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Jewish communities in Austin and San Antonio targeted by neo-Nazi group

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Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

Police in Austin and San Antonio are investigating acts of antisemitism after members of a neo-Nazi group traveled through both cities in recent days.

The Anti-Defamation League describes the group as a “loose network of individuals connected by their virulent antisemitism. The group includes six primary organizers/public figures and thousands of online followers.”

Around 10 members came to Austin from Florida this past weekend, hanging an antisemitic banner on a MOPAC overpass near the Shalom Austin Jewish Community Center on Saturday and then walking around the heavily trafficked 6th Street.

“They were all wearing t-shirts with big swastikas and hats with the same,” said Renee Lafair, regional director with ADL Austin.

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said APD officers responded to the scene and kept things from escalating.

“I’m heartbroken to see antisemitism hatred in Austin, a welcoming and respectful place,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a tweet. He urged people to contact the ADL to report hatred of any kind.

The day before, graffiti that included swastikas, racial slurs, and anti-LGBTQ symbols was found at Anderson High School, which has a large Jewish population. Austin police are investigating.

The neo-Nazi group traveled down I-35 to San Antonio on Sunday to protest outside an annual fundraiser for Israel held by the Cornerstone Church.

The organizers of a separate protest outside the church said they were shocked to see them.

“I’m horrified,” said Judith Norman, a member of the Jewish Voice For Peace San Antonio chapter. “This is a time that is really fertile for a lot of far right extremist hate organizations. And it's appalling to see them in the open.”

On Monday, local authorities were alerted that antisemitic flyers were left by the neo Nazi group on front lawns in San Antonio’s Churchill Estates and Deerfield neighborhoods.

“We are aware of the incident in San Antonio, Texas, and are in regular contact with local authorities,” the FBI’s San Antonio field office said in a statement. “If, in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate.”

On Tuesday, several members of the group set up a demonstration across the street from San Antonio's Jewish Community Center, which wash holding a Holocaust remembrance event at the time.

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Dan Katz/Texas Public Radio
Neo-Nazi demonstrators hold antisemitic signs and speak to a mother and son walking by on NW Military Hwy across from San Antonio's Jewish Community Center as SAPD officers look on.

"We had children of survivors in our audience. We had grandchildren of survivors in our audience," said Nammie Ichilov, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio. "The emotional threat that they create is long-lasting."

Ichilov praised local law enforcement for how they handled the situation.

"The SAPD stepped in immediately. They were very responsive," he told TPR. "They were very aware of how to manage a situation so it didn't escalate into anything more than rhetoric."

Ichilov said the San Antonio community's support has been a blessing during a difficult week.

In 2020, the ADL recorded 2,024 reported antisemitic incidents throughout the United States — the third highest year on record since the ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.

“There has been an uptick in hateful rhetoric that in some ways is the perfect storm of political divide, social media amplifying angry voices, a lot of hate out there,” said Lafair with ADL Austin. “All of that combines together to create an environment where hate can sometimes flourish, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid and keep on the fringes.”

On Monday, jury selection began in a civil lawsuit against two dozen neo Nazis who descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 for a “Unite the Right” rally that left one woman dead and many more injured.

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