(April 5, 2019 / JNS) Over the last week, swastikas, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT, racist white-nationalist symbols and epithets defaced five public places in Oklahoma City and Norman, starting at the state’s Oklahoma City-based Democratic Party headquarters. Similar incidences of graffiti were found at the headquarters of the Chickasaw Nation (a federally recognized Native American nation), the Cleveland County Democratic Party headquarters in Norman, a public elementary school and a nonprofit art center.
“Gas the Jews” and “White planet only” were written in black in front of the state’s Democratic headquarters. Swastikas were painted in blue on the glass doors to the building and on the sidewalk in front. The white-nationalist/neo-Nazi symbol “1488,” as well as anti-black and gay slurs, was found in bright-blue spray paint at many of the locations, including at McKinley Elementary School. At the Firehouse Art Center, a bust sculpture was defaced with the word “Jewess.” Two swastikas were painted over the bust’s eyes, and the forehead was marked with red paint running down, as if it had been shot in the head. A message in the art center’s parking lot also expressed hate for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Chickasaw Nation’s building was victim to messages like “Indians will be gassed” and “lampshaded.”
A note referred to as a “manifesto” was found at the door of the state Democratic Party headquarters by a city councilwoman; it was turned it over to the police as evidence and not made public. The police have been investigating the incidents as hate crimes, and released a photo and video of a female suspect holding a can of spray paint who appeared to be walking away from one of the attacks. An image of her getting into a gray sedan in another location was also captured. The police asked the public for help in identifying the suspect.
Roberta Clark, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, told JNS that the federation had made public statements about the graffiti on its Facebook page, noting that the organization was “deeply saddened, again, to learn of anti-Semitic and racist vandalisms in Norman,” after making earlier statements condemning the graffiti in Oklahoma City.
“Hateful rhetoric has no place in our community or country. When individuals or groups are targeted because of their immutable characteristics, the impact of those words and actions are felt by entire communities,” wrote Clark.
“We are grateful to our law-enforcement community for taking each of these incidents seriously. We hope the perpetrator/s of these hateful actions will be found and brought to justice soon,” she told JNS via email.
The Chabad of Oklahoma City’s Rabbi Ovadia Goldman told JNS that he was hesitant to make a public statement regarding the crimes because the perpetrator had not yet been caught, but he was willing to comment on the character of his hometown he’s gleaned in the last two decades. “From the elected officials to the police community to the general community, there has been nothing but love. My experience of 20 years in this community has been nothing but a loving, unified community. They love the Jewish community, they love Israel; we have never seen anything like this before,” he said.
Imam Imad Enchassi, senior imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, brought his power washer last week to the Democratic headquarters to clean up the anti-Semitic messages. He was also in Norman to help on April 3, telling local television reporters that the writing was clearly the work of the same hand. “I know what hate feels like and this is hate,” Enchassi told Fox25 News.
Local and statewide politicians universally condemned the graffiti and its xenophobic messages. “One bigot with a can of spray paint or even a group of bigots do not speak for the hundreds of thousands in this city who stand strongly together against hate and bigotry,” wrote Mayor of Oklahoma City David Holt on his Facebook page.
Congressman Tom Cole, a Republican congressman from Norman serving his ninth term, released a statement saying that he was “incredibly disheartened” with the “cowardly and hateful” defacement. “Such despicable and hate-filled language and symbols have no place in our communities, and I am especially horrified that one of these cases was present at an elementary school,” he said. “No one, especially young and innocent children, should have to encounter such hate.”
Democratic State Rep. Jacob Rosecrants spoke to JNS about growing up in Norman, Okla., as a Roman Catholic. “For the most part, Norman is a university community, very inclusive. Like in other parts of the Midwest, it’s very Caucasian—my district is 80 percent Caucasian. Maybe there’s an underlying racism in more rural areas, a fear of outsiders or immigrants because people are afraid for their jobs, but it’s never gotten loud like this in urban or suburban areas. I’ve never seen anything like this in Norman. Anti-Semitism was literally never here before. I’ve never seen it,” he said.
“They’ve tried to look very anti-Semitic, but it’s also anti-immigrant. For whatever reason, hatred has really come out into the open since the election in 2016,” added Rosecrants, who noted that he feels the hate is targeting institutions seen as Democratic. “As the country has voted more Democratic, Oklahoma has only gotten more Republican, and it will continue to do so as areas that have been traditionally Democratic strongholds move more to the right, I think, in response to national politics.”
Freshman Congresswoman Kendra Horn, who turned a red seat blue in Oklahoma City this past November, released a second public statement of concern, noting that the Norman vandalism seemed to indicate a recurring problem. “I’m heartbroken and troubled to see another display of hate and white supremacy in our state,” Horn said in the statement. “Law enforcement is still investigating, but regardless of intent, subjecting Oklahomans, especially children, to these images is deeply damaging. This behavior empowers those who hold hate-filled beliefs.”
Republican organizers also turned out to clean up the graffiti and made public statements condemning it. Oklahoma Republican Party chairman Pam Pollard tearfully shared thoughts with local media after viewing each racial slur written on the state Democratic Party’s parking lot and building. “The Republican Party openly condemns, repudiates and thinks this is disgusting behavior. Disgusting, what is here, and it should never happen again,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what races they’re condemning; we are Americans and we stand for unification as Americans.”
Victoria Lupia, a member of the Oklahoma City’s Jewish community, has lived in Oklahoma for more than 15 years, and explained that it has a Chabad House, as well as Conservative and Reform synagogues, as well as an active Hillel on campus at Norman’s University of Oklahoma. The university houses the Schusterman Center for Judaic and Israel Studies, where students can major or minor in the subject.
“These graffiti events seem to be the action of single angry individual, Lupia told JNS. “Everyone is disgusted and disturbed by it, but overwhelmingly, everyone is disappointed that such an ugly thing would be perpetrated in our quiet backyard.”