By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
New Hampshire has a growing problem with anti-Semitism, one that experts fear could turn violent if not checked.
“Yes, we think that New Hampshire has an anti-Semitism problem,” said Dina Michael Chaitowitz, a member of the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire’s board.
FBI reports indicate that hate crimes directed at Jewish people are on the rise in New Hampshire, and the state is home to some notorious anti-Semitic individuals and groups. Chaitowitz said her organization is hearing more and more about anti-Semitism in schools.
“In addition to swastikas being painted in public settings and on school lockers and desks, and Neo-Nazi groups that spew hatred with apparent impunity, we have heard from a significant number of students in many different school districts of anti-Semitic behaviors. The rise in anti-Semitism in this state mirrors the national and global rise in anti-Semitism and a broader surge in intolerance, racism, and xenophobia,” she said.
Police in Hanover are currently looking for the suspects behind a December incident in which the electric candles on the Menorah put out near the Dartmouth College Common were shot out with BB gun.
In December, newly elected Republican state Representative and Laconia school board member Dawn Johnson created a firestorm when she shared an article from the hate-website Daily Stormer. Johnson has refused to resign from either of her elected positions despite the outcry.
This week, Deerfield Republican Rep. James Spillane shared an anti-Semitic meme on his Parler account. The image depicts obvious Jewish caricatures as bankers controlling the world. Online, he shared the image with his own caption, “Truth.”
Contacted Thursday, Spillane denied it was anti-Semitic.
“As far as I know none of those people are Jewish,” Spillane said before hanging up.
House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing of Hampton has asked the Republican leadership to join him in calling for Spillane to resign.
Parler is one of the sites used by the far-right to organize and execute the pro-Trump mob attack on the Capitol Wednesday, Cushing said.
Also on Wednesday, in New Hampshire, House Republicans voted to deny introduction of a bill that would have clarified that hate speech, bullying, and all other forms of harassment are not appropriate conduct for elected officials, Cushing said.
“Today it has come to light that another member of the House GOP has posted a disgusting and dangerous anti-Semitic photo online. This hateful behavior has no place in the New Hampshire House…,” Cushing said.
Last fall, Spillane was investigated by the Attorney General’s Office for a Facebook post that read “Public Service Announcement: If you see a BLM sign on a lawn, it’s the same as having a porch light on at Halloween. You are free to burn and loot that house.”
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald didn’t immediately respond to an email asking what the investigation found.
On Sept. 1, 2020, then-House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff called on Spillane to resign over his comments regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.
Robert Trestan, executive director of the New England Anti-Defamation League, said it is troubling when elected officials engage in this level of hate speech.
“It’s pretty appalling when someone in a leadership position is disseminating hate,” Trestan said.
Aside from betraying their duties to treat all of their constituents in a just and equitable manner, sharing these hate images fuel hate crimes, Trestan said.
Both Trestan and Chaitowitz worry that the rising levels of hate will spill out into violent acts.
“We know that is what fuels hate crimes, that is what fuels violence,” Trestan said.
In 2018, Robert Gregory Bowers killed 11 people and injured another six during a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Bowers reportedly got online inspiration for his shooting from New Hampshire’s Crying Nazi, Chris Cantwell. Cantwell is currently awaiting sentencing for making online threats against another white supremacist.
New Hampshire is also home to Proud Boy Leader Todd Clark, who has reportedly engaged in anti-Semitism online. The Proud Boys are a known hate group with members taking part in Wednesday’s violent mob at the U.S. Capitol.
Chaitowitz said the hate starts getting spread in schools throughout the state, and it needs dedicated action to overcome.
“We must join forces to fight against darkness,” she said.
Partners including Reverend Jason Wells of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, Bishop Peter Anthony Libasci and Attorney Robert Dunn of the Diocese of Manchester, and Peter McBride and Thomas White at Keene State College’s Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies are already in the fight against hate, she said.