This report serves as the first-ever annual summary of incidents that have taken place in the Greater Nashville area with respect to antisemitism, broadly defined. The report will also chronicle other security-related activities taken by the community over this period as well as provide a national and state-wide context to these issues. The goal is this report is to not scare – but rather to clearly indicate what has taken place in this community and highlight the steps taken by communal organizations considering these incidents, as well as to provide a global understanding of these trends.
In the 2021 – 2022 period, there were 2,717 incidents of antisemitism reported to the ADL. This is an increase from 34% the previous year, which itself was a record, when 2,026 such incidents were reported. Of this total, 1,776 incidents were of a harassing nature, whereas 853 were categorized as vandalism and there were 88 reports of physical assault.
The overall themes identified with respect to this increase in incidents include a relationship to the war between Israel and Hamas and extremist actions by known US-based groups.
In the May 2021 period, there was a decided increase in antisemitic activity and anti-Israel and anti-Zionist activity (as a sub-set), with common refrains such as ‘Israel has no right to exist’ and ‘From the River to the Sea’. Further, with respect to extremist actions, known extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideology were responsible for 484 incidents in 2021, up from 332 incidents in 2020. This represents 18% of the total number of incidents in 2021. All the incidents emerged from adherents of right-wing or white supremacist ideologies. Of the 484 incidents attributed to hate groups or extremists, 422 took the form of antisemitic fliers, banners, stickers, or written messages. This is a 52% increase from 277 in 2020. The top distributors of antisemitic propaganda in 2021 were the Folkish Resistance Movement (formerly known as Folksfront) (179), Goyim Defense League (77), New Jersey European Heritage Association (50), and White Lives Matter (27). The remaining 62 incidents of extremist activity included acts of antisemitic vandalism, bomb threats to Jewish institutions, Zoombombings, and several small protests outside Jewish and pro-Israel institutions. In 2021, ADL documented 27 antisemitic extremist gatherings, parades, picketing events or meetings. This is a 35% increase from 20 such incidents in 2020.
Across the state in the 2021 – 2022 period, there were 111 reported incidents. These included:
Incident Number of incidents
White Supremacist propaganda 79
White Supremacist Harassment 12
Terrorist attack/plot 1
Extremist Murder 1
White Supremacist event 11
Antisemitic vandalism 7
Of these incidents that were outside of Greater Nashville, examples of each included:
· An unknown perpetrator started a fire that destroyed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee, in an arson attack that was likely motivated by anti-abortion extremism.
· In February 2021, John Michael Poss was indicted for the shooting death of Austin Shane Paul Lewis on September 4, 2020. According to Poss's sister, Poss was a member of the violent white supremacist prison gang Aryan Circle, which originated in Texas but now can be found in several states. The victim, Lewis, was allegedly also a member. The motive of the killing is not clear.
· A Jewish studies professor received conspiratorial antisemitic emails from an unknown sender.
· A student at the University of Tennessee Knoxville discovered the message "Jewz suck" written on the back windshield of their car.
· Approximately 10 individuals associated with the American Christian Dixie Knights, a small Tennessee-based Klan group, held a private cross burning.
Since the shooting of the Chabad Center in Poway (CA), the community has come together in a pro-active manner with respect to security. The following actions have been taken:
The Jewish Federation formed a community-wide security committee with representation from every organization in the community and representation from all levels of law enforcement (local, state, and federal).
The committee meets on a regular basis and is briefed on timely issues with respect to security from communal organizations and law enforcement partners.
The committee is associated with Secure Community Network, the security arm of Jewish Federations of North America (The local Federation is a member of JFNA). A regional representation of SCN is a member of the committee and SCN staff have briefed the committee on a range of issues including election security as well as situational and behavioral awareness training. Members of the committee also receive the daily email brief from SCN which highlights issues on a global scale.
In 2020, the Federation committed $200,000 to the purchasing of security-related hardware for every facility-based Jewish organization. Security enhancements included the purchasing of cameras, window hardening materials, bollards, locking mechanisms, gates and fencing.
Federation funds were also granted to purchase hardware (in facility beacons) from Alertus. The Alertus system is designed to connect all the organizations through these beacons and the mobile application that allows community leaders to send information about a suspicious person, for example, or an incident that is worse, to other communal leaders so that the latter can take the appropriate action within their own facilities and organizations (organizations that do not have facilities are also involved in the mobile application).
