Arriving at his home in Northeast Philadelphia after work one day, Ben Bargerhuff noticed some flyers wrapped in a rubber band lying on his lawn. He thought nothing of it since it was the night before Election Day last November. But when he thumbed through the contents, he saw not candidate pitch sheets, but four pages of anti-Semitic material.
Containing statements denying the Holocaust and attempting to connect Israel to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the leaflets infuriated Bargerhuff, who is not Jewish, but learned his craft of refinishing furniture from a Jewish man years ago.
He took it upon himself to walk the length of his street and around the corner to remove as many flyers as he could find on neighbors' lawns.
"I picked them all up and collected them to see that they're all the same trash," he said.
'An Expression of Speech'
In the past month, the distribution of literature has intensified in the Roxborough/East Falls areas, the lower and far Northeast, and the suburbs of Abington and Upper Dublin, according to David Weisberg, assistant regional director for the Anti-Defamation League.
He said there have been 10 distinct leafletings across the city in the last month alone.
For the most part, the material comes from National Vanguard, a Virginia-based white-supremacist organization that prints anti-Semitic messages on its Web site.
In the past month, the Jewish Exponent has received several calls complaining about hate literature being found at locations in the Northeast.
The ADL says that since the sporadic distribution started a year-and-a-half ago, both Jewish and non-Jewish residents have received the materials. The organization also believes there's no specific reason that certain neighborhoods were targeted.
Barry Morrison, regional director of the ADL, says that although the flyers might offend people, the acts in and of themselves are not officially unlawful.
"It's an expression of speech," he stated. "There's nothing illegal about printing up flyers and distributing them."
He said there's no way to determine how many people were behind the effort. But he did suggest that "the best way to respond is to present speech and ideas that negate these negative ideas."
Burt Siegel, director of community relations at the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which has dealt with such issues before, offered that whoever is behind this may not be all that sophisticated.
"It does not take an organized group to give out this literature," he said. "We have to assume that they're not kids, and they're not in one neighborhood. Whoever is doing this is old enough to get around from neighborhood to neighborhood."
In response to the leaflets, JCRC sent out notices to synagogues in the Philadelphia area, telling congregants to be on the lookout for other signs of anti-Semitism, and to call the ADL if they have any information.
John Livingood, deputy chief of Abington's police, would like to use solicitation or littering ordinances to prosecute people distributing hateful materials.
"We're not just gonna stand by and let people distribute that kind of garbage in our town," he declared. "We'll do something."
Rachel Lawton, acting executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations - a group that enforces civil rights in the city - said it's monitoring the situation: "We won't tolerate any intimidating or threatening behavior."