Dozens of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers, schools and religious advocates have left us with few answers and a murky investigation.
By Feb. 28, more than 100 threats had been called in to 77 different Jewish community centers, eight Jewish schools and several advocacy offices, including the Anti-Defamation League, which received bomb threats at its New York and San Francisco offices.
The waves of anonymous calls started rolling in on Jan. 9. At least 16 Jewish community centers in nine different states received bomb threats, and many were forced to evacuate. Dozens more threats hit JCCs on Jan. 18, 21 and 31, and again on Feb. 20 and 27.
The centers have since settled on a common protocol to deal with the threats, and employees are coping. But parents and community members are left with big questions: Do I take my kid out of the local JCC preschool? Have any bombs been found? Shouldn’t someone have caught a suspect by now?
Indeed, the only people who might have answers have been largely silent. The FBI doesn’t comment on active investigations ― nor do investigators comment on how active an investigation actually is.
Yet reports from affected JCCs, interviews with law enforcement and data analysis can fill in some of the blanks as the investigation continues.
Who’s behind the calls?
So far, no suspect has been identified by local or federal agencies. It’s also unclear how far along the FBI’s probe is ― a fact that aggravates Jewish leaders looking for answers each time a new round of calls comes.
“Anti-Semitism of this nature should not and must not be allowed to endure in our communities,” said David Posner, strategic adviser for the JCC Association of North America, shortly after 13 Jewish community centers and eight day schools received bomb threats on Monday.
“Actions speak louder than words. Members of our community must see swift and concerted action from federal officials to identify and capture the perpetrator or perpetrators who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in our communities,” he said.
What we do know is that many of the calls have come from the same person or group of people. Multiple JCCs have confirmed that they received calls similar to this one, which was obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In it, a disguised, robotic voice tells the receiver that Jews’ “heads are going to be blown off” by a “C-4 bomb with a lot of shrapnel.”
It’s unclear if the calls are recorded or made live. Forensics experts told The Huffington Post that it’s a lot more difficult to trace a call made over the internet or on certain cell phones than it is to trace calls made on a landline.
It’s also unclear how long an investigation like this is supposed to take ― though threats at schools and religious facilities are nothing new, Jewish leaders told HuffPost that the scope of these bomb threats, carried out against specific community centers within a short period, is relatively unheard of.
Are the threats credible?
The short answer is no. Local authorities have deemed all of the bomb threats hoaxes and haven’t found any bombs. There’s no immediate indication that the suspect or suspects will carry out these threats ― but police agencies are still taking each one seriously.
To be sure, parents are struggling with the fact that the place they often send their kids for preschool or summer camp is under siege. But even the most-targeted centers have reported that parents are sticking around out of community pride and even defiance.
“The important thing to note is that the kids have not been traumatized by this,” said Leslie Sax, executive director of the Gordon JCC in Nashville, Tennessee, which has received three threats on three different days. “I credit the staff for that. The time we did evacuate, the kids thought they were on a field trip ― they were having fun.”
What’s being done?
President Donald Trump’s statements on anti-Semitism have been criticized as lackluster and lacking a call to action. But advocates hope that the comments he made on Tuesday will embolden the federal government to commit more resources to the investigation.
“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said during his address to a joint session of Congress.
Lawmakers have urged the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to join the investigation. But beyond the Justice Department looking into possible civil rights violations, the two entities have yet to throw their hats into the ring.
There are a couple more lights in the dark. The Anti-Defamation League has been hosting trainings for Jewish organizations across the nation. People are coming together to denounce acts of hate. Vice President Mike Pence even showed up and spoke after a Jewish cemetery was desecrated in Missouri.
But the silver linings aren’t enough right now. Jewish leaders want active participation from the government.
“The Justice Department, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the White House, alongside Congress and local officials, must speak out – and speak out forcefully – against this scourge of anti-Semitism impacting communities across the country,” Posner said.
America does not do a good job of tracking incidents of hate and bias. We need your help to create a database of such incidents across the country, so we all know what’s going on. Tell us your story.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that Pence spoke at a cemetery in Philadelphia. He spoke at the cemetery in Missouri.