Armed to the teeth with guns and explosives, David K. Anderson and Francine Graham opened fire Tuesday in Jersey City on a kosher grocery store, killing three civilians. Prior to the attack at the store the couple allegedly shot and killed Jersey City Police Detective Joseph Seals. Seals was investigating a report of a stolen van used in a homicide in Bayonne, N.J. several days earlier.
Initial reports on the supermarket attack downplayed the possibility that it was a terrorist attack.
And in the initial chaos, some people tried to fill an information void with speculation. That continued even as subsequent information made it clear that the killers were Jew haters who targeted to the kosher store. U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., went so far as to assume the attack was an act of white supremacy even though the shooters' identities were already known publicly.
What utter nonsense. Was Tllaib, well known for her anti-Semitic statements, attempting to disguise or deflect away from what really motivated the shooters? Once it became clear she was mistaken, Tlaib took her statement down. But she did not replace it with any comment about the anti-Semitism that drove the violence.
To be sure, a police officer's primary objective when responding to an active shooter(s) is to save lives and neutralize
the assailant, not analyze motives. It is after the threat has been stopped that investigators begin the task of putting together the pieces of the puzzle that show what happened, and why.
The fact pattern of this attack provided clear answers:
1) The choice of target, a Jewish grocery store.
2) An ex-con with a prior history of violence and animosity toward police. Anderson did several stints with the New Jersey Department of Corrections for violent crimes and also a domestic violence incident in Kent, Ohio.
3) Associated with organization that adheres to a twisted ideology promoting hatred for Jews.
Graham was a follower of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. A 1999 FBI report identified it as an extremist fringe group with a potential for terrorism.
"As God's 'authentic' Jews, BHI adherents believe that mainstream Jews are actually imposters," the report said.
"Such beliefs bear a striking resemblance to the Christian Identity theology practiced by many white supremacists. In fact, Tom Metzger, renowned white supremacist, once remarked, 'They're the black counterpart of us.' Like their
Christian Identity counterparts, militant BHI followers tend to see themselves as divinely endowed by God with superior status."
When police searched the van Anderson and Graham drove to the kosher market, they found a pipe bomb inside and a note:
"I do this because my creator makes me do this and I hate who he hates," it said.
But not all BHI followers are violent anti-Semites. There is a community of Black Hebrew Israelites, who claim to be descendants of a lost tribe, in Israel, with members who have become citizens.
The group was better known by the NYPD for their street preachers spewing virulent anti-Semitic sermons to tourists, on the corner of 45th and Broadway in the Times Square section of New York City.
In 2016, the FBI along with local police and IRS agents, raided several properties owned by the BHI group in the New York-New Jersey area while investigating financial irregularities.
Two leaders of the group, Jermaine Grant, 43, and Lincoln Warrington, 48, were accused of embezzling over $5 million dollars. Grant, who is facing a five year sentence, plans to continue running the organization from his prison cell where he will be free to proselytize among a captive audience vulnerable to radicalization. The BHI movement has long been considered a fringe group by prison chaplains for its extremist ideology.
The Jersey City attack closely mirrors another attack that took place in Paris in 2015. There, Amedy Coulibaly, an ex-con with a history of violence and animosity toward police, along with his common law wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, stormed the Hypercacher Kosher grocery store in Paris, killing four civilians. Coulibaly was killed in a shootout with police. Boumeddiene was able to escape and fled to an ISIS controlled area in Syria.
Prior to the supermarket attack, the two were suspected in the shooting death of French policewoman Clarissa Jean-Philippe in Montrouge. Coulibaly, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, was motivated by a radical Islamic ideology that referred to Jews as dogs and pigs and not worthy of living.
Any violent crime that specifically targets Jewish people for who they are or where they work or worship should be immediately recognized for what it is, an act of terrorism.
Thankfully, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has called it a hate crime against the Jewish people. New Jersey's Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Thursday that his office was treating this as an act of domestic terrorism.
Experience tells us that initial reports after terror attacks and mass shootings often prove to be incorrect. This can lead to confusion and misinformation.
Jersey City officials first said the victims did not appear to be specifically targeted. It didn't take long for reality to set in, driven by the clear evidence about Anderson. To their credit, local and federal authorities did not try to minimize the ugly motivation for murder.