Although potential bomb threats emailed to more than 50 JCCs and Jewish institutions across the country last weekend proved unfounded, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they are “more proof that we need to dramatically increase security funding grants and not decrease funding as President [Donald] Trump’s administration is proposing.”
Even before the emails were sent — prompting the evacuation of about 100 people at the JCC in Albany last Sunday — Schumer last December called for the quadrupling of security grants for places of worship and JCCs. Last year, he helped to lead negotiations that resulted in the appropriation of $90 million for security grants — a $30 million increase over the prior year. And in a statement at the time, he pledged to fight for a quadrupling of funding this year.
“Federal security funds, like those provided through NSGP [Nonprofit Security Grants Program], are the cornerstone of effective preparedness and prevention against terror attacks and enable nonprofit organizations, like synagogues, churches, temples, JCCs and mosques, to improve their security,” Schumer explained.
But the administration’s proposed budget includes no increase in funding and in fact cuts $239 million from the Nonprofit Security Grants Program, which is under the umbrella of the Urban Area Security Initiative and which this year has a budget of $665 million.
Michael Masters, national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network (the nonprofit security initiative organized by the Jewish community in North America), said the threatening emails “make a generalized bomb threat” but do not mention a specific time. He said the emails are “largely similar [in wording] if not identical” and that they were sent over the weekend “within a specific time frame.”
He added that his office is “not aware of any credible threat related to the emails.”
After being alerted to the emails, Masters said his office alerted the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security “so as to ensure the safety and security of JCCs throughout the United States.” In addition, it instructed every JCC that received an email to contact local law enforcement.
In a statement, the FBI said it “continues to work with our state and local partners in identifying the sender of the emails. At this point in time, we do not consider these threats to be credible, there is no nexus to terrorism, and there is no threat to public safety. As always, we urge the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to law enforcement.”
A spokesperson for the JCC Association said emails were sent to JCCs in New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and 20 other states. No JCCs in the New York City or Long Island were threatened, but there were threatening emails sent to 18 JCCs elsewhere in the state, including Albany, Tarrytown and New Rochelle. The Albany JCC is believed to be the only one that evacuated its building. Police dogs were used to help search the building.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited the building after the evacuation and noted that there have been “42 incidents of anti-Semitism in this state this past couple of months, so it’s not getting better, it’s only getting worse. … It’s not just an anti-Semitic attack. You have children who go to the JCC. You have gym facilities here. So, you are really threatening children. It is one of the most heinous things you can do. And again, it is fear and it is terror. That is all it is — terror.”
There were no additional threats to JCCs on Monday.
Rick Lewis, CEO of the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview and the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack, both on Long Island, said he first heard about the email threats late Sunday morning and although he did not receive such an email, he immediately joined his staff in a walk-through of both buildings. He said he then called Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder to request assistance.
“He verified for us that all the other reports we were hearing were correct — that the emails were unfounded and there was no reason to raise an alarm but to always be vigilant in the buildings,” Lewis said. “We did an extra check of the buildings at night, set the alarms and did another check of the buildings – both inside and outside – the next morning before we opened. We have security at the buildings anytime they are open.”
He noted that these procedures had been put into effect at all JCCs in the country following a wave of more than 2,000 bomb threats made to JCCs in the U.S. and at least five other countries in early 2017. All but about a half-dozen were linked to a 19-year-old Jewish Israeli-American, Michael Kadar, who was arrested in March 2017 in Ashkelon, Israel. He had used “advanced technologies” to disguise his voice and mask the fact that his calls were coming from Israel. His defense attorney said he had a brain tumor that may have influenced his behavior; he had been rejected from enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces because of mental health issues.
Last weekend’s email bomb threats were sent just a day after the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness raised the threat posed by white supremacist extremists from “moderate” to “high,” the topmost category for threat levels for any extremist group in the state. The only other groups in the state with a “high” threat level are homegrown violent extremists. More than a dozen other extremist groups, including Boko Haram, ISIS and black separatist extremists, have lower threat levels.
The state’s annual Terrorism Threat Assessment report released last Friday stated: “Some white supremacist extremists argue that participating in mass attacks or creating other forms of chaos will accelerate the imminent and necessary collapse of society in order to build a racially pure nation.”
A spokesman for the Office of Homeland Security said no immediate link had been found between the increase in the threat level and the email threats. And Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernadino, said in an email interview that although “white supremacists have undertaken bombing plots and bomb threats [in the past], so have a lot of others.”
He noted that white supremacists nationwide killed at least 26 people last year.
Just two weeks ago, the Anti-Defamation League released a report that found that the number of times hate groups left flyers, stickers and posters and other handouts more than doubled between 2018 and 2019 – growing from 1,214 to 2,713 incidents.