State College Community Leaders Condemn Antisemitic Messages Left Outside Borough Homes
Residents of at least one State College neighborhood, including a Jewish candidate for borough council, awoke on Sunday morning to find antisemitic messages outside their homes.
Evan Myers, a former council member who is running for a new term in November, said he found the messages in plastic bags at the end of his driveway and on the sidewalk in front of his house. At least a dozen more were found by neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, Myers said.
“My reaction was obviously that someone was trying to intimidate people,” Myers told StateCollege.com on Monday. “The messages were just vile. That’s the best way I can describe them: vile and disgusting.”
State College police are investigating. Similar messages were found downtown and on the Penn State campus on September 11 and were reported to borough and university police, State College Police Chief John Gardner said at Monday night’s borough council meeting.
“This has no place in our community here,” Gardner said. “We’re going to do everything we can to identify the individual or individuals responsible and we will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. What I would just say to the public is that the police are here for you. If you get a flyer or feel threatened, call right away. I don’t care what time of the day or night it is. We have to bring this to the forefront. We’re going to step up our efforts to identify who’s behind this, because we had this several weeks back. They were on campus and they were throughout the downtown as well.”
The flyers distributed on Sunday, which were viewed by StateCollege.com, were inside of plastic bags along with rice, which Myers said appeared to be used to weigh the bags down so they could be tossed from moving vehicles without making much noise.
A similar tactic has been used for years by hate groups, most recently in August in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, where plastic bags with antisemitic flyers and rice were left at dozens of homes. Police there believe a neo-Nazi extremist group that the Anti-Defamation League calls “a loose network of individuals connected by their virulent antisemitism” was responsible.
The group, according to the ADL, “espouses vitriolic antisemitism and white supremacist themes” and “engages in antisemitic stunts and schemes to troll or otherwise harass Jews.”
Sunday’s incident in State College drew widespread condemnation from local community members and leaders. Myers said he and the Jewish community have “received messages of support from all over Centre County.”
“Antisemitism itself obviously has a horrific history, but I don’t view it as being in this alone,” he said.
State College Mayor Ezra Nanes, the borough’s first Jewish mayor, addressed the incident at the start of Monday’s council meeting.
“An attack on a Jew is an attack on all of us, an attack on any person based on their identity, whether it be ethnic, religious, nationality, gender, racial, ability…,” Nanes said. “We are a community founded on inclusion and welcoming and empowering all people. I want to condemn these acts, and I want to encourage all people to express their needs and feelings and not make it about other people’s identities but what we need as a community.”
Council President Jesse Barlow said he felt “heartbreak” for the targets of the message and “an outrage that is impossible to overstate,” adding that State College is a diverse community.
“The kind of hatred expressed by this literature strikes at the heart of our community and in everything that we want to be,” Barlow said. “I have seen this before in other places I have lived, including when I lived in Chicago and when I lived in New York City. This kind of hate has no place in State College, no place in our society. It has no place in the United States of America. Let us join together to deny this kind of hatred a future.”
Fellow council members echoed Barlow’s sentiments.
“What concerns me the most about events like these is that it doesn’t take a lot to normalize fringe elements of our society,” council member Gopal Balachandran said. “As a community, we bear a responsibility to make sure that things like this do not happen and that all members of our community are welcomed. …Antisemitism is always the tip of the spear [of] hate, and then it’s followed with all kinds of phobias and racisms.”
Council member Peter Marshall noted that one reason Hitler rose to power was because “people did not speak up in the beginning, did not do anything.”
“We’re doing it and we should not ever, ever accept that kind of behavior,” he said. “It’s not humane.”
Community members also need to speak up about less prominent incidents of hate and bias when they happen, council member Nalini Krishnankutty said.
“There are a million cuts that a lot of people here go through,” Krishnankutty said. “…I think we’re all in spaces where we witness these. It’s up to us to speak up against it in every case. The seeds are sown and when we don’t speak up when they are, then they grow. We cannot wait to stand up at the moment when the extreme actions are seen.”
“This is not new, and it’s not changing unless we continue to stand up…,” council member Divine Lipscomb added. “There’s hate that continues to happen on a daily basis and we have to continue to stand together to combat this hate.”
Peter Buck, a State College Area School Board member who called Myers a colleague, friend, and mentor, posted about the messages Sunday on Facebook.
“To call them disgusting is an understatement,” Buck wrote. “The sickness of hatred must be fought every day by all of us.”
State Representative Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, said he spoke with Myers and called on all to help stop the spread of hate.
“We may not be able to eradicate anti-semitism and bigotry overnight, but we can speak out collectively, to let the world know that hate has no home in our community,” Conklin wrote in a social media post. “I condemn this hatred to the fullest extent and stand in solidarity with our Jewish friends and neighbors.”
State Representative Paul Takac called the antisemitic messages “repugnant and hateful propaganda.”
“This is vile, this is unacceptable, and this is un-American,” Takac wrote in a social media post. “All you need to know about these cowards is how far they go to hide their identities. This is Pennsylvania – founded in freedom and tolerance – as a place where all are welcome. Those who would deny those freedoms to others while hiding behind their own hatred disgrace the values that built this commonwealth.”
Myers said he felt both “anger and determination” upon seeing the flyers.
“I think that obviously antisemitism has become a clear and present danger. It’s been ratcheted up,” he said. “When you have an ex-president who just weeks ago called Jews disloyal to the country, it encourages and enables this kind of thing.
“Antisemitism is part of a larger pattern of hate. Racism and homophobia and Islamophobia, misogyny, anti-immigration, anti-Asian hate, it’s all tied together. My message is that you need to stay vigilant and you need to call it out. If you don’t call it out and you don’t stand up, people might believe it’s OK, and it’s not.”
Speaking at Monday night’s meeting, Myers said unity will overcome hatred.
“The attack is on Jews today. Who will they attack next?” Myers said. “The people that do this try to use our differences as a wedge. That’s the part these haters don’t get. Our differences are what actually unite us, what makes our democracy strong. These differences let us see each other as we are and we learn from each other. We accept each other, we work together and we move toward that more perfect union. That will never be defeated. Their hate will never overcome that unity.”
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