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Attacks on rabbi’s home, Christian church prompt questions about hate crimes

Religious communities across the country expressed shock and sorrow after two weekend congregation attacks. The incidents, at a New York rabbi’s home and a Christian church in Texas, raise concerns that violence toward religious groups may be rising. Tree of Life Congregation's Rabbi Jeffrey Myers and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Reverend Ted Elmore join Nick Schifrin to discuss.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    This weekend, two violent attacks on separate congregations, one Jewish in New York, the other Christian in Texas.

    They are the latest in what some fear is a rise in violence targeting religious groups in which houses meant to be sanctuaries no longer feel safe.

    In Monsey, New York, a holiday that was supposed to be a celebration was instead a tragedy.

  • Devora Presser:

    I'm so overwhelmed with emotion that this could happen that I — there are no words.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But for these men, there's action, arming themselves with military-style rifles.

  • Man:

    It's time that, you know, we protect ourselves. We can't let what happened last night ever happen again. That's — the saying never again is being taken serious right now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On Saturday night, a Hanukkah party at the home of a New York state rabbi became the latest target of anti-Semitic attacks.

    Five people were wounded, one critically, after a man stormed into the home wielding a machete and started slashing people. The suspect, Grafton Thomas, was later arrested and arraigned. He pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. Today, authorities charged him with a federal hate crime, after they found anti-Semitic writings in his journals.

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y.:

    It's also very disturbing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    At a news conference yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called the attack domestic terrorism.

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

    These are people who intend to create mass harm, mass violence, generate fear based on race, color, creed. That is the definition of terrorism. It's all across the country. It is an American cancer that is spreading in the body politic. And American cancer turns one cell in the body against the other.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Thomas' attorney said he had experienced a long history of mental health issues.

  • Michael Sussman:

    I spent about 35 minutes speaking with Grafton Thomas this morning. I can tell you that I heard nothing in that conversation that confirmed in any way, shape or manner that he's a domestic terrorist.

    This is the action of a individual who, for a long time, has decompensated. He's been treated in mental health facilities.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On Twitter, President Trump condemned the attack, adding that — quote — "We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism."

    In 2018, a mass shooting in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue killed 11, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. This year, there were fatal shootings at a synagogue in Poway, California, and multiple attacks in the New York area just in the past month, including a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey.

    Halfway across the country, on Sunday morning, there was another attack on a different house of worship. In White Settlement, Texas, about eight miles west of Fort Worth, a gunman opened fire during Sunday services and killed two people. Volunteer security guards at the West Freeway Church of Christ shot him dead within seconds.

    Today, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the new Texas law that allows parishioners to carry guns inside churches.

  • Ken Paxton:

    We can't prevent every incident. We can't prevent mental illness from occurring. And we can't prevent every crazy person from pulling a gun. But we can be prepared, like this church was, and, in that way, prevent the loss of life that occurred here in 1999 and also that occurred in Sutherland Springs a few years ago.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In 1999, a gunman killed seven people at a Baptist church in Fort Worth. And in 2017, another mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas left 26 people dead.

    As for Sunday's shooting, authorities are still investigating the motive.

    The attacks and incidents are by no means limited to churches and synagogues. For example, there have been more than 200 incidents at mosques in the past decade tied to anti-Muslim sentiment, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

    For some perspective on these crimes, I'm joined by Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree Of Life congregation, and the Reverend Ted Elmore, who leads his own ministry in Grapevine, Texas. Reverend Elmore is the incident response leader with the southern Baptist of Texas Convention. And he counseled congregants of the Sutherland Springs church after the shooting there in 2017.

    Thank you very much. Welcome to both of you and the "NewsHour."

    Rabbi Myers, let me start with you. What's the mood in your community today?

  • Jeffrey Myers:

    I would it's combined.

    I don't think there's one adjective. There are many who are afraid, yet there are many who are equally outraged at yet another anti-Semitic attack.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Do you feel anti-Semitic attacks have gone up, and why do you think that is?

  • Jeffrey Myers:

    Yes, they have.

    The why is another complex question that I really don't think there is enough time on this conversation we're having to delve into the deep issues of why there are such great expressions of evil and violence in our country.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Reverend Elmore, evil and violence are the words that Rabbi Myers used.

    You're from this community in Texas, religious community, cultural community. You have talked about how attacks in your community are getting worse. How have they gotten worse?

  • Ted Elmore:

    Well, they have gotten worse in that there are more of them.

