The whole purpose of eliminationist rhetoric, as I’ve often remarked, is to create permission: a rationale for committing acts of violence and intimidation against a targeted scapegoat. This is how stochastic terrorism—the kind we’ve seen directed recently at the LGBTQ community, for instance—has always worked. Someone with a megaphone demonizes the target group and encourages violent expulsion, and someone listening makes that their excuse for acting on it.
So like night following day, the recent spate of eliminationist antisemitism spewing from cultural figures like Kanye West and enabled by social media moguls like Elon Musk is already generating a fresh round of terrorist violence directed at the Jewish community. This weekend, police arrested a Los Angeles man ginned up on conspiracist hatred of Jews who had been shooting people as they left their synagogues, and charged him with hate crimes.
The shooter, a 28-year-old man named Jaime Tran, shot two men last week as they were leaving services at their respective synagogues in the city’s western Pico-Robertson neighborhood, men who were wearing traditional black coats and headgear that identified them as Jewish. One man was shot in the back on Wednesday by a man in a passing car, and the other was shot the next day in similar fashion, three blocks away, and was wounded in the arm. Both injuries were not life-threatening.
Police say they launched an “exhaustive” search for the suspect based on witness statements. Tran was arrested by police on Thursday in Riverside County, about an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles, after police responded to reports in Cathedral City of someone firing a gun from a car, and he was taken into federal custody. According to the affidavit, investigators found a rifle, a handgun, and other pieces of evidence.
According to Los Angeles Scoop, Tran had been arrested in July 2022 in Long Beach for violating California gun laws by bringing a gun to a college campus. He was out on bond when he was arrested.
Detectives also determined that Tran had been expelled from UCLA dental school in 2018, and then descended into rampant antisemitism around 2020. Tran allegedly harassed a former classmate by sending at least nine “antisemitic and threatening” texts, calling the victim slurs and threatening to kill them, according to the affidavit. “I want you dead, Jew,” read one of the texts.
He also sent other classmates a message declaring that Jews were responsible for the COVID pandemic: “That Persian/Iranian Jew of the Class of 2020 made up a fake, bs disease (COVID) and based it on the anesthesia incident that I had with [J.M.] and [J.S.],” he wrote. He also sent them a photo of an antisemitic flyer saying: "Every single aspect of the COVID agenda is Jewish."
According to U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada, Tran targeted the victims “because they were Jewish or he believed them to be Jewish” and he was “motivated by hate.” If convicted on both hate crime charges, he could face up to life in prison.
Tran told investigators he “searched for a ‘kosher’ market” on Yelp, then drove to the location in Pico-Robertson and “selected his victims because of their ‘head gear,” the affidavit says. Tran asked investigators if the victims had died.
The flier that Tran sent to his ex-classmates, in fact, was the product of a white nationalist hate group that calls itself the Goyim Defense League (GDL), and one of their side projects, Goyim TV. The GDL’s primary organizer is a former Petaluma, California, man named Jon Minadeo II, who moved to Florida last year.
Goyim TV features almost exclusively antisemitic and other neo-Nazi content, including livestreams and podcasts. Last year in Texas, Minadeo and his cohorts engaged in spreading propaganda in Texas that ultimately resulted in an arson attack on a synagogue. A video they posted showed members igniting a swastika on the ground the same night as the synagogue fire and saluting it, uttering various neo-Nazi slogans; the man later charged with the arson was among the people at the bonfire.
“We were lucky that we’re not going to funerals. That’s just the reality,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of L.A.’s Simon Wiesenthal Center told a news conference Friday. “Tomorrow we go to our services with our children. You don’t want to give bigots … victory.”
Fueled largely by the rise in eliminationist rhetoric, antisemitic violence has increased the past year, both nationally and in California. According to the Los Angeles Times, LAPD statistics show a 24% increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes last year compared with 2021.
A recent ADL survey also demonstrated that the number of Americans who embrace antisemitic tropes has increased dramatically since 2019, with 85% of the respondents saying they believe at least one anti-Jewish stereotype, compared with only 61% three years ago. They believe in more of them, too: Some 20% of Americans believe in at least six of the most common tropes, a sharp increase from 2019, when only 11% of them did.