By Leslie Huff
A Walmart in El Paso. A church in Charleston. A festival in California. A synagogue in Pittsburgh. A Jewish community center in Youngstown?
Mass murders and white nationalism have plagued the news cycle in the past few years, causing fear and skepticism about public safety.
With the rise of domestic terrorism and violence motivated by racial and ethnic extremism throughout the United States, white nationalism is rapidly increasing, and the threats are taken with equally earnest intent as the actions carried out.
As of Sept. 20, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security has declared white nationalism as a major threat. Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan set forth a new counterterrorism strategy focused on addressing the danger of white nationalism coming from within the borders of America.
“Today, the United States faces an evolving threat environment, and a threat of terrorism and targeted violence within our borders that is more diverse than at any time since the 9/11 attacks,” McAleenan said.
White supremacist violence is recognized by the DHS as one of the most potent forces driving domestic terrorism.
According to the Anti-Defamation League the number of white supremacist-comitted murders in the United States more than doubled in 2017 compared to the previous year, far surpassing murders committed by domestic Islamic extremists and making 2017 the fifth deadliest year on record for extremist violence since 1970.
In 2018 the ADL recorded 1,066 instances of harassment from anti-Semitic extremists.
After the attack in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018, led by a white nationalist who accused the congregation of welcoming “invaders” to “kill our people,” a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, on April 27, 2019.
The shooting led to one death and the injury of three others. The shooter cited the Pittsburgh gunman as inspiration.
Self-proclaimed white nationalist and New Middletown resident James Reardon Jr., 20, sent the Youngstown community and law enforcement into a panic after disturbing videos from Reardon’s Instagram page were discovered.
Reardon’s social media account contained a video featuring a gun used for violent propaganda and a caption to demonstrate wicked actions against the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown.
The caption read “Police identified the Youngstown Jewish Family Community shooter as white nationalist Seamus O’Reardon.”
According to New Middletown police, “O’Reardon is a fictitious name Reardon gave himself.”
An intentional and seemingly planned threat against the JCC prompted law enforcement to act after a search warrant was issued. Reardon was arrested upon law enforcement finding his collection of Nazi memorabilia and extreme weaponry at his home.
The possibility of a massacre happening in Youngstown led JCC member Ronald Collier to question the safety of well-known safe spaces.
“It’s like we can’t go anywhere. [The JCC] is a place I can come to hang out with my buddies, relax with my wife. Needing protection and security was never expected here,” Collier said.
Reardon’s malicious intent prompted the JCC and surrounding synagogues to react by strengthening security levels.
JCC member Henrietta Collier was shocked by the news.
“Even the places we feel most safe are becoming a target for violence,” Collier said.
The timing of the threat was two months shy of the aforementioned synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh.
Jacob Labendz, assistant professor of Judaic and Holocaust Studies at Youngstown State University and JCC contributor, recalled the effects of domestic terrorism threats in the community with comparison to the Pittsburgh massacre.
“It was terrifying [because] it was almost to the day of the anniversary of the massacre in Pittsburgh, which struck a serious chord to Jews around the country, around the world, but particularly in Youngstown, which is so deeply connected to the community in Pittsburgh,” Labendz said.
In the wake of white nationalist violence, Labendz said the YSU community offered support to the neighboring state after the horrific tragedy.
“After that massacre, the YSU community really reached out in support of the Jewish community. I found the Jewish community in Youngstown [was] supported by the Christian and Muslim community, atheists, local communities and that was deeply encouraging,” Labendz said.
In 2018, at least 50 people were killed in the U.S., making it the fourth deadliest year for domestic extremist-related terrorism, according to the ADL.
Reardon was seen in a video marching in support of white supremacy during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, which led to the death of one counter protester in a vehicle-ramming attack.
“White nationalism is a political movement that sees America as white ethnostate that’s going to enact policies in that direction. The good news is, I don’t think they have a chance of establishing a white ethnostate. They’re going to lose every time. I don’t see this ending,” Labendz said.
Reardon is still in custody at the Mahoning County Jail on telecommunications harassment and aggravated menacing charges while he awaits a grand jury decision whether to move forward with trial.