A group of online trolls is responsible for the disruption of services at more than two dozen synagogues across the country by targeting them with fake bomb threats and swatting calls.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the group has struck at least 26 synagogues and two ADL offices across 12 states over the last four weekends.
“ADL continues this evening to work with law enforcement and community partners to mitigate the ongoing disruption to Jewish prayer services, as well as additional targets, by a group of online trolls who swat and call in fake bomb threats,” ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a statement.
“These trolls, who employ highly antisemitic language during their calls, have targeted over two dozen synagogues and two ADL offices. They also appear to have expanded their targets, including several African-American churches and a news organization,” the statement continued.
“The ADL Center on Extremism is working closely with law enforcement to identify the individuals responsible for these concerning and potentially dangerous activities,” the statement concluded.
The group appears to go after synagogues that live stream their services, the ADL said in a tweet.
— ADL (@ADL) August 13, 2023
Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, told the site Forward his organization believes a small group of individuals coordinating with each other on social media is responsible for the incidents. They appear to be targeting synagogues that stream videos of services online.
“These trolls are weaponizing online tools to harass the Jewish community,” Segal said. “They want to watch these services get disrupted by law enforcement.”
The volume and coordination of the recent series of both bomb threats and swatting is unprecedented, he told the outlet.
Swatting is defined as criminal harassment, calling and hoaxing an emergency services dispatcher into sending police or an emergency service response team to another person’s address.
Hoaxers Target Synagogues in California
A bomb threat interrupted Shabbat services on Aug. 11 at Temple Beth Torah in Fremont, California. Those in attendance were evacuated after someone called the police saying there was a bomb in a backpack located somewhere in the building, according to Forward. Law enforcement authorities searched the premises but found no bomb.
The next day, someone called the police in Fullerton, California, warning a bomb would detonate in 20 minutes at Temple Beth Tikvah, a local congregation, the outlet reported. Rabbi Mati Kirschenbaum could be seen on Facebook Live interrupting services and announcing “We need to stop and leave the building right now.”
The Orange County Bomb Squad found no explosives, and police said the false report did not constitute a crime, Forward reported.
“Sadly, the sense of potential threat is something that many Jewish houses of worship have to live with,” Kirschenbaum told reporters.
Security experts say there’s little congregations can do to prevent hoax calls. However, Steve Arnold, security director for the Chabad of Poway, California, where an attendee was killed in a mass shooting in 2019, told his team of volunteers what to do in case police responded to such a call at the synagogue: just follow their commands, Forward reported.
Unlike police who respond when the synagogue itself calls for help, the officers who respond to a swatting report will be operating off information intended to mislead them and cause maximum havoc for congregants, he told the outlet.
As CBN News reported last May, antisemitic incidents rose to historic levels in 2022. While American Jews account for just 2.4% of the U.S. population, FBI statistics show they’re the victims of 63% of religiously motivated hate crimes.
Earlier this month, the man who killed 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue, in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community in 2018, was formally sentenced to death for perpetrating the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.