Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told congregants and others at the commonwealth’s largest Jewish synagogue that white supremacists have become emboldened, and encouraged lawmakers to finally pass his anti-hate legislation.
Speaking at Temple Rodef Shalom, in Falls Church, Herring said anti-Semitism, white supremacy and hate speech are on the rise, and cited state police figures that hate crimes in Virginia have risen over 30% in the past six years. And he called for public support of his anti-hate legislation, which has been reintroduced in Richmond.
Herring pointed to 2017 violence in Charlottesville, surrounding the Unite the Right rally, as evidence that hate and divisiveness are at their highest levels in recent memory.
“Once hidden in the shadows, they’ve moved their organizing and indoctrination from the internet to the streets,” said Herring. “They have become more visible and sophisticated in their recruitment and organizing efforts.”
Herring said he was “disappointed” that for the past four years, his efforts to enact new hate crime legislation haven’t moved at all. Herring, a Democrat, said he was hopeful the Democrat-led legislators will take action this year, to stymie those who deal in hate.
“Where they should have been met with swift consequences and clear condemnation from political and community leaders, too often they’ve heard indifference, equivocation, tacit approval or worse — all of which have emboldened them further.”
Herring said the new hate laws would benefit many in the commonwealth.
“The hate and white supremacy violence that can threaten the Jewish community also pose a threat to Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, the African American community, LGBT Americans and others who do not comport to someone’s twisted and narrow definition of who belongs and who is a part of our commonwealth and our country,” Herring said.
Herring’s anti-hate proposals would widen the definition of hate crimes, to include sexual identity and disabilities in determining which groups can be victims of hate crimes, would keep guns from those convicted of hate crimes, and would ban paramilitary actions.
“There should not be bands of heavily-armed, seemingly uniformed, private militia marching up Water Street in Charlottesville, or any other community in Virginia,” said Herring, to applause.
Even with the growth of white supremacy and hate crimes, Herring said he is confident it can be stemmed, if the public and lawmakers act decisively.
“History tells us that these swells of intolerance that we are experiencing right now eventually recede, but only when they are beaten back through courage and a commitment to the enduring principles of humanity, compassion, and love for one another.”