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Police Examining Jersey City Shooting Motive As Hebrew Israelite Ties Emerge

Updated December 13

One of the accused shooters in the Jersey City, New Jersey kosher supermarket shooting was reportedly a former follower of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement who had written anti-Semitic posts on social media.

The police investigation, which will encompass at least three different crime scenes, is ongoing, and law enforcement agencies are continuing to piece together a timeline of Tuesday’s events.

Establishing a motive will be part of that investigation, especially whether Hebrew Israelite ideology played a role. Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop tweeted on Wednesday morning that surveillance footage made it “clear” that the JC Kosher Supermarket was “targeted” by the suspects. But New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal was more circumspect in a press conference that afternoon.

“We are not in the position to say definitely why the suspects decided to stop in front of the supermarket and begin firing immediately,” he said, adding, “The why and the ideologies and the motivations — we want to be thorough and we want to be accurate before we come back to you with any more information.”

The two perpetrators were identified as David Anderson and Francine Graham, who died in a shootout with police. Anderson is a former Hebrew Israelite, local station NBC4 reported. He had at least four charges on his criminal record. They are also the prime suspects in the murder of an Uber driver in nearby Bayonne, Grewal said.

Two law enforcement sources told NBC News that his apparent Facebook account, under the name “Dawada Maqabath,” included frequent anti-Semitic posts claiming Jews control the government and were enemies of the people. In one comment underneath an ABC News article about the wave of anti-Semitic attacks in Brooklyn, Maqabath was encouraging of the assaults, saying that black people were “not violent enough.”

At some point on Tuesday, Anderson and Graham encountered, shot and killed Jersey City Police Department detective Joseph Seals at a cemetery, after Seals attempted to question them about the U-Haul they were driving, which police had linked to the Bayonne murder. They then drove to the nearby JC Kosher Supermarket in that U-Haul, which had a pipe bomb and firearms inside.

Surveillance footage shows two people exiting the van with guns drawn and entering the store, where four civilians were present. One was able to flee after suffering a gunshot wound, but the other three were killed quickly. A standoff with periodic shooting between police and the suspects lasted three hours. Officers then used an armored vehicle to storm the store, engaging and eventually killing Anderson and Graham.

The three victims were identified as Leah Mindel Ferencz, the wife of the store owner; employee Miguel Douglas, an immigrant from Ecuador; and Moshe Deutsch, the son of a Hasidic community leader who appeared to be shopping at the time of the attack.

Fulop said at the press conference that further lives were saved because two police officers happened to be on patrol a block away and responded within seconds. An FBI analysis of the device indicated that the bomb was operational.

The attack was the third deadly shooting at a Jewish gathering space in a little over a year. But while the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, California were allegedly perpetrated by white nationalists, the most recent incident appears to have been perpetrated by someone with reported ties to black nationalism.

Hebrew Israelites are African-Americans who believe that they are descendants of the biblical Israelites (though most African-American Jews do not identify with Hebrew Israelite ideology). Some Hebrew Israelites also identify as Jews and participate in mainstream Jewish life and rituals.

Rabbi Capers Funnye, the chief rabbi of the International Israelite Board of Rabbis, which seeks to bridge the Hebrew Israelite and traditional Jewish communities, condemned the shooting in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the media uses the term ‘Black Hebrew Israelites’ without distinction as if the description is a one size fits all and it is absolutely not!” he wrote. “Many African American Jews and Jews of Color are threatened by these perpetrators, and by those against the actions of these perpetrators.”

However, other Hebrew Israelites believe that the mainstream Jewish community – particularly white Jews – are impostors.

“The anti-Semitic offshoots of the broader Israelite movement believe that white people are the agents of Satan,” said Oren Segal, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “They view Jews as false worshippers of God, as liars. They think that black Jews are the true chosen people and are racially superior.”

Many tourists come across Hebrew Israelite preachers who park themselves in busy intersections like Times Square or Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown, reading the Bible and often aggressively accosting passersby or those who try to engage with them.

The movement received some attention in January after students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who were recorded yelling at a Native American protester at the Washington Monument, claimed that they had been egged on by nearby Hebrew Israelites who had been screaming at them.

One of Graham’s former neighbors told local station NBC 4 that she turned into a “dark person” after she met Anderson, and that she often heard chanting and loud reading of the New Testament coming from her condo.

The director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, Heidi Beirich, told the Forward that the number of extremist black nationalist groups had grown each of the past three years, but it was tough to tell if the individual groups’ numbers were growing as well.

“These are very secretive groups,” said Beirich. “We don’t know a lot about them. They are cultish, they don’t let in outsiders.”

Members of those groups aren’t known to have an ideological propensity for violence, the experts said, but there have been exceptions. In October, police in South Florida arrested a Hebrew Israelite named Elijah Israel – birth name Larry Greene – who allegedly assaulted two Jews walking out of a local synagogue while yelling “go back to Israel.” Police said he referred to his victims as “fake Jews.”

Aiden Pink is the deputy news editor of the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aidenpink

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