Vandalism at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City, which is adjacent to St. Louis, Missouri, caused more than $30,000 in damages to more than 120 Jewish headstones on February 20, 2027: the same day that 11 Jewish community centers across the country received hoax bomb threats. It drew widespread attention and condemnation. While University City police said they did not know at the time who toppled monuments, they had not ruled out the possibility that a hate crime was involved. Media outlets and advocacy groups appeared to link the incidents to President Donald Trump’s election.

Local KTVI news reported at the time an unattributed story that it was believed that an organized group was behind the vandalism. 

The 2017 act of vandalism was condemned by Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who visited a few days later. Pence proclaimed that there is "no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism," while Gov. Greitens was criticized by some for showing insufficient compassion. Greitens tweeted, “Disgusted to hear about the senseless act of desecration at the cemetery in University City. We must fight acts of intolerance and hate.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a leftist organization, released a statement condemning Trump, saying, “Whether or not [it’s] your intention, your Presidency has given the oxygen of incitement to some of the most viciously hateful elements of our society.” The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect accused the White House of embracing anti-Semitism for failing to specifically cite the Jewish people in its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement in January 2017. "The President's sudden acknowledgment is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration," wrote Steven Goldstein, the group's leader, in a social media post. "(Trump's) statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record."

A New York University professor, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, wrote an op-ed at CNN titled: "Trump rejects anti-Semitism? Prove it."

The Associated Press reported at the time, “Anti-Semitic incidents, from bomb threats and cemetery desecration to assaults and bullying, have surged in the United States since the election of President Donald Trump, and a ‘heightened political atmosphere’ played a role in the rise, the Anti-Defamation League said,” on the day after the incident.

Trump condemned anti-Semitism as news broke about the vandalism in St. Louis, "We have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms."

However, on April 25 of this year, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said Alzado Harris of Florissant, Missouri, has been determined to be the main suspect. Harris’ DNA was found to be a match with a sample taken from a discarded jacket that was found at the scene of the crime. Harris had been sent to prison for 120 days in December for an unrelated burglary. According to a news release from the University City police department, the 34-year-old Harris was high on drugs and angry about some personal issues when he went to the cemetery to tump over the tombstones. He was jailed on April 25 on a charge of institutional vandalism. Bond was set at $20,000. Harris did not have legal counsel at the time of the booking. The crime is classified as a Class D felony. Harris has a long record of criminality. He has confessed to the cemetery vandalism.

The police news release noted that Harris, an African-American, "stated he acted alone, was angry over a personal matter and was under the influence of drugs when he committed the offense." Noting the the vandalism occurred on the same day threats were made to Jewish centers elsewhere, McCulloch said the crime "was not good timing on his (Harris') part," but added, "At this point it does not appear there was any anti-Semitic motive."

Various news media sought to link vandalism and bigotry to Trump's presidency. For example, in February 2017, Anita Kumar wrote in the Kansas City Star: “Days after he declined to denounce anti-Semitism, President Donald Trump finally condemned the reported increase in anti-Semitism in the United States that has been linked to his political rise.” Time magazine reported on the vandalism at the University City cemetery, insinuating that it was a “hate crime,” while suggesting that it was the act of “an organized group.” Time magazine reported, “The incident follows a new round of bomb threats at Jewish community centers across the country,” adding, “It’s the fourth time this year that multiple Jewish institutions have received threats in tandem, causing alarm over what some say is a rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S.”



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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