FBI Director Chris Wray warned this week that violent domestic extremists could be inspired by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Meanwhile, possible hate crimes in the death of a Sikh man in New York and the defacing of a Jewish restaurant in Los Angeles reflected the tension raised in the United States by the war.
Elsewhere, there have been dozens of bomb and death threats made against people and institutions targeted by anti-LGBTQ+ social media channel Libs of TikTok. And a neo-Nazi in Maine ups stakes and sells his compound. It’s the week in extremism.
When Libs of TikTok tweets, threats follow
In dozens of cases in at least 21 states, posts by the anti-LGBTQ+ conservative influencer Libs of TikTok were closely followed by harassment, including death and bomb threats. That’s the top finding in our deep-dive investigation at USA TODAY, based on exclusive research from the progressive advocacy group Media Matters for America. And those threats have been increasing rapidly over the past two months.
- Media Matters tallied dozens of threats against schools, hospitals, doctors, teachers and Pride events following Libs of TikTok posts. USA TODAY confirmed the threats and spoke with people affected by them nationwide.
- USA TODAY interviewed Libs of TikTok founder Chaya Raichik, who said she doesn’t support threats or violence, but stopped short of pledging to ask her followers not to make threats in the future.
- Asked for reaction to the threats, Raichik gave a standard response: “If an individual posts publicly on TikTok, the goal of TikTok is to get views,” Raichik said. “That’s why people post on TikTok — they want to become famous, they want clicks, views.”
- Raichik also questioned the connection between her posts and the threats: “It’s possible that some of these bomb threats were not even real bomb threats, you know,” she said. “Why are these bomb threats – the ones that are allegedly coming after my tweets – why are those making it to the news, while others aren’t?”
Advocates for the LGBTQ+ community worry it’s only a matter of time before the threats translate into real-life violence: “We can only insulate ourselves from what’s happening on social media for so long,” said Ari Drennen, LGBTQ+ program director for Media Matters. “In a country where so many people have the ability to take things into their own hands, that’s a very real worry.”
FBI warns of heightened risk of domestic extremism
In the same week a man was charged with hate crimes in the fatal beating of a Sikh man in New York and a Jewish restaurant was daubed with antisemitic graffiti in Los Angeles, FBI Director Chris Wray warned violent extremists in the U.S. could draw inspiration from Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
- From Wray’s speech Tuesday: “That includes not just homegrown violent extremists inspired by a foreign terrorist organization but also domestic violent extremists targeting Jewish or Muslim communities.”
- On the same day, Gilbert Augustin, 30, of Queens, was arraigned Tuesday on charges of manslaughter and assault as hate crimes, following an attack on a Sikh man wearing a turban. Last month, a six-year-old Palestinian boy was stabbed to death and his mother seriously injured in Chicago. The alleged perpetrator in that attack pleaded not guilty to charges including hate crimes this week.
- In Los Angeles, antisemitic graffiti was also found daubed on an iconic Jewish restaurant — Canter’s Deli — early Wednesday morning. Police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
Infamous neo-Nazi sells “compound” in Maine
A neo-Nazi who bought property this year in a small town in northern Penobscot County in Maine has reportedly sold it and removed everything from the land, including his Nazi flag.
- Christopher Pohlhaus, a neo-Nazi who has been filmed recently leading groups of white supremacists carrying swastika flags, signed the closing documents to sell the 10.6-acre property last month, the Bangor Daily News reported Tuesday.
- An account claiming to be Pohlhaus on the encrypted messaging service Telegram told USA TODAY in a message Thursday the neo-Nazi group has no plans to leave Maine. “We have several families here.
- The roots are set,” the account messaged.
Pohlhaus’s Telegram account claimed members of his group own 150 acres in Maine.
Statistic of the week: more than 50-fold
That’s the increase in antisemitic comments on YouTube videos since the start of the latest Israel-Hamas war, according to a new study from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
“Cross-platform monitoring has further shown increased online threats against Jewish communities across both mainstream and fringe social media,” the report reads.
Source: USA Today