WASHINGTON — Senators unanimously called upon the administration to take “swift action” against the bomb threats levied at Jewish institutions in a letter released as the sixth wave of threats was unfolding in cities across the country.
Threats, some phoned in and some emailed, were received Monday night and this morning at 12 Jewish community centers and day schools in Massachusetts, Illinois, Wisconsin, Maryland, Oregon, Florida, Alabama, New York, Toronto and Ontario, as well as four Anti-Defamation League offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Boston.
The threat received at the JCC of Syracuse was of such a nature that the occupants were ordered to shelter in place this morning instead of evacuating as police swept the area.
More than 140 threats have been made to Jewish centers since the beginning of the year. Last week, Juan Thompson, 31, was arrested and accused of making threats to at least eight of the targeted centers in the name of a woman he was stalking and harassing. Law enforcement sources told NBC News that Thompson was believed to be a “copycat” instead of the main source of the threats; he used his stalking victim’s name on the threats, according to the criminal complaint, whereas the bulk of the threats have been anonymous.
Some of the calls received by Jewish community centers since the beginning of the year have been made by an automated voice, with others appearing to use voice-distortion devices. Some of the callers have potentially been women. Law enforcement sources told CNN they believed many of the phone threats originated overseas.
Thompson has been held without bail in St. Louis.
A letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director James Comey had been organized before the latest wave of threats by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and signed by all 100 members of the upper chamber.
The senators “ask that you inform us of the actions that your Departments plan to take to address threats against these and other religious institutions.”
“We stand ready to work with you to ensure that these centers can continue to serve their communities free from violence and intimidation,” they wrote. “It has become clear that threats of violence against individual JCCs are not isolated incidents.”
“…These cowardly acts aim to create an atmosphere of fear and disrupt the important programs and services offered by JCCs to everyone in the communities they serve, including in our states. In addition to reports of incidents at JCCs and Jewish Day Schools, there have been incidents at cemeteries in both St. Louis and Philadelphia involving the desecration of Jewish headstones. This is completely unacceptable and un-American.”
The senators added that they were “concerned that the number of incidents is accelerating and failure to address and deter these threats will place innocent people at risk and threaten the financial viability of JCCs, many of which are institutions in their communities.”
“Your Departments can provide crucial assistance by helping JCCs, Jewish Day Schools and Synagogues improve their physical security, deterring threats from being made, and investigating and prosecuting those making these threats or who may seek to act on these threats in the future,” the letter continues. “We encourage you to communicate with individual JCCs, the JCC Association of North America, Jewish Day Schools, Synagogues and other Jewish community institutions regarding victim assistance, grant opportunities or other federal assistance that may be available to enhance security measures and improve preparedness. We also recognize the anti-Semitic sentiment behind this spate of threats and encourage your Departments to continue to inform state and local law enforcement organizations of their obligations under the Hate Crime Statistics Act and other federal laws.”
The JCC Association of North America, which said it was still reviewing today’s threats, said they and other Jewish organizations sat down with Comey on Friday.
“The conversation encompassed the current situation and potential strategies for future collaboration,” the JCC Association said in a statement. “All the organizations in attendance expressed the deep gratitude of the entire community for the extraordinary effort that the FBI is applying to the ongoing investigation.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer began today’s briefing by acknowledging the new threats.
“It is incredibly saddening that I have to continue to share these disturbing reports with you, and I share the president’s thoughts that he fervently hopes that we don’t continue to have to share these reports with you,” Spicer said. “But as long as they will — as long as they do continue, we will continue to condemn them and look at ways in which we can stop them.”