Jewish Pittsburghers have reported more than 50 incidents of anti-Semitism and other security concerns since January 2018, according to Brad Orsini, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s director of Jewish community security.
Orsini, a former FBI agent who has been monitoring threats to the Jewish community as a whole, its organizations and individuals since he was hired by the Federation about two years ago, said the incidents reported this year have ranged from anti-Semitic graffiti to online comments, to two physical assaults. It is unclear whether the assaults were rooted in anti-Semitism, he said.
When threats are reported to Orsini, “we do threat assessments and determine whether they are viable threats,” he said. “We determine whether the individual making the threat has the means and the motive to carry it out.”
If such a determination is made, “interventions” are introduced, Orsini said, including possible mental health interventions.
The Jewish community, Orsini said, has taken to heart the message he has been conveying since he began his work at the Federation: “If you see something, say something.”
“I have been making a concerted effort to tell the community that if you are calling 911 for something, your second call should go to the Federation’s security program to facilitate the response, and link the community to the police,” he said.
Orsini has been tracking reported incidents beginning Jan. 1, 2018, online through the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal, a “virtual command center run the by the FBI,” he explained.
Law enforcement has access to the portal, Orsini said, and often adds intelligence to the database.
Of the more than 50 incidents reported so far in the Jewish community in 2018, the highest concentration occurred in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside, with some incidents reported in other areas such as Mt. Lebanon and Dormont.
Recent incidents include swastikas and KKK graffiti painted onto the building of a Jewish-owned business, and the posting of flyers throughout the city by white supremacist groups Patriot Front and Identity Evropa.
Identity Evropa’s slogan, “You will not replace us,” reflects “its belief that unless immediate action is taken, the white race is doomed to extinction by an alleged ‘rising tide of color’ purportedly controlled and manipulated by Jews,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. Identity Evropa is known for the 2017 Charlottesville rally.
Patriot Front, the ADL reports, “espouses racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance under the guise of preserving the ‘ethnic and cultural origins’ of their European ancestors.”
Orsini is urging the community to report sightings of posters and flyers displayed by these and other racist and anti-Semitic groups.
“Our goal is if you see people posting these things, let us know,” Orsini said. “We are trying to identify all the groups posting in Pittsburgh.”
In 2017, the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent, according to an ADL annual report which showed 1,986 incidents in 2017.
In addition to anti-Semitism, Orsini investigates other types of threats to the Jewish community. The elderly — including those residing in senior care facilities — are particularly susceptible, he said.
“We’ve worked with assisted living facilities and help organizations deal with not just anti-Semitism, but with reports from our community that people are stealing from them,” he said. “That is an issue in any community, but it’s directed toward our elderly, a vulnerable population that people prey on. We are trying to educate the elderly on these issues.”
Although Orsini has received more than 50 reported security threats this year, he does not believe the Pittsburgh Jewish community “is at any more risk than any other Jewish community across the country,” he said. “But I think it is important for people to realize there are groups out there that would like to see harm to the Jewish community.”
Accordingly, prior to any large event in the community, Orsini “scrubs social media,” searching for potential threats, including protestors that could present a risk of violence.
While Orsini could not share details of some threats he is actively investigating, he did note that “there are concerns that I have.”
“But the reason we shouldn’t fear is because we are so aware, and we are reporting these threats,” he said. “When we are aware of a threat, we can handle it and take it to its logical conclusion and disposition.”
To report a potential security threat, contact Orsini at 412-992-5229 or firstname.lastname@example.org. PJC