A seal at the FBI's headquarters in Washington, D.C. by the Forward

The FBI says hate crime rose again in 2019. But the reality is even worse than their report.

An FBI report revealing a continued increase in antisemitic hate crimes in 2019 undercounts the problem, groups that track those crimes said on Monday.

According to the report, antisemitic hate crimes jumped 14% in 2019, a year that saw a shooting in a synagogue in Poway, Calif., and another in a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, N.J.

Over the winter festival of Hanukkah in New York State, about a year ago, a man was stabbed and several were harassed or assaulted. Those events inspired 25,000 people to march across the Brooklyn Bridge in protest in early 2020.

Yet chronic underreporting means the actual number of incidents in 2019 is higher than the 953 counted by the FBI.

“This is a big problem,” said the head of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt in an interview. “We will continue to press not just law enforcement agencies themselves directly, but state and federal authorities” for better reporting.

To create its report, the FBI relies on local law enforcement agencies to voluntarily report their hate crimes. In 2019, 86% of participating agencies either reported zero hate crimes to the FBI or did not report any data, including more than 70 cities with populations over 100,000 people.

Last year was the second in a row that the number of reporting agencies declined.

Local law enforcement agencies including those serving Hartford, Conn., Duluth, Minn., Kansas City, Mo., Savannah, Ga., Des Moines, Iowa and other areas either reported no hate crimes or did not report their data to the FBI.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is pushing for the Biden-Harris administration to mandate that agencies report hate crime data to the federal government.

The 953 hate crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions identified by the FBI was the highest it’s been since 2008. Jews and Jewish institutions also faced the majority — 63% — of religion-based crimes.

Race-based hate crimes remained the most common type of hate crime, as they have been each year since the FBI started recording hate crime data, and anti-Hispanic hate crimes and those targeting people based on their gender identities also rose this year.

Greenblatt of the ADL said during a speech last week that antisemitism is not a function of political party, and that the rise in incidents is not attributable solely to President Donald Trump.

However, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the number of white nationalist hate groups grew by 55% between 2017 and 2019.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Threat Assessment last month acknowledged that white supremacist terrorists pose the largest domestic terror threat in the United States.

“Domestic terrorism” is not a federal crime, which means that government lawyers trying to prosecute those charged with hate crimes — even violent ones, like the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre — have fewer charges to apply to the case.

JTA contributed reporting.


Molly Boigon

Molly Boigon

Molly Boigon is an investigative reporter at the Forward. Contact her at boigon@forward.com or follow her on Twitter @MollyBoigon.

The FBI says hate crime rose again in 2019 by 14%

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