'Swastika Epidemic' Raises Anti-Semitism Fears As Jewish Groups Warn of Far-Right Surge

A spate of vandalism with swastikas has deepened fears of a surge in far-right activity and anti-Semitism in the U.S. and abroad, as Jewish groups warn that the coronavirus pandemic and political turmoil are helping hate groups organize.

Australia's Anti-Defamation Commission warned Friday that the country is facing a "swastika epidemic and contagion of anti-Semitism" after a series of incidents across the country, in which Nazi symbols were used to deface sites, The Times of Israel reported.

Law enforcement in Anglophone democracies are grappling with the increasing threat from the far-right. In which anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi ideals are deeply embedded. In the U.S., President Joe Biden's administration has vowed to crack down on far-right extremism after the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January and amid fears that 2021 will bring with it a fresh surge in far-right violence.

The past week has seen at least two new pro-Nazi vandalism incidents in the U.S., one in Florida and one in Ohio, in which swastikas—the main symbol of the 20th century German Nazi regime—were daubed on a mural and in a playground.

Reports emerged March 29 from Mason, Ohio, that a group of middle school students vandalized a playground with chalk, drawing swastikas and offensive graffiti. The hate symbols were found the next day by members of the community, FOX19 reported.

Tracy Carson, Public Information Officer for Mason City Schools, told FOX19: "We are working with the families of students we know were involved to provide comprehensive responses to inappropriate behavior, including traditional school consequences, educational assignments, community service, and family education."

Also in March, a mural in St. Petersburg, Florida, was defaced with swastikas and other Nazi symbols and phrases, including "Heil Hitler." Local police told the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay website: "We can't call it a hate crime because there isn't a direct victim, even though it's something we'll keep on our radar."

Police in Salem, South Dakota, also said they were investigating a hate crime after a swastika and racist slurs were daubed on a Black man's car while he slept. Josh Gadsden said the vandalism was not the first time he had experienced local racism, and blamed "the rotten eggs in the basket that makes it bad for the whole town," the Associated Press reported.

In December, an Anne Frank memorial in Boise, Idaho was vandalized with Nazi graffiti and the warning: "We are everywhere." The Wassmuth Center for Human Rights, which maintains the memorial, said the act was an "explicit act of white supremacy."

The Anti-Defamation League warned last month that far-right activity in the U.S. is surging, with extremist groups more organized and more motivated than before.

The organization released a new survey this week showing that 63 percent of American Jews had experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism over the last five years. This was up from 53 percent who said the same in last year's survey.

"What this does is it gives a very broad photograph of what the American Jewish experience is like today," said Jessica Reaves, the editorial director at the ADL's Center on Extremism. "And it is clearly one that is affected pretty profoundly by various forms of anti-Semitism or the expressions of anti-Semitism."

Anti-Semitic vandalism at a French cemetary
This file photo taken on December 4, 2019, shows the Jewish Westhoffen cemetery near Strasbourg, eastern France, where 107 graves were found vandalised with swastikas and anti-Semitic inscriptions. PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP via Getty Images