What Are Black Hebrew Israelites, the Group Jersey City Shooters Were Linked To

The group doesn't don’t have a significant record of violence, as the Anti-Defamation League has been tracking the movement since the late 1970s or early 1980s

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What to Know

  • Investigators believe that the man and woman who killed three people at the Jersey City store in addition to gunning down a police officer had interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites movement
  • Some followers view themselves as the true “chosen people” and believe that blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are the true descendants of the 12 Tribes of Israel, and "view white people as agents of Satan"
  • No formal links between the group and shooters David Anderson and Francine Graham have been established, NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said

The deadly shooting rampage at a New Jersey kosher market has cast a spotlight on a fringe movement known for its anti-Semitic strain of street preaching and its role in a viral-video confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial this year.

Investigators believe that the man and woman who killed three people at the Jersey City grocery Tuesday in addition to gunning down a police officer at a cemetery hated Jews and law enforcement and had expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites movement, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Thursday.

“But we have not definitively established any formal links to that organization or to any other group,” he said. “Based on the available evidence, we believe that the two shooters were acting on their own.”

The two shooters were armed with five weapons, including an AR-15-style rifle and a handgun with a silencer. Investigators are still trying to figure out why the particular Kosher market was targeted. NBC New York’s Sarah Wallace reports.

Not all sects of the movement spew hateful rhetoric, but many Black Hebrew Israelites subscribe to an extreme set of anti-Semitic beliefs. Those followers view themselves as the true “chosen people” and believe that blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are the true descendants of the 12 Tribes of Israel, said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

“They view white people as agents of Satan,” Segal said. They believe “Jews are liars and false worshippers of God. They view blacks as the true Israelites, and not the impostor Jews.”

Most who encounter the movement’s followers have seen them proselytizing and provoking arguments with passersby in places like Times Square in New York.

The security camera footage, captured by a camera above the door to the kosher market, shows the shooters arrive and one of them start shooting. After both enter, a survivor escapes out the front door and runs for his life. NBC New York’s Rana Novini reports.

Last January, videos of a confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington probably introduced many people to the movement. A group of black street preachers who referred to themselves as Black Hebrew Israelites shouted insults at Native Americans and Catholic high school students from Kentucky who had participated in an anti-abortion rally in Washington. Videos of a face-to-face encounter between a Native American activist and a student wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat quickly spread on social media.

J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said the Black Hebrew Israelites have used Facebook and YouTube to spread their message and attract new followers. Prisons also have been fertile recruiting grounds for the sects, some of which have thousands of members, according to MacNab.

“Once you go online, you find a bigger world. They take pride in confronting Jewish people everywhere and explaining that they are evil, that they are heathens,” MacNab said.

Jewish leaders in Williamsburg joined Mayor de Blasio in presenting a united front against hate, after two members of the Jewish community were killed in the Jersey City targeted shooting. NBC New York’s Myles Miller reports.

MacNab said the Black Hebrew Israelites also include elements of the anti-government “sovereign citizen” movement, which has been linked to deadly attacks on law enforcement officers.

“There is no purity test,” she said. “When you’re generally radicalizing online, you’re going to pick up bits and pieces from all over the place.”

The Jersey City killers, who died during the attack, were identified as David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50.

An Instagram account that apparently belonged to Anderson shows he was an aspiring rapper whose posts included at least one reference to Black Hebrew Israelite philosophy — a list of the 12 Tribes of Israel from the Bible, with each tribe equated to a modern-day ethnic group or country. “America has NOTHING for us but DEATH,” a caption on one of his posts read. The account went dormant a few years ago.

The NJ attorney general called the Jersey City shootout that killed 4 people a hate-filled domestic terror attack, as more details surfaced about how it all went down. NBC New York’s Brian Thompson reports.

On Wednesday, the FBI searched the Harlem offices of a major Black Hebrew Israelite group, according to a law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Israel United in Christ, a Black Hebrew Israelite group with more than 40 U.S. locations and a large social media following, condemned the attacks.

The group said it does not “condone nor teach this type of behavior.”

In October, a self-proclaimed black Israelite was charged with assaulting two people leaving a prayer service at a synagogue in Miami, according to the ADL. The defendant, Larry Greene, threatened to stab the worshippers to death, called them “fake Jews” and told them to “go back to Israel,” the ADL said, citing an arrest affidavit.

Investigators are looking to pinpoint what prompted a deadly attack on a Jewish market in Jersey City, a harrowing and prolonged shootout officials say was clearly targeted -- maybe motivated by anti-Semitism. Tracie Strahan reports.

But the Black Hebrew Israelites don’t have a significant record of violence, Segal said, noting that the ADL has been tracking the movement since the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Grewal, the attorney general, said authorities are investigating the shootings as “potential acts of domestic terrorism, fueled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs.”

Investigators are looking to pinpoint what prompted a deadly attack on a Jewish market in Jersey City, a harrowing and prolonged shootout officials say was clearly targeted -- maybe motivated by anti-Semitism. Tracie Strahan reports.

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