report, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) looked at hate crimes and discrimination targeting Arab-Americans from 2003 to 2007, following up on a previous report on the “backlash” violence that came in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The ADC found that although hate crimes had diminished from the extraordinary levels reported immediately after the terror attacks, but “serious incidents are occurring at . . . a greater frequency than during the late 1990’s and 2000.” According to the ADC, high levels of violence and intimidation are found to occur in the context of growing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim discourse in American “popular and political culture.”
- On September 11, 2007, tires were slashed on two vehicles belonging to the family of Samira Hussein, a school family services worker in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Hussein, who runs cultural sensitivity training programs for new public school teachers, is well-known as a speaker on the stereotyping of Arab and Muslim Americans. Ongoing attacks on the family reportedly date back to the 1990’s.
- On June 20, 2008, a group of men mocked and taunted a local Muslim businessman and his son at a gas station in Cleveland, Ohio, after hearing the victims say a prayer in Arabic. One of the assailants shot Fazliddin Yakubov three times in the abdomen; the incident was captured by a surveillance camera. Local police sought the assistance of the FBI, which was investigating the attack as a hate crime, and an arrest was made on July 3. Police subsequently reported that a man had been charged for the attack.
In a number of cases in 2007 and 2008, Islamic centers and mosques were the target of violent hate crimes:
- In October 2007, in Bakersfield, California, windows were broken, cars smashed, and two worshippers received minor injuries when two drunken men entered the Islamic Center of San Joaquin Valley and disrupted a Ramadan prayer service. The FBI was assisting local authorities in an investigation of the attack as a hate crime.
- On August 12, 2007, arsonists in Antioch, California, set fire to the Islamic Center of the East Bay, largely destroying the center’s mosque. It was reported that the front windows of the mosque had been destroyed three times during the year and that the incidents had come in the context of repeated threatening phone calls.
- On April 12, 2007, the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, Florida, was set alight, destroying much of the interior. The ten-year-old mosque and community center had previously been vandalized, and FBI investigators were assisting local police and fire safety officers in the investigation.
- On the night of February 9, 2008, a group of men attacked the Islamic Center Mosque in Columbia, Tennessee, spray-painting three swastikas and the slogans “White Power” and “We run the world” on the walls, and then setting the building alight. The attackers threw a brick through a window and hurled two Molotov cocktails into the interior; the fire had completely destroyed the structure. Three men were detained in relation to the attack the same night, according to federal officials. In March 2008, Federal prosecutors brought charges under federal civil rights statutes and legislation specific to attacks on places of worship. On March 26, a federal grand jury indicted three men with “conspiracy to violate civil rights, destroying a house of worship, possession of a destructive device, use of fire to destroy a building and use of fire to commit a felony.” Federal officials said the accused had planned for a week to burn down the Islamic Center.
Muslim-owned businesses were also attacked:
- On March 26, 2008, in Lenexa, Kansas, two men attacked a Muslim-owned Conoco gas station and a nearby convenience store with Molotov cocktails. In the initial attack, a man went into the gas station store and asked the clerk “if he was a Muslim.” The man proceeded to verbally harass the clerk and to throw a brick and a Molotov cocktail through the window. Police said the bomb “fizzled” before landing inside the store and that no fire damage resulted. A second attack on a nearby convenience store occurred as police investigated the incident. A suspect was detained and charged with “attempted aggravated arson and felony criminal damage” in relation to both incidents.
- In January 2008, three men entered the Blaine Dairy, a convenience store in Blaine, Minnesota, and threw a flaming Molotov cocktail at the Egyptian-born owner. The owner ducked behind shelves and suffered minor burns to his left hand, cuts, and bruises, fleeing through smoke and flames only after he was sure the attackers had left. The building was heavily damaged. In March, the FBI said it was investigating whether the attack was a hate crime, making no further comment.
The FBI’s 2006 data on hate crimes against Christian denominations were broken into anti-Catholic bias (76 incidents, 81 offenses, and 86 victims) and anti-Protestant bias (59 incidents, 52 offenses, and 65 victims), together accounting for 8.6 percent of victims.
