Those gathered in Pittsburgh for this week’s Eradicate Hate Global Summit talked about recent record numbers of incidents of hate speech and actions and crimes, but the summit wrapped up Friday by focusing on all the positive efforts to prevent, mitigate and otherwise react to that — by governments, private entities and law enforcement groups that are striving to work together.
One of the Friday morning plenary panels, the title of which began, “Innovations in State Prevention,” shared details of the New York State Online Violence Prevention Model. That effort was launched after the May 14, 2022, Buffalo grocery store massacre of 10 Black people by a young white gunman who’d been radicalized on the internet.
Panelist Ben Voce-Gardner, director of the Office of Counterterrorism at the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, stressed that their approach is based on public health and on creating in each of 62 counties a local interdisciplinary team to identify people who might cause such violence and intervene by connecting them and perhaps their family members to direct care and services. He said, “We have already started to see success,” including providing therapy to a student a school identified as being “on a pathway to violence.”
One way they’re reaching people is by targeting those who seek hateful information, or help in dealing with someone who does, with online ads that connect them to counseling and other alternatives. “It’s too late at the point of arrest,” said Vidhya Ramalingam, founder and CEO of Moonshot, which works with the state to identify agencies that can provide helpful services for people who need them.
She reported that in the past six months, the effort has made more than 600,000 offers of support. Individuals clicked on about 10,000 of those, and more than 20 reached out for a counselor. “There is a possibility for us reaching those people” before they commit a crime.
That “compassion” was supported by Raymond Whitfield, even though his mother, Ruth, was the eldest of 10 victims in the Buffalo grocery massacre. “Intervention is prevention,” he said. “You lead with compassion.”
While Ramalingam and her colleagues are seeing the power of the internet to fight online hate, others across the globe are working to regulate online services, which they say have a poor record of policing themselves. The “Regulating Online Hate: Challenges and Opportunities” panel outlined the new European Union Digital Services Act and the United Kingdom’s forthcoming Online Safety Act and ways those laws aim to limit hate and incitement to violence.
“Words can lead to the most heinous crimes,” said Murtaza Shaikh of the U.K.’s Ofcomm, which he said will have power to get data from and otherwise supervise service providers in ways not currently possible in the U.S. But because those providers connect beyond the U.K., he invited others to connect with his agency to work together to more effectively fight hate.
Moderator Laura Ellsworth, who founded the summit after the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, weighed in that hateful people such as that shooter, who this summer was sentenced to death, should not be referred to as “lone wolves.” “Let’s figure out how to get at the connection that unites these people,” she said, urging everyone in the audience at Downtown’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center and online to be informed and responsible users of the internet, as well.
The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the most violent attack on Jews in U.S. history, echoed throughout the panels including the one on “Private Solutions in Action.” Brad Orsini, now the senior national security adviser to the Secure Community Network, a national nonprofit that provides security for the American Jewish community, was in 2018 security director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
He shouted out the federation’s leadership and local police and other first responders for their work nearly five years ago during and right after the shooting. Now, he said, SCN identifies thousands of antisemitic threats, about 300 of which each year are worked by law enforcement, and about 36 of those result in an arrest or other mitigation.
He noted that information SCN gathered was instrumental in the arrest of white supremacist Hardy Lloyd, who recently pled guilty — to obstruction of the due administration of justice, transmitting threats in interstate and foreign commerce and witness tampering, all related to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial — and is expected to be sentenced to six-and-a-half years in federal prison. The SCN also used such intelligence to learn about and quickly shutdown a game based on the synagogue attacks.
The summit opened at 8 a.m. with a keynote featuring Natan Sharansky, author and human rights activist and advisory board chair of the Combat Antisemitism Movement, joining from Jerusalem on screen. He was interviewed by his fellow Ukrainian-born Jew, friend and CAM board member Misha Galperin, Ph.D.
Galperin mused about the fundamental negative side of humans that he knows co-exists with the good from both his Jewish faith and clinical psychology, and said, “The idea that you can eradicate hate is preposterous.”
As they discussed the concept of hate, Sharansky talked about how when, on social media, “when you pick your own page and don’t talk to other people … hate grows exponentially.”
He believes that people don’t all have to be the same, and recalled how when he was persecuted and imprisoned in the Soviet Union, the people he could count on were of other faiths and backgrounds. What united them was that they were strong in their own identities and as well as in their shared values such as freedom.
“We have to know how to use our freedom the right way,” Sharansky said, “to increase our volume of freedom.”
This year’s summit — the third following summits in 2021 and 2022 — closed just after noon. PJC
The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle collaborated with the Pittsburgh Union Progress on covering the Eradicate Hate Global Summit. Learn more at eradicatehatesummit.org. And watch a lot of it on the event’s YouTube channel.