The followers of Judaism have been discriminated against and
attacked for their faith since the earliest times of antiquity. But
Tuesday's shootings in a Jewish community center in Los Angeles may
be emblematic of something new: the hardening face of modern anti-
Among the general public, anti-Semitism has declined significantly
over the decades. But among the alienated extremists willing to
resort to violence, symbols of the Jewish community are becoming
primary targets, say experts who track the problem.
While largely an American phenomenon, these alienated extremists
are attracting followers in other nations, from Australia to Austria.
"If you look at the organized white-supremacist movement, anti-
Semitism has never been higher," says Mark Potok of the Southern
Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. "Jews have not been the No. 1
enemy of these groups historically, but now they are."
The suspect in the Jewish community center shootings, Buford
Furrow Jr., has allegedly told federal law-enforcement officials he
carried out the attack because he wanted to "send a message to
America" by killing Jews.
It would be wrong to make too much of his motivation, experts
caution. A person who would target small children is by definition
And overall, anti-Semitism is far from the deep and troubling
stain on the world that it once was. In the United States, anti-
Semitic acts have been on a slow decline throughout most of the
1990s, according to Anti-Defamation League statistics, despite a
slight 2 percent rise last year. The ADL counted 1,611 anti-Semitic
incidents in the US in 1998, up from 1,571 the year before.
The percentage of Americans who harbor anti-Jewish views is now
12, according to ADL statistics. While that still seems far too
high, it is lower than the comparable figure from 1964 of 29 percent.
To read too much into the activity of a few extremists would be to
play into their hands.
"Their goal is to stir up hatred and create religious and ethnic
divisions we've tried so hard to overcome in the last couple of
decades," says Jonathan Sarna, an expert in American Jewish history
at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.
There have been several changes in the character of anti-Semitic
activity, however, say Mr. Sarna and other experts.
One is the increased likelihood that Jewish institutions, not just
individuals, will be attacked. There have been several synagogue
bombings on the West Coast recently, as well as community-center
The other is a heightened level of violence. "There are a growing
number of cases where people are physically harmed" instead of just
property damaged, says Chris Freeman of the Center for Democratic
Renewal, an Atlanta-based civil rights group that monitors far-right
extremists. "That is a trend we are seeing."
Roots of hatred
This stems from the rise of organized hatred in America. Whether
it goes by the name of Aryan Nations, or The Order, or Christian
Identity, it bears similar characteristics: An alienated fringe of
extremists unite on the Internet and in the name of their own brand
of Christianity, are increasingly willing to take desperate steps to
promote their doctrine of hate.
The theology, if it can be called that, of these groups often
holds that Jews, blacks, and other traditional scapegoats are "mud
people" or the spawn of the devil, and that they must be eliminated
from the earth if true Christianity is ever to return.
These groups take a dash of neo-Nazi thinking, a pinch from the Ku
Klux Klan, and a dose of myths from the 1930s that have been totally
discredited - such as the belief that banking is controlled by a
Jewish conspiracy - and mix them together into a combustible product.
Today, the Christian Identity movement is in many ways the glue
that holds the radical right together, says Mr. …