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The California synagogue shooting points to a disturbing trend — the rise of anti-religious crimes

Posted: 10:03 AM, Apr 30, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-30 12:04:21-04
The California synagogue shooting points to a disturbing trend — the rise of anti-religious crimes

Five minutes before the shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California, the FBI received a tip on a threatening social media post. But by that point, it was too late to identify the subject.

John Earnest, 19, is accused of one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder after the shooting in Poway, California, left one person dead and three others wounded Saturday.

Police are now looking into what might be Earnest's anti-Semitic manifesto, found on the website 8chan. While the FBI has not confirmed the manifesto belongs to Earnest, it was posted to the anonymous message board by someone identifying themselves as John Earnest 73 minutes before the shooting occurred.

Authorities are also investigating whether he was involved in a nearby mosque arson.

According to Scott Levin with the Anti-Defamation League, anti-religious crimes like Earnest's have been on the rise.

"Anti-religious crimes in and of themselves have been very high," said Levin, who serves as the director for ADL’s Mountain States Regional Office. "And that's been both against the Jewish people as well as Muslim people."

Levin says there was a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. from 2016 to 2017.

The shooting in Poway is the latest in a series of deadly attacks targeting places of worship. Hundreds were killed in a series of coordinated attacks on Christian churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Weeks earlier, dozens were killed in an attack on two mosques in New Zealand. And in October of last year, 11 people were killed in the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

"What I'm afraid has happened is is that those that hold the most extreme views are feeling emboldened when they hear language that appeals to them in their perverse way," Levin said.

Levin points to a change in political tone, and says there's been a rise in murders committed by white supremacists.

According to the most recent annual report by the Anti-Defamation League, 39 of the 50 extremist-related murders tallied by the group in 2018 were committed by white supremacists. This is an increase from 2017, when white supremacists were responsible for 18 of 34 such crimes.

"So while it's important that we look at extremists of all kinds, and there's no way we should ever stop doing that," Levin said, "we do need to make sure that we are focusing on where the greatest danger is coming from."