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Antisemitic incidents increase 61% in Colorado, ADL data shows

A public safety psychologist said the key to stopping the rise is to confront extremist ideas as early as possible.

COLORADO, USA — Paintballs shot at a group of Jewish children wearing Orthodox clothes while crossing Colfax. A synagogue whose online services were Zoom-bombed with antisemitic comments and threats. A person who yelled “heil Hitler” at a Jewish family while they were at a cemetery burying a loved one.

The Anti-Defamation League published data Wednesday that showed a new surge in antisemitic incidents in Colorado in 2021.

“This hate is coming literally to the doorsteps of those that are Jews or perceived to be Jewish,” Jeremy Shaver, senior associate regional director for the Mountain States Region of the ADL, said.  

Credit: KUSA
Jeremy Shaver

A 9Wants to Know analysis of ADL figures shows the number of hateful incidents targeting Jews in Colorado rose 61% from 2017 to 2021. 

Shaver said the increase in antisemitism could come from a combination of factors. One is that people falsely accuse Jews of being responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Another is that the actions of Israel’s government are incorrectly blamed on all Jews. Also -- white supremacy groups are active in Colorado and believe Jews are somehow responsible for an immigration influx that may allegedly replace white people.

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According to the 2021 ADL audit, many of the documented transgressions were instances of harassment and vandalism. But Shaver said it’s urgent to address them because of the possibility they will escalate.

“If unchecked or unchallenged in some way, those biased attitudes can lead to acts of bias where folks are discriminating against someone else or are actually vandalizing the local synagogue,” he said. 

Jews are not the only ones facing more hate. The total number of hate crime victims across Colorado has increased 281% from 2017 to 2021. 

A 9Wants to Know analysis of CBI statistics shows the number of victims in the following categories from 2017 to date:

  • Race/ethnicity/ancestry bias - 811 victims
  • Sexual orientation bias - 245 victims
  • Religious bias - 180 victims
  • Gender identity bias - 48 victims
  • Disability bias - 24 victims
  • Gender bias - 3 victims

What's the cause?

Dr. Rachel Nielsen, a staff member at Nicoletti-Flater and a public safety psychologist, attributes the rise in hate to the pandemic and a rise in divisiveness. She said people seek out someone to blame when they feel out of control.

“So what we find is oftentimes people will latch onto a hate ideology when they don’t feel like they’re a part of things. That they don’t have a strong sense of identity, belonging, or the ability to change things in their life or in the world. And so they attack people that they don’t even know -- really to express that personal anger and fear.” 

Credit: KUSA
Rachel Nielsen

She said the increase could stem from anxiety.

“It comes from a place of human fragility,” Nielsen said. “It’s out of fear and anxiety. And what we found is that it almost always starts with a personal grievance. And then people use some sort of hate ideology to almost add fuel to the fire. And then they attack and harass and hurt others.” 

What's the solution?

Nielsen said the key to stopping the rise of hate crimes and antisemitism is to show people they are not alone at both an individual and community level. 

As a community, they need to rally to show targeted groups they are supported. Individually, she said it’s important to have non-judgemental conversations to understand the core concern of someone on the path to hate. Loved ones will often notice a change in behavior first.

“The idea is -- you show concern, you ask the questions, you offer support,” Nielsen said. “And that’s probably the most hopeful [thing] is to get at what is going on in this person’s life that makes them angry and scared and resentful to begin with. Because that’s where all of this stems from.” 

She said having those conversations early and often is important to avoiding violence. 

“The idea is the earlier you interrupt a behavior, the easier it is to reroute someone to positive outlets,” Nielsen said.

Shaver said he’s encouraged by a bipartisan bill in Colorado that would allocate state funds to houses of worship. Synagogues, mosques and churches could use the money to fortify their properties. The legislation passed the Colorado House of Representatives on Wednesday and will go to the Senate next.

He also said improved data collection and continued partnerships between law enforcement and private organizations will continue to help. 

The Colorado Resilience Collaborative, housed out of the University of Denver, also offers help to those who are worried that a loved one is going down an extremist path. Call 303-871-3042 or email GSPP.CRC@du.edu

The ADL published additional guidance in their 2021 audit.

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