    The first I recall in Texas was in the 1980s in East Texas, then 1999 at Wedgwood Baptist, 2017 at First Baptist, Sutherland Springs. And then we have had school shootings, as well as two — in two cities, El Paso and Odessa, and now another church shooting.

    So the time between seems to be decreasing. And that's very unfortunate.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Rabbi, is that the perspective you have as well, that the time between some of these incidents is decreasing dramatically?

  • Jeffrey Myers:

    Yes.

    Certainly, the nonstop news cycle helps to share these on a regular basis so frequently, that it's a constant part of our diet.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And you have said that it's almost like "Groundhog Day," but watching a horror film.

    Given, as you just said, that it is a constant part of the diet, what is the digestion, if you will, in your community to handling these incidents as they come more repeatedly?

  • Jeffrey Myers:

    Well, we're rather firm and strong, in that from an anti-Semitic incident point of view, that we're not going to let anti-Semitic behavior stop us from, as I call it, doing Jewish. That's not going to change. We're not going to permit that to change.

    We can't let that change, because, when that happens, then all of these people who gain to — want to inflict terror on us, they win. And we will not let that happen. So we will continue to fulfill our own destinies in our own Jewish lives, the way that we want to.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Reverend Elmore, what's your version of that? How do you maintain that resilience?

  • Ted Elmore:

    Well, I think we maintain the resilience because of our strong faith in God through the lord Jesus Christ.

    And we understand that people of faith for time immemorial have been persecuted by those with evil intent. And we certainly would stand with our Jewish friends in expressions of resistance to any form of anti-Semitism, because, ultimately, when evil comes for one, it comes for all.

    And so we are together in this. Our people will not be restrained. We will continue to worship. We will continue to love the lord and love our brother our ourself and struggle with our own imperfections as we seek to serve God.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Rabbi Myers, Reverend Elmore mentioned standing with people of faith.

    Do you discuss with other leaders of faith these kinds of attacks and how to deal with them?

  • Jeffrey Myers:

    Yes, we do regularly.

    One of the positive outcomes of the attack in my synagogue in 2018 were that doors opened that one would have not expected or anticipated so soon after my arrival, because I'd only been in the community for just a pinch more than a year.

    Those doors opened. I entered through those doors and continue to find ways to dialogue, to get to know faith leaders from other communities to share in our commonalities, because, when we get down to basics, we're all the same. We all want the same thing for each other.

    And we take these commonalities. And we must use them to better our society collectively.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Reverend, those commonalities, of course, is something that you were talking about as well.

    But do you have a sense that these attacks are specific, that they are targeting people of faith, or targeting churches, for example, rather than, for example, these people who want to kill finding some kind of opportunity to kill many people?

  • Ted Elmore:

    You know, Nick, how do you get inside the mind of someone who's mentally disturbed?

    I think that's one of the issues that we face. And our experts in those areas are trying to figure that out. But, ultimately, people have targets, and, it appears, targets based on their hatred and what they are opposed to.

    And I don't know how long these are planned by certain individuals or what is involved in their mind in that makeup. But in order to get to a synagogue or to get to a church, they pass a lot of places where there are people gathered.

    So it's more than just wanting to kill people. There is a target based on an emotion, I believe, of evil and hatred that causes them to enter churches and synagogues and mosques.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Rabbi, that emotion of evil and hatred, as the reverend just said, targeting specifically churches and mosques, how much fear does that create in your community? And how do you get over it?

  • Jeffrey Myers:

    I have noticed over the past 48, 72 hours that there are many Jews who now are afraid to practice their faith publicly, and have been driven underground, so to speak, afraid to put a menorah in a window, afraid to go to synagogue.

    In the end, when we do that, we let the terrorists win.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, Reverend, to you. Quickly, in the time we have left, what is overcoming fear for you? How do you overcome those fears that the rabbi just mentioned?

  • Ted Elmore:

    Well, we certainly take precautions. I believe that prayer is a first-line response of all people of faith. We seek consolation. We seek strength from God and through his word in the Scriptures.

    But our resolve is — we get the resolve from prayer and Scripture to continue and keep on. And that doesn't mean that we're not asking questions and we're not taking precautions. But we will not let evil win. We will not.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It's an important message to end on.

    Reverend Ted Elmore, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life, thank you very much to you both.

  • Ted Elmore:

    Thank you, sir.

  • Jeffrey Myers:

    Thank you.

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