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Attorney General Merrick Garland’s remarks at ADL’s ‘Never Is Now’ summit

Oct. 7 renewed a familiar sense of fear and isolation for Jews everywhere.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland at the 2023 United States Attorneys’ National Conference hosted by the Department of Justice in Washington on Oct. 26, 2023. Credit: Tia Dufour/U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland at the 2023 United States Attorneys’ National Conference hosted by the Department of Justice in Washington on Oct. 26, 2023. Credit: Tia Dufour/U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

I am grateful to the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) for the invitation to join this gathering aimed at combating antisemitism and hate—at a time when that work is of the utmost urgency.

It is especially meaningful to be here at the end of a trip I began last weekend in Selma, Ala., to join civil rights advocates in commemorating the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Fifty-nine years ago today, on March 7, 1965, some 600 people set out to march from Selma to Montgomery to insist that this country make good on the promise it made nearly a century earlier—that no American citizen would be denied the right to vote on account of race.

In response, they were met with horrific violence at the hands of their own government.

But the movement was undeterred. Civil rights leaders organized two more marches—a second symbolic march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge two days later. And then, two weeks later, a third and final march from Selma to Montgomery.

At the third march, thousands of Americans from across the country came to stand alongside them. Leaders of the Justice Department stood alongside them. And leaders of ADL stood alongside them.

For over a century, this organization has stood firmly in defense of the civil rights and safety of American Jews. At the same time, ADL has stood firmly in defense of the civil rights and safety of all Americans. As ADL’s founding charter, written over 110 years ago, declared:

“The immediate object of the League is to stop … the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike … .”

That dual mission has only become more urgent in recent years.

 And its importance has come into even clearer focus since Oct. 7, the deadliest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

On that day, Hamas terrorists brutally murdered over 1,100 people, including over 40 Americans, and kidnapped hundreds of hostages. That attack devastated families in Israel, the United States, and around the world.

And it renewed a familiar sense of fear and isolation for Jews everywhere.

As you are well aware, since Oct. 7, there has been a stunning increase in the volume and the frequency of threats against Jews and Jewish institutions across the United States.

The FBI reports that, between Oct. 7, 2023, and January 30 of this year, the Bureau opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the previous four months—on top of an already existing year-over-year increase.

These statistics do not begin to capture the fear in which I know Jewish communities have been living.

They do not capture the fear of Jewish Americans that any sign of our identity could make us the target of an attack.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland at the “United for Justice” conference in city of Lviv, Ukraine. Credit: Bumble Dee/Shutterstock.

They do not capture the hours that congregations have spent planning for the worst.

 Many of you gathered here today have experienced fear in your communities.

And, in keeping with ADL’s long and vital tradition of combating hate against all communities, you have also stood up for members of the Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities who are facing a similarly frightening spike in threats right now.

No person and no community in this country should have to live in fear of hate-fueled violence.

That is why, in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks, I directed all of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and all of our FBI Field Offices to meet with local law enforcement and community leaders to strengthen our response to threats of hate-fueled violence.

We are aggressively investigating and prosecuting all such threats. And we will continue to do so.

The Justice Department has no higher priority than protecting the safety and civil rights of everyone in our country.

That has long been the Justice Department’s charge.

The Justice Department was first established in 1870, in the wake of the Civil War and in the midst of Reconstruction, with the first principal purpose of enforcing the protections guaranteed by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

The Department sent hundreds of attorneys and agents to investigate and prosecute members of the first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan, who were terrorizing Black Americans seeking to exercise their right to vote.

The Justice Department understood then, and we understand now, that white supremacist violence—and hate-fueled threats and violence of all kinds—threaten the safety of individuals and entire communities. It threatens the very foundation of our democracy.

Hate-fueled violence seeks to fracture our society, to isolate us from one another, to pit community against community. It works to make us question our sense of belonging and to lose faith in our institutions.

But our democracy promises that all people will be protected in the exercise of their civil rights, in their freedom to worship and think as they please, and in the peaceful expression of their opinions, beliefs, and ideas.

Merrick Garland
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers remarks at the Medal of Valor ceremony on May 17, 2023, in the East Room of the White House. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.

It promises that all people will be protected from persecution, violence, and harm.

Working to fulfill that promise is the Justice Department’s sacred responsibility.

The responsibility to fulfill that promise is why I took this job.

My family fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe at the start of the 20th century. My grandmother, who was one of five children born in what is now Belarus, made it to the United States, as did two of her siblings.

The other two did not. They were killed in the Holocaust.

If not for America, there is little doubt that the same would have happened to my grandmother.

But this country took her in. And under the protection of our laws, she was able to live without fear of persecution.

I am also married to a woman whose mother escaped from Austria in 1938, shortly after Hitler’s army entered Vienna.

Under the protection of our laws, she too, was able to live without fear of persecution.

That protection is what distinguishes America from so many other countries. The protection of law—the equal protection of the law—is the foundation of our system of government.

I am here today because this country took my family in and protected them when they had nowhere else to go.

I also know that the protections afforded to my family have not always been afforded to families that don’t look like mine.

Ensuring the protection of law for all of our country’s citizens has been the responsibility of every generation in our country’s history.

Today, it is our responsibility.

It is the responsibility of the Department of Justice.

It is my responsibility as Attorney General.

It is the responsibility of every American.

We must protect each other.

Thank you.

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