The community has also engaged with law enforcement with respect to active shooter training as well as presentations by the Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), State of Tennessee Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) professionals in areas such as cybersecurity.
The Nashville Jewish community is not immune to antisemitism incidents. Over the course of the 2020-2021 period, every Jewish communal institution was subject to emails, social media posts and visitors deemed suspicious – suspicious enough to respond in a security-first manner. Often, many of these visitors are not antisemitic in nature but present mental health challenges to the congregation that they are engaging.
Incidents of note throughout the community during this time period included:
· Two pro-Palestinian rallies where the chant ‘From the River to the Sea’ was heard.
· A Patriot Front rally in Nashville with, roughly, 25 men marching
· The annual white supremacist rally, which was (and continues to be held) at Montgomery Bell State Park
· An upside-down swastika that was engraved on a protective wall of a building side in the Hillsboro area
· Several incidents took place within school settings, the most prevalent of them were children, in different settings, giving the ‘heil Hitler’ salutes or portraying Hitler in a menacing manner. A common theme in these moments was the lack of a reaction by educators to the situation.
With respect to communal responses to the incidents that have taken place in the community, all of them were officially reported to Metropolitan Nashville Police Department and/or Belle Meade Police, with subsequent reporting to FBI, TBI and State of Tennessee DHS officials.
In 2021-2022 most communal organizations with a facility applied for federal Department of Homeland Security Non-profit Security Grant (NSGP) funding (funding
that will be available for a 36-month period into the 2022-2023 calendar year). These requests were for security items of a hardening nature. As a part of this process, every organization that applied was required to complete an online security assessment. The committee will be using these surveys to understand the short and long-term priority security needs of every facility.
During this period, the Federation, through the faith-based initiative of MNPD, presented to 60 leaders of MNPD with respect to Jewish life in Nashville and the state of antisemitism. The presentation took place at the Gordon Jewish Community Center and included a visit to the community Holocaust memorial.
Further, The Federation begun to take part as a full member in the FBI Community Engagement committee – a quarterly meeting of FBI staff and community leaders.
The Federation, in partnership with the Federations in Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga, lobbied for and received agreement from the State of Tennessee that the state would allocate $500,000 towards human security. Every facility in the community that was able to apply for these funds applied.
Finally, in partnership with MNPD SWAT, all facilities in the communities were visited by members of SWAT. As a follow-up, the floor plans of all organizations were shared with SWAT and the same will be done with TBI.
2022-2023 Activities (to date)
During FY 2022-2023, the Federation’s security committee is scheduled to engage in several new activities:
· Organization-based ‘cop stops’ where monthly an organization will host an early morning breakfast stop for local police.
· A community-wide celebration of law enforcement at a Jewish community Faith & Blue breakfast event.
· The completion of a security report card for every Jewish organization
· Presentation by Michael Masters, CEO, Secure Community Network
· Presentation on State of Tennessee gun laws
· Two members of the committee will participate in the TBI Citizen’s Academy
· A ‘Jewish Life 101’ presentation, including information about the current state of antisemitism, will be delivered to TBI staff
In 2022 (at the time of the writing of this report), there have been several incidents throughout the community. These incidents include:
· The reporting of a pro-White banner that was hung on the Korean War Veterans bridging during rush hour on a weekday.
· The finding of a Nazi logo on a cement pillar on the Greenway (in the West End area)
· Several suspicious people driving past and around Congregation Sherith Israel during Saturday morning services
· Several suspicious people who engaged with synagogue staff at multiple synagogues. Often a person would engage multiple organizations on the same day, often because of the proximity of the facilities.
· In August 2022, two areas of the community were targeted with antisemitic leaflets. The leaflets, blaming Jews for such things as the pandemic, were thrown from cars and landed near the homes of residents near the Gordon JCC and Sherith Israel and West End Synagogue. It is believed that at least 100 of these leaflets, reprinted from the Goyim Defense League website, were dropped across the community, over a week-long period. The Federation worked closely with MNPD and other state law enforcement agencies with respect to the reporting of these incidents. Further, the Mayor’s Office organized a jointly created statement in support of the Jewish community and against hate incidents such as these. MNPD patrols were increased in all areas where Jewish facilities are located within Greater Nashville, and Vanderbilt University police and Belle Meade police did the same with facilities located in their respective jurisdictions.