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NJ officials say state faces ‘high’ level of threat from extremist groups

Jersey City police respond to the active shooter scene at Martin Luther King Drive and Bidwell Avenue on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (Joe Shine/The Jersey Journal/TNS)

Citing the deadly attack in December on a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, as well as the arrests last year of a number of white supremacists allegedly plotting violent attacks, New Jersey officials Friday said homegrown extremism remains the biggest terrorism threat to the state.

The Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, in its annual assessment report, said of the 44 domestic terrorist incidents reported in the United States last year, four had a nexus to New Jersey.

“The ever-changing threat landscape in New Jersey and around the country requires us to adjust our strategies to anticipate new threats while remaining ready to combat those already existing,” said Jared Maples, who heads the state’s homeland security agency.

While officials said there currently are no credible threats to New Jersey, their assessment specifically warned of the mounting danger from white supremacist groups — increasing the threat level from such extremists from “moderate” to “high,” based on the number of threats, plots, and attacks nationwide in 2019.

Among most deadly of those attacks was the El Paso attack in August, when a gunman warning of an “Hispanic invasion” killed 22 and injured 24 at a Walmart store.

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Here in New Jersey, the report noted the arrest of Richard Tobin of Brooklawn in November, in connection with a plot to attack African Americans with a machete at the Menlo Park Mall in Edison. Authorities also charged that he had connections to a loosely organized neo-Nazi network that calls itself “The Base,” which looked to vandalize synagogues in Wisconsin and Michigan.

In June, a Sussex County man with alleged white supremacy leanings was indicted on 39 criminal counts — including the possession of an arsenal of weapons and sending his ex-girlfriend’s Jewish employer a photo of the woman wearing a Nazi SS cap. Michael Zaremski was indicted on weapons charges and bias intimidation.

And a Salem man who admitted lying about his ties to a white supremacist group when applying for a federal security clearance was sentenced to six months in prison. Fred C. Arena, 41, was a member of the hate group Vanguard America, authorities said.

Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League said incidents of white supremacist propaganda distributed across the nation jumped by more than 120% between 2018 and last year. It reported 2,713 cases of circulated propaganda by white supremacist groups, including fliers, posters and banners, compared with 1,214 cases in 2018. That material included screeds of hatred against Jews, LGBTQ people and other minority communities.

Oren Segal, director of the League’s Center on Extremism, said the prominence of what he called more subtly biased rhetoric in some of the white supremacist material emphasized “patriotism,” which he took as a sign that the groups are attempting “to make their hate more palatable for a 2020 audience.”

Since January 2019, the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness said there have been 168 reported instances of white supremacist propaganda distribution in New Jersey, compared to 46 in 2018. Officials said most were in the form of flyers placed in public venues and higher education institutions throughout the state.

According to the new state terror assessment, white supremacist extremists will pose a high threat to New Jersey in 2020 “as supporters of this ideology demonstrate their willingness and capability to carry out attacks, direct and inspire sympathizers online, and attempt to network globally.”

At the same time, the report said homegrown violent extremists overall will continue to pose a threat to the state, as foreign terrorist organizations encourage supporters to kill Americans.

In testimony before Congress last month, Maples also raised red flags over how domestic extremists fund their activities.

While he said lone offenders will likely be “self-directed and self-funded” to carry out their goals, other more organized groups engage in selling counterfeit goods, drug and weapons trafficking, cigarette smuggling, and various other fundraising methods.

“We cannot discount the future use of crypto-currencies as a means to fund acts of domestic extremism within New Jersey and across the United States,” he testified, noting that foreign terrorist organization are already using Facebook and other social media services to solicit funding through bitcoin. He noted that in 2017, Andrew Anglin, publisher of neo-Nazi blog “The Daily Stormer”, received a bitcoin donation after the Charlottesville attack worth approximately $60,000.

Investigators are still trying to find out where David Anderson and Francine Graham got the money to carry out the hours-long attack on a Jersey City kosher market in December, killing three inside the store and a police officer a mile away before they were gunned down themselves.

Anderson was believed to have had ties to the Black Hebrew Israelites, which teaches that blacks are the true descendants of the Israelites of the Bible and has been labeled a hate group.

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© 2020 NJ Advance Media Group