My family received threatening anti-Semitic propaganda in the mail, and I worry that Trump-endorsed hate speech is here to stay

Insider
Insider
Feb 24 · 6 min read

More than two months after the Capitol riot, my family experienced the same kind of vitriol shown that day — but, quite literally, on our doorstep.

A Proud Boys demonstration.
Members of the Proud Boys have worn anti-Semitic shirts and sweaters during their demonstrations. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

By Max Kalnitz

This article contains anti-Semitic slurs and detailed accounts of anti-Semitic violence.

We thought it was a valentine.

The anonymous white envelope arrived in the mail at our home in Buffalo, New York, on February 10 adorned with heart stickers and no return information. It wasn’t addressed to my family or any of the four of us individually — the only information was our address printed on computer paper and secured with tape.

Something about it immediately seemed off. My dad even joked he hoped there wasn’t poison inside.

When we opened it, the only poison we found was on the page.

A single piece of computer paper contained anti-Semitic propaganda and the text, “GO BACK TO F — — — ISRAEL JEWS YOU DON’T BELONG IN OUR COUNTRY WE’RE COMING FOR YOU!”

My mom started crying and a feeling of numbness washed over me

On the page, there was also an image of a black and gold T-shirt, typically worn by members of far-right groups, with an eagle and the phrase “6MWE,” which stands for “6 million weren’t enough,” referring to the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. In a second photo, a pistol and a bullet rested on top of the American flag and constitution.

The anti-Semitic letter my family received in the mail on February 10.
The anti-Semitic letter my family received in the mail on February 10.
The anti-Semitic letter my family received in the mail on February 10. Photo: Max Kalnitz/Insider

So many questions raced through my head: There was a written threat and a picture of a gun — were we safe? Was someone going to harm us in our own home like the New York rabbi who was fatally stabbed in his house in 2019? How did the sender(s) know we were Jewish? Did they drive by our house and see the menorah we display in our window during Hanukkah? Was it from someone who found us online and, for some reason, had an issue with our religion? Or, maybe even worse, was it from someone we know?

We immediately called the police, other Jews who lived in our neighborhood, and the synagogues in town, but no one else appeared to have received a similar letter.

But on the same day, at least three other anti-Semitic incidents were reported to the Anti-Defamation League around the country. Ours is not an isolated incident.

Individuals who used to lurk in the dark nooks of the internet have been given the confidence to rear their ugly faces

During Donald Trump’s presidency, hate crimes committed not only against Jews but many minority groups seemed to worsen each year while the confidence of alt-right extremists appeared to grow.

According to a 2019 Washington Post study, in counties where Trump held a campaign rally in 2016, hate crimes increased 226%. In 2020, the FBI concluded that hate crimes increased 20% overall during Trump’s presidency. Many of these hate crimes involved anti-Semitism.

We’ve witnessed terrifying examples of this hate in action. There was the 2017 Charlottesville rally during which a protester was killed and President Trump failed to condemn far-right counterprotesters’ actions and slogans, which had included anti-Semitic messaging. Then, after the 2018 Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, which was the deadliest attack on Jewish Americans in the history of the United States, the synagogue’s rabbi said politicians’ hate speech had led to the massacre.

It’s not just hate against Jewish people, of course. Experts have linked the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the last year in part to language used by President Trump and other Republican lawmakers. Trump regularly called the coronavirus the “Chinese Virus,” the “Wuhan Virus,” and “Kung Flu” — language that experts say “contributed to a culture of prejudice and blame directed at Asian Americans,” Insider’s Erin Snodgrass previously reported.

It’s too early to know the number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2020 but in 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League, Jews in the US experienced more than 2,100 anti-Semitic incidents, the highest number of hate crimes since the organization started keeping track more than 40 years ago. It was a 12% increase from 2018 — more specifically, harassment increased by 6%, vandalism by 19%, and assault by 56%.

On January 6, when I watched the mob of Trump supporters storm the Capitol building, this hate appeared to have reached a fever pitch.

I was flabbergasted at the sheer volume of anti-Semitic symbols on show during the insurrection of the Capitol

There were many egregious sights and acts committed at the Capitol on January 6. But what stuck out to me the most was the abundance of anti-Semitic symbols and propaganda throughout the mob.

Rioters donned “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirts, waved flags with swastikas on them, and one protester even had tattoos of symbols appropriated by neo-Nazis. I was floored that thousands of people apparently felt safe and confident enough to flaunt their anti-Semitism so openly without fear of punishment.

It seemed like fiction, like something out of the kinds of dystopian novels students read to learn about the dangers of Hitler, the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism.

Yet there my family was, more than two months after the Capitol riot, experiencing the same kind of vitriol — but, quite literally, on our doorstep.

I’m scared that even though Trump is out of office, this is our new normal

While this is not the first anti-Semitic sentiments my family has experienced — my neighbor’s friend telling my mother, “Go inside Jew girl or I’ll kick your ass into next Tuesday” comes to mind — this was by far the most extreme.

Far-right and extremist groups gained in confidence during Trump’s presidency, and I fear they will not disappear anytime soon. While the Southern Poverty Law Center reported a decrease in the number of hate groups last year, it noted there was not a decline in hate. Where formal membership once existed, people can now go online or download encrypted apps where they can share their beliefs and connect with like-minded people. “And, despite the lack of formal affiliation, these individuals still take real-world actions,” the report said — as we saw on January 6.

Far-right groups may appear to go dormant for a time, hiding behind anonymous hate crimes like the letter sent to my family, but they’ll still exist. And while I’m hopeful the person who mailed us this letter will be caught, I acknowledge that by writing this essay, the person who sent the letter is getting exactly what they wanted — more attention to their cause and the knowledge that they left my family distraught.

The envelope containing the anti-Semitic letter my family received. Photo: Max Kalnitz/Insider

But we’re not giving up.

After we reported the letter to the police, the two head detectives from the Buffalo Police Department came to inspect the evidence, and they found a hair under one of the heart stickers. The FBI is investigating and we hope there will be justice for whoever sent us the letter.

Once my family notified friends and family about what had happened, we received an outpouring of phone calls and messages. Our rabbi’s wife even dropped off a homemade challah. Thanks to the love and support from our friends, we found ourselves laughing at how crazy the situation was within a few days.

Far-right extremism may be growing but so is my community and our resolve.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).

For more great stories, visit Insider’s homepage.

Insider

Insider

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store