Experts: Islamic and right-wing extremism are both threats

Law enforcement officials gathered a block away from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington after a gunman opened fire at the museum, June 10, 2009. (Eric Fingerhut)

Law enforcement officials gathered a block away from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington after a gunman opened fire at the museum, June 10, 2009. (Eric Fingerhut)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — After years of worrying about the threat posed by Muslim terrorists, is Wednesday’s shooting attack on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum — coming soon after the murder of a prominent abortion doctor — a signal that the Jewish community should be ratcheting up its concern about right-wing extremism?

Those who track extremism and security threats in the Jewish community say that a variety of current factors — such as the poor economy, the first black president and increased immigration — make the prospect of terror attacks from the right something to watch carefully. But, they stress, the Jewish community should be concerned about threats from extremists of all kinds.

“The real threat is lone wolves with extremist views from the right or left,” said Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, an initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Goldenberg said the common denominator is that they all target the Jewish community.

In recent months, a Jewish Wesleyan University student allegedly was killed by a man who was carrying a copy of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” four Muslim men were arrested for plotting attacks on Bronx synagogues; and a Muslim man who was charged with killing a soldier and injuring another at a military recruiting center in Arkansas was found to have been researching Jewish sites.

Also, in April, a Pittsburgh man who allegedly shot and killed three police officers was found to have been a frequent poster on extremist right-wing Web sites.

Goldenberg, who also noted the situation in the Middle East as a motivating factor, said such lone worlves independently “react to the news media or the current situation in the geopolitical environment” and carry out attacks on their own.

Jack Levin, a Northeastern University criminologist, made a similar point Wednesday in an interview with CNN.

"Jews and blacks in the White House — that’s threatening to someone who believes that blacks are subhuman and Jews are the children of the devil,” Levin said.

“The Obama effect," he added, has “generated a backlash of white supremacy.”

[UPDATE: Law enforcement officials, according to media reports, found a note in von Brunn's car declaring that President Barack Obama was "created" by Jews and does what his "Jew owners tell him to do."]

Kenneth Stern, director on anti-Semitism and extremism for the American Jewish Committee, said that while lone wolves are a major concern, he had yet to see a major uptick in organized right-wing extremism such as during the mid-1990s, when the citizen militia movement grew in the Midwest. Stern noted that many of the prominent leaders in the movement over the last 10 to 15 years have died or are in jail.

Some media outlets and advocacy groups have been linking Wednesday’s musuem attack with last week’s murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, describing them as two specific recent examples of right-wing extremism.

The National Council of Jewish Women, for instance, issued a statement Thursday deploring the “latest episode of hate violence.”

“Following so soon after the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in his church during Sunday services, this latest attack cries out not only for condemnation by public officials, but a commitment to do everything in their power to prevent such incidents from multiplying, including common-sense gun regulations,” said NCJW President Nancy Ratzan.

But others in the Jewish community said the attack on the Holocaust museum and Tiller’s shooting should not be isolated from the others, and that a wider net needs to be cast.

Stern said that while there are places where the anti-abortion extremists and neo-Nazis “intersect,” he also said that activists in the two groups are motivated by significantly different worldviews and the two crimes should not necessarily be seen as having a particular link.

“There are hateful ideologies that come from a variety of directions," Stern said. "We should be concerned about them all.”

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