The armed assault that targeted a kosher grocery store in Jersey City on December 10th seems to be embracing anti-semitic traits, even if local authorities are still not keen to label the incident as such. As more details emerge, the initial hypothesis of a drug deal gone wrong appears to be replaced with a terror plot with a clear and precise target, the convenience store on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, right in the middle of an area populated by approximately 70 families of Yiddish speaking Hasidic Jews. The attacked store is next to two Jewish learning centers (a yeshiva and a Beit Midrash).
According to the latest reports by CNN, the attack did not generate as a consequence of a shootout between two criminals and undercover police near Bayview Cemetery, as initially stated. The two armed individuals were filmed by surveillance cameras while “calmly exiting the van and firing into the store with long guns”.
Jersey City Department of Public Safety Director James Shea told reporters that although there were several other potential targets available, the killers picked that specific store. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop claimed: “We do feel comfortable that it was a targeted attack on a Jewish kosher deli”.
However, just five hours after the shooting, Mayor Fulop had stated that “there was no evidence that the episode was terror-related”, while Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly had claimed that “there was no indication that the shooting was a hate crime” adding that a pipe bomb was found inside the U-Haul vehicle used by the attackers.
The reason why authorities are still reluctant to label the assault as “anti-semitic” is because the motivation of the attack on that specific site is still unknown, as exposed by Shea.
On Wednesday local authorities released the names of the two attackers, identified as David Anderson and Francine Graham. Mr. Anderson appeared to have a connection with the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement, although the extent of his involvement in that group remains unclear, as exposed by the New York Times. It also emerged that Anderson had posted anti-Semitic and anti-police content on social media.
The Black Hebrew Israelite Movement was founded by black Americans claiming to be descendants of the ancient Israelites; the group has no connection with mainstream Judaism and has been indicated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The mystery of the initial version
The criminal hypothesis did sound unusual already at an early stage as it was unclear why two individuals involved in a drug deal gone wrong would steal a vehicle and drive for approximately one mile just to attack and barricade inside a convenience store. The two killers were also heavily armed and targeted the police and anyone else passing in front of the store.
However, the initial version did indicate that police detective Joe Seals – who was killed in the exchange of fire – had approached the two assailants, who were inside a U-Haul van at a cemetery near the kosher market because the vehicle had been linked to a murder over the weekend, according to law enforcement officials. Additionally, it was cited that surveillance footage showed the killers shooting the detective and then driving away and ending up in front of the kosher market where they parked and entered the store while firing, the official said. As investigations moved on, a later version indicated that there was no shootout with undercover police near the cemetery and that the two assailants calmly drove and picked the targeted site. This option raises a further question: who killed Detective Seals and under which circumstances?
The Black Hebrew Israelite Movement
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a non-profit organization specialized in legal rights, had warned back in 2008 about the danger of an extremist branch of the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement (BHIM) preaching black supremacism and spreading anti-semitic propaganda: “such groups believe that Jews are devilish impostors”. The SPLC also pointed out how most members of the BHIM are not anti-semitic nor do they preach violence but it is rather the activity of limited groups within the movement, something which was previously confirmed by a 1999 FBI risk assessment report.
The BHIM doctrine asserts that African Americans are God’s true chosen people, the real descendants of the Israelites and not the Jews, “as commonly believed today”. They also believe that only black people will be saved on the Day of Judgement.
However, even if the general ideology is the same, organization and modus operandi may change within the different groups forming the movement. Among the groups indicated as extremist and supremacist by the Splc there are the Israelite School of Universal Practice, the Nation of Yahweh and the Israelite Church of God and Jesus Christ.
The Movement’s presence was initially strong in the black inner-city hoods of the East-Coast, but it later spread to other states such as Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri and Nebraska. Several members of the African-American community in the East Coast of the United States contacted by InsideOver believe that the Black Israelite Movement is a growing phenomenon within their communities and that it is also a matter of concern as they only contribute to an increase of tension among the population.
An interesting fact that is not related to the Jersey City attack, but that is yet worth mentioning, is the harassment of a Jewish family, while onboard a London subway line, perpetrated by a black male while reading a Bible. The verbal assault was caught on video and posted on YouTube at the end of November.
The individual quotes parts of Revelation 2 and 3: “And behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie” with intimidating manners and accuses the Jews of being “impostors”, of “having stolen his heritage and having funded the slave trade”.
Even if such events can still be classified as isolated cases, it is a phenomenon that should be kept under constant and careful monitoring as it could further spread and turn violent in a phase of strong social and economic distress.