This is the first in a two-part series exploring increases in hate incidents in Montgomery County.
Spikes in antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ+ incidents contributed to a nearly 20% overall increase in hate incidents in the state in 2022, the Maryland State Police said in its recently released 2022 Hate Bias Report.
For Montgomery County Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large), the increase isn’t a number but a daily reality.
“As a Jew and as an openly gay man, I understand the fear and pain many of our neighbors are experiencing, which is why we need to stand up against hate each time we see it,” Glass said. “Crimes against people simply because of their identity are unacceptable. We have an obligation to call out antisemitism, homophobia, racism and any other hate whenever and wherever we see it.”
Experts fear that an increase in antisemitic incidents particularly will continue to grow amid Hamas’ recent attacks on Israel, which started on Oct. 7.
As of today, the death toll from this war has surged to more than 1,100 Israelis, with more than 3,000 wounded and over 150 held hostage, per the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA. Citing the Ministry of Health in Gaza, OCHA stated at least 830 Palestinians have been killed with another 4,250 injured.
Meredith Weisel, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Washington, D.C., said that when Hamas attacked Israel in the past, antisemitic hate incidents increased in the U.S., so that will likely happen now too.
“We know in the past that attacks on the Jewish State have prompted harassment, vandalism and violence against Jewish people in the U.S. and worldwide,” Weisel said. “[The ADL has] reached out immediately to law enforcement agencies across the D.C. region,” she said.
Among topline results from the report, released Oct. 1:
- “Anti-Jewish” incidents in Maryland rose from 48 in 2021 to 77 in 2022, marking a 60.4% increase. In Montgomery County, incidents motivated by religion grew from 30 to 47, a 56.7% increase. (The report did not specify which religions in the county-level data.)
- Anti-Muslim incidents in Maryland doubled year over year, from four to eight.
- Incidents motivated by gender identity across the state grew year over year from 9 to 15, an increase of 66.7%. In Montgomery County, incidents motivated by gender identity rose from zero to five.
- Other anti-LGBTQ+ incidents in Maryland spiked from 15 in 2021 to 33 in 2022, a 120% increase. The report does not show other anti-LGBTQ+ incidents increasing in Montgomery County, though local advocates contested the number.
- Anti-Black incidents across Maryland rose from 176 in 2021 to 219 in 2022, a 24.4% increase. In Montgomery County, incidents motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry rose from 71 to 74. (The report did not specify which religions are in the county-level data.)
The report echoes increases in hate incidents previously reported this year by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Montgomery County Public Schools and comes amid efforts to combat hate, including curriculum changes, MCPS mandatory staff training and the launch of a countywide Anti-Hate Task Force championed by Glass.
Montgomery County Police reported slightly different numbers in its 2022 Hate Bias report but said that of the incidents motivated by bias toward religion, 91% were considered anti-Jewish, despite Jewish persons making up only 10% of the population.
Weisel said that this spike and mainstreaming of antisemitism “was unthinkable 10 years ago.”
Alan Ronkin, regional director of the American Jewish Committee—Washington, D.C. agreed: “I’m profoundly disappointed in the numbers. They’re terrible.”
Weisel said this data aligns with the trends the ADL has seen in recent years.
“Antisemitic extremists have become emboldened like honestly never before,” she said.
Some of the 2022 antisemitic incidents included graffiti on the Bethesda Trolley Trail, graffiti at the front entrance of Walt Whitman High School and flyers found at the Kemp Mill bus stop in Silver Spring.
This trend has continued into 2023, with numerous antisemitic incidents occurring in the county, such as an antisemitic salute being done at Montgomery Blair High School in September, and a swastika and the word “Aryan” being spray painted under a tunnel in North Bethesda in August.
This is not just a county or state development, according to Ronkin.
“We’ve seen this as a trend in the last five years,” Ronkin said. “If you look at the FBI data nationwide, Jews have been the target of well over 50% of the religion-based hate crimes.”
Experts have pointed to the influence of celebrities—such as Ye (formerly Kanye West) making antisemitic comments on social media—and the failure by former President Donald Trump to condemn antisemitic protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
“The perpetrators of those incidents and those hate crimes have been motivated by antisemitic statements made by some of the individuals like Kanye West,” Weisel said. “It’s important to remember that Kanye West has about 30 million followers, and there are only [about] 15 million Jewish people worldwide.”
Weisel also said that “Donald Trump…has made statements that translate into real-world incidents.”
Glass agrees that this issue stretches beyond the county.
“Addressing the proliferation of hate bias incidents requires immediate attention and committed partnership at every level of government,” Glass said. “We know that hate acts are on the rise nationwide, and, unfortunately, Maryland is not immune.”
Ronkin said the biggest way to reduce antisemitism is to make it “socially unacceptable” to spread hate about the Jewish community.
“There has to be education, there has to be condemnation, and there has to be allyship,” Ronkin said.
Ronkin also commends the council for its adoption of its Anti-Hate Task Force, which features a Jewish cohort, led by Glass.
Glass said he spearheaded the effort to establish the Anti-Hate Task Force, which includes community and faith leaders in Montgomery County who will develop recommendations to combat hate and make the county safer for everyone.
In addition to the Jewish cohort, the task force includes members from the African American and Black, Latino and Hispanic, Asian American Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+ and Muslim communities, according to the MoCo County Council’s website.
The report also found that anti-LGBTQ+ incidents and incidents motivated by gender identity spiked at the state level.
The report shows an increase in Montgomery County incidents related to gender identity but does not show other anti-LGBTQ+ incidents increasing locally.
But these numbers are grossly underreported, say some LGBTQ+ activists, including Lee Blinder, founding executive director of Trans Maryland, who uses they/them pronouns.
“Folks share with us that they aren’t comfortable placing reports or that they’ve attempted sometimes to place reports and are not taken seriously by entities who are receiving the reports,” Blinder said.
Mark Eckstein, a local LGBTQ+ advocate, said that while Montgomery County Police did an effective job capturing the data, the smaller police department numbers were underreported.
The report said that Rockville City Police reported only one hate incident in 2022, but Eckstein said he knew about at least two.
“That is suspicious to me because I just know, with the work I’ve done, that during that calendar year, I was involved with at least two that would have been captured,” Eckstein said. “Data is only as good as the quality of the information.”
Rockville City Police did not respond to a request for comment.
A factor leading to this increase in anti-LGBTQ+ hate, per Eckstein: “I think it can be attributed to an ongoing trend, and the national rhetoric has heated up and become much more organized,” he said. That shift has been “effective, I think, at allowing folks to feel more emboldened to commit these acts of hate and bias.”
One movement he referenced specifically: Moms for Liberty. The organization is a right-wing conservative group that appeared at a Sept. 26 protest outside of Gaithersburg High School to oppose healthcare for trans youth and teachers discussing gender identity in schools.
Moms for Liberty Co-Founder Tiffany Justice said that she disagrees with Eckstein’s characterization.
“Moms for Liberty does not support violence of any kind, against any group of people. To blame a group that is fighting for the rights of parents as a reason for an increase in hate is totally unfounded,” Justice told MoCo360 in an email statement. “We are joyful warriors who have and always will support the rights of all parents to decide what is best for their children.”
Moms for Liberty appeared at numerous protests, along with The Council on American-Islamic Relations, over the summer to fight the MCPS opt-out policy, in which teachers do not provide prior notice or allow parents to remove their students from the classroom when an LGBTQ+ inclusive book is used in class.
Amidst the increase of these hate incidents, Glass said that he and the rest of the County Council will continue to push for “a society that is safe, welcoming and inclusive for all our residents” and show that hate has no place in Montgomery County.
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