Antisemitic incidents have spiked in the Philadelphia area since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. There have been complaints about more than 100 in less than two months, according to Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia. There were a little more than 500 in all of 2022.
Some such complaints, though, seem unrelated to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. Two recent incidents in Warrington fit into that category, according to ADL Philadelphia Director Andrew Goretsky.
On Oct. 11, the Warrington Township Police Department received a call about antisemitic flyers containing conspiracy theories about Jews that were distributed to two homes in the Maple Knoll neighborhood, according to Police Chief Dan Friel. Then, on Oct. 27, a swastika was found on a utility pole on Folly Road, a residential street.
The department found out about the swastika when a resident of the Bucks County town who was out for a walk saw it and called it in. Friel dispatched an officer to paint over it right away, he said.
Police have not been able to find the perpetrators even after posting about the incidents on social media and in a regional information-sharing network for law enforcement officers, according to Friel. There was no security camera footage of either incident.
Spray-painting a swastika can qualify as criminal mischief for defacing the property of another, according to the police chief. Dropping antisemitic flyers on driveways might rise to the level of scattering rubbish, which is like a traffic ticket.
“We do take it very seriously, and we will investigate it as far as we can take it,” Friel said.
The police chief mentioned that a similar flyer incident happened in neighboring Doylestown on the same night. He explained that similar hits were carried out in Philadelphia, Ridley and Upper Macungie, in Lehigh County, in 2023. Back in the spring, swastikas were also spray-painted in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County.
Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the nation as a whole saw record numbers of antisemitic incidents in 2022, according to ADL data. There were 3,697 incidents in the United States. (The ADL began conducting its audit in 1979.)
“So, it is all over the place,” Friel said.
“We had 400-plus cases of white supremacist propaganda in 2022,” Goretsky said. “They are targeting a wide range of places.”
There are two goals for white supremacist groups, according to Goretsky — to intimidate minority communities and recruit people to their ideology.
These groups want media attention, which is part of the reason why they target towns in higher socioeconomic brackets, according to the website of one. Goretsky said that’s why the ADL prefers to leave the names of these groups and the content of their flyers out of news reports.
Goretsky does not recommend posting about such incidents on social media. That gives the symbols and content the exposure that the white supremacists desire.
At the same time, residents should never ignore such incidents, he said. They should report them to the local police and the ADL. Basically, victims should take three steps in such a situation: keep the evidence, report the incident and offer as much information as possible.
“Let the experts determine if it’s criminal behavior or not,” Goretsky said.
Friel explained that evidence, like a flyer, can be checked for fingerprints and distributed within the department’s regional information-sharing network. Sharing information can get multiple departments and officers on the same search for a perpetrator.
“That way we can try to narrow down where it’s coming from,” he said.