Hate crimes targeting Christian denominations, generally involving vandalism and threatening graffiti, targeted Protestant, Catholic, and other churches. Vandals desecrated and destroyed religious statues in Catholic churches, while causing severe damage to the interiors of churches of several denominations. There were also numerous incidents of arson targeting places of worship, often accompanied by antireligious and racist graffiti. In a number of cases, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) suffered personal assaults motivated by bias against their religious beliefs and practice. Attacks on churches were also reported in which racism and anti-immigrant bias and xenophobia combined, including attacks on traditionally black churches and churches attended by Americans and immigrants of Hispanic origin.
A number of attacks were reported on individuals. Members of minority religions were also subjected to physical assaults.
- In Phoenix, Arizona in May, 2008, two teenagers attacked two Mormon youths with a pellet gun while shouting anti-Mormon epithets. Two teens, aged 15 and 16, were charged “with suspicion of aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and underage drinking.”
- On July 27, 2008, in Knoxville, Tennessee, a man armed with a semi-automatic shotgun entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and opened fire on members of the congregation. The gunmen killed one person and seriously injured five others, one of whom subsequently died in the hospital. Two others received minor injuries. The attack was being investigated as a hate crime, with the assistance of the FBI: police said a letter from the attacker, who was detained at the scene, showed that the attack targeted the church’s “liberal views.”
The Church Arson Prevention Act makes it a federal crime to commit attacks on religious property or to obstruct persons in the exercise of their religious beliefs. The law extends to racially motivated church burnings and bombings as well as acts of desecration motivated by religious animus.
Attacks on churches involving vandalism and destruction of property occurred across the United States. In some of the most serious incidents in 2007 and 2008, churches were vandalized and then severely damaged or destroyed by fire.
- In January 2008, two young men reportedly attacked four local churches in and around Phoenix City, Alabama. Over the course of four dats, the vandals set alight the Greater Peace and Goodwill Church in Crawford, the Concord Baptist Church in Salem, Greater Bethelpore Baptist Church Smiths Station, and the Woodland Baptist Church in Phoenix City. A federal, state, and local multiagency task force announced the arrests of two 21-year-olds. In June 2008 Geoffrey Tyler Parquette pleaded guilty to “arson, burglary and criminal mischief” and was awaiting sentencing; a second defendant awaited trial for arson.
- In early 2008, two churches were damaged with firebomb attacks in the San Fernando Valley area of California. On March 6, a Molotov cocktail caused limited damage to the Arleta Assembly of God Church. On April 20, a Molotov cocktail reportedly caused damage to the roof of the Church of the Nazarene in Panorama City.
- On September 30, 2007, vandals in Miami, Florida, broke into a church with a large congregation of Haitian immigrants, sprayed racial slurs on the building, and set it alight. Police said they were investigating the arson as a hate crime.
- In Portland, Oregon, in May 2007, vandals painted obscenities and ethnic slurs on cars, street signs, and the front door of a Mennonite church. Four young men were arrested and charged with “first-degree criminal mischief.”
- In Fulton Township, Pennsylvania, on January 29, 2008, vandals desecrated the Wakefield Bible Church, painting satanic and antireligious slogans and symbols on the walls, tearing up bibles, defacing religious paintings, and setting fire to a hymnal. A state policeman said “the vandalism falls into the categories of hate crimes and desecration of venerated objects, increasing the seriousness of the crime.” A 17-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl were subsequently charged with institutional vandalism, ethnic intimidation and burglary.
- In August 2008, unknown vandals defaced the entrance to the historic First Baptist Church of Chesterbrook, Virginia, with a racial epithet directed at its African-American congregation. Fairfax police reported the action and said it was investigating this and similar graffiti, possibly by the same person, on a nearby elementary school.
- In West Jordan, Utah, three arson attempts were reported on two churches in May and June 2008, targeting the St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church and a Latter-day Saints church.