The deadly shootings outside Kansas City-area Jewish centers this weekend serve as a harsh reminder of a troubling reality: most religiously motivated hate crimes in this country are anti-Semitic.
Authorities announced Monday that they would pursue hate crime charges against the accused shooter, 73-year-old Frazier Glenn Cross. But signs of anti-Jewish motivation were evident before today.
Cross was the leader of a Ku Klux Klan group in North Carolina during the 1980s and has longstanding ties to white supremacist groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has tracked him for years. The shootings took place on the eve of Passover, a major Jewish holiday. And Cross was caught on tape shouting “Heil Hitler!” shortly after his arrest.
The designation of the slayings as a hate crime allows both state and federal authorities to pursue the case and press for more stringent punishment. The Department of Justice defines a hate crime as “violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability.”
Crimes motivated by religious bias made up 19 percent of all hate crimes in 2012, behind race and sexual orientation, according to FBI data. But of the 1,166 offenses that resulted from religious bias that year, almost 60 percent, or 696, were anti-Semitic.
The number of hate crimes against Jews has remained high this decade, but the level has fluctuated. In 2009, seven in ten religiously motivated hate crimes were due to anti-Jewish bias.
Cross’ alleged crime stands out, though. The FBI recorded no anti-Semitic killings in its 2012 hate crime report, which contains its most up-to-date information available to the public.
The vast majority — almost 70 percent — of anti-Semitic hate crimes were acts of vandalism, while one quarter were crimes against people, like assault or intimidation.
A separate study conducted by the Anti-Defamation League noted that anti-Semitic incidents were down 14 percent in 2012, following a two-year decline.
Whatever the intent of the crime, none of the victims were Jewish. Reat Underwood, 14, and his grandfather, Dr. William Corporon, 69, were members of a Methodist Church and were killed outside the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kan., according to Reuters. And Terri LaManno, 53 and a Catholic, was killed at the Village Shalom assisted living center, where her mother resided.
Law enforcement officials only take into account the motivation of the offender, not the identity of the victim, when assessing hate crime charges.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.