WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (JTA) — Last week”s shooting rampage at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles struck an all-too-familiar chord of fear in the Jewish psyche. The fear comes not only because this was the latest in a string of recent violent anti-Semitic attacks across the country, but because it was carried out at random by a lone extremist intent on sending a message — an unmistakable echo of the kinds of terrorist attacks Israelis have long suffered. In taking a page from the book of Islamic terrorism — and by following the example of the Oklahoma City bombing — right-wing extremists in America have apparently learned that it does not take a mass movement to carry out their agenda: just one well-armed individual. “This incident was not just a hate crime. It was a terrorist attack,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Taken together with the other recent anti-Semitic attacks and threats, the Los Angeles assault that wounded five people at the community center, including three children under 10, and took the life of a postal worker, has created a climate of fear among Jews unseen in this decade. This summer alone, the torching of three synagogues in Sacramento, the discovery of a “hit list” of Jewish community leaders in Northern California, the shooting spree in an Orthodox neighborhood in Chicago, last week”s attack on the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills and a series of other incidents have terrorized the Jewish community. The image of children linking hands as they were led away from the site of last week”s shooting jarred the entire nation, especially after the suspected gunman”s declaration, upon turning himself in, that he wanted to send “a wake-up call to America to kill Jews.” Despite the frequency and fervor of the recent attacks, federal and state investigators and experts who monitor hate activity maintain there is no evidence of an organized effort by white supremacists or other right-wing groups to target the Jewish community or other minorities. Nor is there evidence of an upsurge in the number of people affiliated with those groups, although a growing number of self-proclaimed hate groups have skillfully used the Internet to announce their presence and expand their reach. Instead, what some experts fear is a rise in so-called “leaderless resistance,” which has spawned a wave of independent, “copycat” attacks. “There seem to be a series of lone wolves acting on the basis of ideology that”s put out by hate groups all over this country,” said Mark Potok, an analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based organization that tracks hate groups. “It looks almost like a series of copycat crimes as much as the beginning of a revolution.” Like other groups that monitor hate activity, the center has received numerous threats in recent weeks from extremists, according to Potok. One letter sent in the wake of the deadly shooting spree carried out in Illinois and Indiana by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith over the July 4 weekend called the gunman “a martyr to the cause” of creating an “international Aryan commonwealth.” “He isn”t even the tip of the iceberg,” the letter stated. “He”s just a grain of sand in a worldwide beachhead. Us Aryans, the world over, haven”t yet begun to flex our power or influence. You”ll never know where we”ll pop up from. We”re represented in every strata of society, and our ranks are increasing ten-fold every day of every year.” The letter, dated July 4, was signed “Aryan and Proud.” “For some people, these grotesque murders and shootings are inspiring,” Potok said. “They are seen as a great way of bringing new people into the revolutionary Aryan fold, and in fact it may be that some people are inspired to the point that they, too, pick up the gun.” In the wake of last week”s shooting, Jewish officials have been exploring possible responses to protect against future anti-Semitic attacks. At a New York news conference Tuesday morning, and later that day at a satellite conference for approximately 55 Jewish federations around the country, leaders from the United Jewish Communities and Anti- Defamation League urged Jewish institutions to review their security procedures — but not to go overboard. “We need awareness, rather than armed bunkers or fortresses,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL. Foxman said he is troubled by the fact that some Jews around the country are discussing whether to wear skullcaps in public or let their children ride school buses bearing names of Jewish institutions. Asked whether American synagogues might become like their heavily guarded European counterparts, he said, “No. God forbid, no.” Some concede that there may, in fact, be little that can be done to prevent an attack. “When you”re talking about terrorism, as we all know from experience with Israel, if you have a person or people who have an ideology they”re devoted to and have the training and the wherewithal to carry it out, it”s going to be virtually impossible to stop every attack,” said Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center. But some now argue that it may be time to give law enforcement greater authority to track hate groups and root out terrorists before they strike. In a guest column published in The New York Times last week that drew praise from many Jewish leaders, Foxman argued that the Justice Department and the FBI are “so hamstrung” from fears of lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and by complaints by conservative lawmakers about overstepping their bounds that “they can”t act aggressively.” “This is too timid an approach given the current rhetoric of these groups and its ability to inflame their more unstable adherents,” Foxman wrote. “The Constitution provides for the civil liberties of citizens, but it is not a prescription for suicide; it should enable us to protect our civil liberties against those who have no respect for the nation or would destroy it.” In an interview, Foxman said he hopes that Furrow”s “wake-up call” backfires and instead serves as a wake-up call for America to “examine hate and the ways and means within the Constitution to protect civil liberties so people can enjoy them.” “If you”re dead, what good are” civil liberties? he asked. Kenneth Stern, an American Jewish Committee specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism, said he believes what is missing in addressing the scourge of hate violence and its core causes is Congress”s leadership. “These (extremists) are people who are saying we”re going to make America more American by killing minorities, and we still haven”t had a national discussion and congressional hearings on this, even after the Oklahoma City bombing,” Stern said. It remains to be seen how lawmakers will address the issue when Congress returns from its recess next month. President Clinton, for his part, has appealed to Congress to pass “common-sense” laws tightening gun control and expanding the federal hate crimes statute. But in a private meeting with Jewish leaders last week, he acknowledged the uphill battle gun control legislation faces. The National Rifle Association “runs the House and nearly runs the Senate on this issue,” Clinton was quoted as saying. Meanwhile, the seemingly inexplicable spate of anti-Semitic attacks has continued. Just this week, a synagogue on Long Island in New York was damaged in an arson attack, while in Los Angeles, a swastika and the words “Jews die” were found spray-painted on a wall of a synagogue. “I am starting to become concerned about how many more assaults the community can take without refocusing its priorities,” Foxman said, suggesting there may be a need to fully reassess security at all Jewish institutions. But he acknowledged a downside to any type of dramatic action along those lines. “That may — God forbid — be a victory for our enemies,”” he said. (JTA staff writer Julie Wiener in New York contributed to this report.)
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