In May 2022, a deeply disturbed teenager attired in military garb walked into a Buffalo, NY supermarket and used a rifle to brutally murder ten Black people. Witnesses described the shooter’s demeanor as “robotic.”
Tops grocery store
A couple of days ago, that assailant pleaded guilty to multiple charges and is awaiting sentencing, which will likely be life in prison without parole. The shootings were unquestionably racially motivated. The 19-year-old had previously posted a white supremacist manifesto on social media. An after-the-fact criminal investigation revealed he was acting in response to numerous white supremacist screeds and fringe racist conspiracy websites he visited frequently prior to the attack.
By August, NY Governor Kathy Hochul responded with an Executive Order designed to fight, “The troubling surge in domestic terrorism and violent extremism frequently inspired by, planned on and posted about on social media platforms and internet forums.” Every county in New York is now mandated to develop and maintain a plan to identify and confront threats of domestic terrorism, which includes racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism.
I was invited to participate in the premiere Ulster County Task Force for Preventing and Responding to Domestic Terrorism by the Ulster County Executive’s Office, to represent the interests of the Jewish community. At the time of the announcement, I was quoted in the media saying, “One need look no further than FBI statistics, which reveal Jews were targeted in 55% of all religious bias crimes last year, to see the pressing need for this task force.
“The Federation applauds Governor Hochul for rising to the occasion on this issue by mandating the creation of this committee. I am proud to serve on the task force on behalf of the Federation for the benefit of our constituents and all Ulster residents,” I added.
In truth, as much or more than any other interest group represented on the Task Force, the Jewish community is as much a beneficiary as a participant. I’ve unabashedly expressed that to my teammates.
It’s bittersweet to participate in a working group such as this. On the one hand, it’s gratifying local government recognizes the Jewish community is a primary stakeholder in combatting white supremacist activity, which sadly has seen expression in our community of late. On the other hand, there are no adequate words to express my dismay that this is the world we live in now.
Recently, a racist group styling itself as White Lives Matter (WLM) has used illegal means to locally disseminate otherwise Constitutionally protected hate speech. WLM was placing pamphlets directly in residential mailboxes without posting them. It’s illegal under federal law, and we want it actively investigated and aggressively prosecuted.
We’ve assertively attempted to follow-up with federal law enforcement regarding this matter, with largely unsatisfactory results. I received no answer at all from the Postal Inspectors (agents of the Office of the Inspector General assigned to specific duty on the US Postal Service.) I eventually spoke with an FBI agent in Albany – the closest field office – who said, “I hear you, sir, I just don’t know who to refer you to.” I eventually wrote to the Special Agent in Charge (SAIC).
As yet, I have received no acknowledgement of receipt or follow up. But yesterday, at a Domestic Terrorism Task Force meeting, I learned that Sheriff Juan Figueroa has been negotiating with the FBI for an agent assigned to Ulster County as a satellite office of the Albany Field Office. There is already an office set aside in the Justice Center, in hopes the FBI acquiesces to Ulster’s request.
Official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
I instantly alerted the president of the Federation, Rondavid Gold, and signaled my interest to the Sheriff’s office that the Federation is all in on bringing whatever political influence it can to bear on making this happen, as soon as possible.
The time has long since passed for this to come to fruition. Ulster County is the second fastest growing county in NY State. Antisemitism in the Country and the State, and especially in nearby NY City, has reached epidemic proportions. As the main point of contact for the Federation’s 24/7/365 Antisemitism Hotline, I can attest we do get calls, and that many of those calls are material in nature. As a Human Rights Commissioner, I can further attest there are other forms of bias present in our community, too. And, as noted, the Governor has committed to forging a plan to combat domestic terrorism.
For the Federal government to expand its operational footprint to Ulster County at the present time is simply a “no-brainer.” In fact, there used to be an Ulster field office, but no longer (it remains listed online; call the number and the phone is out of service). If it made sense having a field office when Ulster was still a sleepy backwater, doesn’t it make more sense now when Ulster is the nexus of resurgent growth in the mid-Hudson Valley?
Soon, we plan to announce a coordinated lobbying campaign to pursue this initiative. We plan to facilitate letter writing campaigns and online petitions. We’ll reach out to Congressmen, Senators, and local leaders for support. We’ll alert the media.
The safety of the entire Ulster community will benefit, not just the Jewish citizenry. Since Jews are the so frequently the target of hate crime in America, it would be irresponsible not to seize this opportunity.
Now, as always, the security of Ulster’s Jewish residents rises to the top of the Federation’s priority list, whenever necessary.