One of the alleged assailants involved in an hours-long gunbattle with law enforcement in Jersey City, N. J., Tuesday is being investigated for possible ties to the Black Hebrew Israelites.
David Anderson (47) and Francine Graham (50) were identified as suspects in the two-hour-long shootout that left six people dead, including the two alleged shooters and one police officer.
Multiple outlets, including the New York Times and CBS, are reporting that investigators are exploring a possible link between Anderson and the Black Hebrew Israelites, which is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks extremist groups and specializes in civil rights litigation. Early reports say Anderson was a one-time member of the group, which is best known for its inflammatory sidewalk preachers. While members of the Black Hebrew Israelites have been known to express anti-Semitic views, their official stance is that they’re nonviolent.
As Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the SPLC, told the New York Times, “the group is not known for committing mass acts of violence. It doesn’t have a record of violence that white supremacists have in the United States.”
Investigators are exploring links to extremist ideology because one of the sites of the attack, JC Kosher Supermarket, seems to have been deliberately targeted. The Washington Post, citing police, reports the shootout first began at a local cemetery, where veteran Jersey City Detective Joseph Seals was fatally shot after approaching a U-Haul van that had been reported stolen and was believed to be tied to a homicide:
The assailants then slowly drove the van for five minutes to the kosher market on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which is next to a synagogue, across the street from a Catholic school and down the block from a mosque.
Surveillance video shows that the Jewish market was deliberately chosen, police say. Alongside a live pipe bomb, a manifesto-style note was recovered from inside the assailants’ van, but an official described it as short and “rambling.” It didn’t provide a clear motivation for the attack. Investigators also said they found anti-Semitic and anti-police posts on Anderson’s social media pages.
Graham has no known connections to the Black Hebrew Israelites.
While investigators have yet to assign a motive to the killings, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said Wednesday “there is no question that this is a hate crime.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed Fulop, describing the killings as “an act of terror.”
New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal says police are also investigating whether the duo was involved in a separate homicide in Bayonne, N.J.
Ash Yasharahla, part of a Hebrew Israelite congregation known as I Am Israel (No Division), condemned the attack to the Times on Wednesday. He stressed that the anger expressed in their preaching should not be confused with calls to violence.
“The emotions are justified by what has happened to us and still happens to us as a people,” said Yasharahla. “But if they then take up arms and begin to destroy people—no. That is something that we believe that God is going to handle.”