Western Pennsylvania has seen a steady rise in antisemitism, according to Anti-Defamation League Regional Director James Pasch, whose territory includes Pittsburgh.
“There’s a reason why the world is gathering for the second year in a row in Pittsburgh for the global Eradicate Hate conference,” Pasch said, adding that ADL officials will speak on several panels at the summit. “All the best minds from around the world are descending in the city to share ideas and concepts and to learn from another so that we all know what to do to fight hate.”
The ADL has added board members from Pittsburgh and also plans to add staff from here as well.
“The challenges in Pittsburgh are not unique,” Pasch said. “They are similar to what we are seeing across the nation and they require an increase of attention.”
Speaking about recent activity on Gab aimed at Pennsylvania state Rep. Dan Frankel and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, Pasch said the social media platform is a factor in the rise of antisemitism and hate.
“It needs to be taken seriously,” he said, “because as the city of Pittsburgh knows all too well, antisemitism is not just something that hurts people’s feelings. It’s damaging. It threatens the lives of Jews, period.”
The spike in online hate speech is driven, in part, by the upcoming state elections, Philadelphia’s Regional ADL Director Andrew Goretsky said. He called Gab a “cesspool of racism, antisemitism, hate and extremism.”
Social media sites like Gab have a financial interest in attracting views so they monetize hate, he said, adding, “The model of revenue generation for online platforms is to get likes and clicks.”
Last month, it was revealed that Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Doug Mastriano’s campaign paid $5,000 to Gab for “consulting services” which directed all new subscribers to automatically follow Mastriano. His account was removed from Gab after he received widespread criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
Goretsky pointed to a 2019 report published by the ADL and the Network Contagion Research Institute on genocidal language and conspiracy theories that looked specifically at Gab and 8chan, now known as 8kun.
“It showed how Gab perpetuates homicidal and genocidal fantasies,” he said. “So, one of the concerns is when they’re targeting individuals, but it’s a concern for the whole community at the same time.”
The ADL is a 501(c) nonprofit, so it doesn’t comment on political campaigns, but he said it is “dangerous and irresponsible” for any politician, elected official or civil servant to promote or work with Gab.
The spread of hate online can be seen in crimes targeting various communities, Goretsky said, pointing to both the massacre at the Tree of Life building and the Buffalo Tops Friendly Market shooting that targeted the Black community.
Many of the perpetrators of hate-motivated shootings use similar language online, Pasch said.
“They talked about the great replacement theory. The ability to both spread and share that hate online has created a really dark network that has led to significant levels of violence,” he said.
Pasch said that cable television also has helped spread misinformation and extremism.
“A trend in the last couple of years of what used to be conspiracy theories making their way into mainstream thought process in America — a large part of that growth is not just online hate but also airtime in primetime on our television seen by millions of Americans,” he said.
Some of those conspiracy theories, he said, have migrated from cable television hosts to elected officials.
And while the spread of hate online and in the media is rampant, antisemitism and racism continue to be disseminated by other means as well.
Approximately 45 miles outside of Pittsburgh, a Worthington businessman courted controversy by creating messages on digital billboards he owns that feature a Nazi flag and the words “FBI The Gestapo.”
Pasch said the sign is an insult to the Pittsburgh Jewish community, which was targeted in the most violent act of antisemitism in U.S. history.
“The swastika is the most prominent form of antisemitism, and it should never be displayed like that,” he said. “I would urge the owner, no matter his claims or intent, to remove the billboards and figure out another way to display his message.”
The ADL officials said that communication is the most important tool to combat hate.
“We have to talk, even to our families, where we are engaging online and where we are not,” Goretsky said. Hate, harassment and extremism, he said, can be found on all online platforms, including online gaming sites.
Goretsky said it’s important to report online racism and antisemitism, explaining that even Gab has a reporting policy.
Pasch said the ADL continues to work in Pittsburgh, creating partnerships with groups including schools and congregations and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“We all have a role in combating hate and extremism,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”
Goretsky agreed, saying the fight against the rise of hate is a group activity.
“We need to all actively speak out against racism, antisemitism and extremist rhetoric,” Goretsky said. “We can’t afford to remain silent any longer and hope it goes away.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.