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Hate Speech or Free Speech?

Anti-Semitic Literature is Distributed in Herndon

After spending eight of the last 10 years working for the U.S. government in places like Russia, Belarus and Georgia, Reston resident Kenneth Yalowitz was still disturbed by what he found on his windshield the night of Feb. 7.

"This was a sad way to return home," said Yalowitz, home from overseas since last July. Yalowitz spoke about his experiences — as the U.S. Ambassador to Belarus and Georgia for three years in each country and as Economic Minister Counselor in Russia for two years — on the evening of Feb. 7 at Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon.

Following the event at the conservative congregation, Yalowitz and the members of the community who attended the lecture returned to their cars to find anti-Semitic literature pinned between the windshield and windshield wiper. In the flier, produced by an organization called National Alliance, language was used accusing the Jewish people of perpetrating a holocaust against Gentiles.

"This was so distorted," said Yalowitz. "These are unproven, wild allegations that have no basis in fact. It is very bothersome. Groups like this are clearly anti-Semitic and very disturbing and need to be called attention to. Literature like this deserves exposure to the light of day," he said.

"I attended the speech," said Reston resident Susan Berger, adding that Yalowitz spoke of "how repressed Jews were under the Soviets." Berger, also a recipient of the flier, said she returned home and e-mailed the Fairfax County Police.

The Fairfax County Police Department documented the leafleting of the synagogue parking lot saying the department "recognizes the potential harm that bias crimes and incidents can have in the community, and consequently encourages people to report them. All bias crimes and incidents are investigated thoroughly."

"I’m disappointed in the level of ignorance that still exists in this area," said Berger. "False information was presented. I’ve lived in a lot of different places and this is the first time I’ve seen such a thing. If these hateful opinions do exist, at least we’re aware of it and can speak out against it before it becomes a bigger issue."

SUCH LITERATURE was not limited to the Beth Emeth parking lot, and Berger did not stand alone in her opinion about the literature and future ramifications.

Town of Herndon residents complained to town councilman William "Bill" Tirrell Sr. while Tirrell was campaigning for Mayor last Monday. Tirrell, like other attendees of the Feb. 19 Town Council work session, received a flier attached to his windshield from the National Alliance.

"I gave my flier to the chief," said Tirrell. "I wanted to make him aware that this organization exists with a Herndon post office box. I was repulsed by this. Certainly people can think what they wish and believe what they wish. But, to spread that kind of hatred around town does a gross disservice to all of us. To put that kind of material in front of children who have no concept what it means is unforgivable."

WHILE NOT approving of the literature, Herndon Police Chief Toussaint E. Summers, Jr. looked at the issue from a law and order standpoint.

"It’s not against the law to put a flier on a car," Summers said. "There is no violation of the law yet. This is not a bias incident. He noted that the flier "was not geared toward any group; it was given to everybody." The fliers dropped on Feb. 19 were distributed between 7:30 and 9:05 p.m.

Summers said the fliers would not be investigated. "We only investigate crimes, and I don’t know of any crime that has been committed," he said. "Obviously, we will document it, but I don’t want to create something that isn’t there. While I may not agree with the ideas, it’s still protected."

"I’m for free speech, but this isn’t it," said Berger, specifically referring to the incident at Beth Emeth. "It’s not free speech to go on the grounds of a religious institution and force their ideas on us," she said.

"This may be a First Amendment issue, but I have the First Amendment right to say it stinks," said Tirrell. "I challenge these people to show themselves. Folks who tend to preach this kind of hatred tend to do so in a cowardly manner."

HERNDON MAYOR Carol Bruce, also a flier recipient the night of Feb. 19, agreed with Tirrell. "I was appalled," she said. "It’s such a piece of trash. I know that stuff goes on, but in a town facility — these are cowards. If you feel that strongly about it, stay there and hand it out in a person. The part that really bothers me is that it says Herndon, Virginia on it. I went on their web site. No ID’s of people. That’s their cowardly way."

By looking at the web site, Bruce confirmed that the Anti Defamation League (ADL) was already aware that National Alliance is headquartered in Hillsboro, W. Va.,

"There have been over a dozen incidents of pamphleting in the Reston-Herndon area, all by the National Alliance in the last year," said Brittanie Werbel, associate director for the ADL regional office in Washington, D.C. She noted that one of the ADL tasks is to track such incidents and provide a statistical report each year of anti-Semitic activity.

"It’s protected speech by the First Amendment, and no laws were broken, but it’s an anti-Semitic incident nonetheless," said Werbel. "A lot of jurisdictions don’t want to document hate crimes. Fairfax County is not afraid to document these things."

Werbel encourages people to report such incidents not only to local authorities but also to the ADL web site at www. adl.org.