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US anti-Semitic attacks down before Kansas deaths

  • Article by: ALAN SCHER ZAGIER
  • Associated Press
  • April 15, 2014 - 6:45 AM

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A group monitoring anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. cautiously noted a sharp decline in such incidents less than two weeks before the fatal shootings over the weekend outside two Jewish sites in suburban Kansas City.

The contrast between the Anti-Defamation League's 2013 audit and the Sunday attack that killed three people highlights what hate-group trackers say is a broader trend: more overall tolerance disrupted by periodic bursts of violence from a disenfranchised fringe.

"Because of their ability to strike fear in the entire Jewish community and the country, their impact is disproportionate to their occurrence," said Mark Pitcavage, the ADL's investigative research director. "Like any terrorist incident, they have the power to strike beyond the immediate victim."

An avowed white supremacist is accused in the attacks outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and a nearby Jewish retirement home in Overland Park, Kan. The suspect, Frazier Glenn Cross, is a 73-year-old Vietnam War veteran from southwest Missouri who founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in his native North Carolina and later the White Patriot Party.

Cross remained jailed Tuesday. It was unclear when formal charges would be filed against Cross, who shouted "Heil Hitler" at television cameras as he was arrested. Officials said Monday that a federal grand jury is expected to consider what investigators are calling a hate crime.

In a report April 1, the Anti-Defamation League noted a 19 percent drop in anti-Semitic incidents last year compared to 2012, part of what the group called a "decade-long downward slide" and one of its lowest tallies since it started keeping such records in 1979.

ADL director Abraham Foxman noted that while the overall number of anti-Semitic incidents had declined, the number of anti-Semitic assaults in 2013 was nearly twice as high as those tallied the previous year. Still, he called the audit's overall findings — which included reports of assaults, vandalism, harassment and bullying — a "reflection of how much progress our country has made in shunning bigotry and hatred."

But he acknowledged that by Monday, as the first night of the Jewish festival of Passover approached and the Kansas City area remained stunned by the shootings, the report's positive findings seemed tragically obsolete.

"So the statistics are good, and then you wake up in the morning and three people are dead because someone believed them to be Jews," Foxman said.

None of Sunday's victims was Jewish. Dr. William Lewis Corporon, 69, and his grandson Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, were at the community center for a singing contest audition, while 53-year-old Terri LaManno was visiting her mother at the retirement complex.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also monitors, to varying degrees, the activities of hundreds of known white supremacists and anti-Semites at any given time. The Alabama-based group and the ADL said Monday that they were particularly familiar with Cross, also known as Frazier Glenn Miller.

After a 1986 contempt-of-court conviction in North Carolina for operating a paramilitary camp, Cross went into hiding while free on bond and fled to Missouri. There, federal agents found him and several other men in a rural mobile home stocked with hand grenades, automatic weapons and thousands of bullets.

Indicted on weapons charges and accused of plotting robberies and the assassination of SPLC founder Morris Dees, Cross served three years in federal prison but avoided a longer sentence in exchange for testifying against more than a dozen other KKK leaders.

His move to southern Missouri placed him in terrain familiar to those who monitor hate groups. The Ozarks region has long been home to supremacist figureheads and their followers, and Cross' profile prompted the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights to highlight him during a presentation for FBI and other law enforcement officials earlier this year, said Devin Burghart, the group's vice president.

Cross' cooperation with law enforcement has left him on the margins within a movement he's been part of for decades, Burghart said.

Burghart said his group made a presentation on white supremacists to the Jewish Community Center in August, a discussion that included a description of Cross as an example of dangerous anti-Semitic figures in the region. It wasn't clear what, if any, steps were taken by the center to act on the information.

Before the shootings, Cross had been contemptuous of some of his like-minded allies' reliance on social media over violent confrontation, Burghart said.

"He felt it was easy to be a 'keyboard commando,' but that the only way activists will ever succeed is by going out on the streets," Burghart said.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Cross' family were unsuccessful Monday. Knocks went unanswered at his small, single-story home bordered on three sides with barbed-wire fences near the southwest Missouri town of Aurora, about 180 miles south of Overland Park. Parked outside was a red Chevrolet bearing two Confederate flag stickers.

© 2014 Star Tribune