2021 was a record year for antisemitism in Austin
2021 was a record year for antisemitic hate speech and demonstrations in Austin, according to a report out this week from the Anti-Defamation League. The annual analysis found the city led the state in those incidents.
There were 44 documented incidents last year in Austin, compared to just eight in 2020. The majority of incidents were nonviolent — like people passing out hateful flyers or stickers. But in one case, an 18-year-old from San Marcos allegedly tried to burn down a synagogue in West Austin.
Renee Lafair with the Austin chapter of the ADL says there was a wave of antisemitic demonstrations late in the year after a self-avowed group of Nazis came to Central and South Texas to spread their message while hosting livestreams to raise money online.
The group was responsible for hateful demonstrations outside Jewish community centers in both Austin and San Antonio in late October. Lafair said there was a "tailwind" of antisemitic activity after those incidents, which ultimately ended in the attempted arson at Congregation Beth Israel in October.
"That horrible week culminated in an arson in a synagogue ... and that basically went from online hate to real-life hate to a hate crime," she said.
Investigators have not made an immediate connection between the out-of-state group and the arson suspect. But in the federal complaint that led to his arrest, investigators alleged he admitted to the arson in his diary on Oct. 28, days after the group began demonstrating in Texas.
He was later indicted on three charges, including a hate crime.
As antisemitic incidents spiked, Lafair said, there was also an uptick in support for the Jewish community in Austin, including a rally at the state Capitol last November.
"I would say that’s the positive thing," Lafair said, "was the support that came out of all of these things — was the support that the Jewish community felt from other religious communities, local [officials] and different communities from around town who really showed their support and really said, 'We’ve got to do something to stop this antisemitism.'"
Austin wasn't alone. Nationally, ADL recorded a record number of antisemitic incidents — a 34% increase over 2020 that included spikes in assaults and harassment.