Southern California Police Launch Efforts to Deter Hate Crimes

When mosques in Southern California received handwritten letters over the Thanksgiving weekend that threatened genocide of Muslims, police stepped up their actions to stem the rise in hate crimes and incidents of bigotry.

Anti-Muslim letters sent to Southern California mosques
Anti-Muslim letters sent to Southern California mosques

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck said “In times of turmoil, in times of uncertainty, in times of strife, hate crimes increase. The fear is very, very strong in humanity. This cannot stand. This cannot be something we allow as a people.”

The Times also reported that law enforcement units in California are waging a public information campaign aimed at both the perpetrators and the victims of hate crimes. Police want to increase public confidence in reporting incidents, and they want the increase in reporting to serve as a deterrent.

Los Angeles and San Francisco police have also brought social media into their monitoring system, watching for comments that qualify as criminal threats and that could escalate to a hate crime.

At a November 28 press conference at the Islamic Center of Southern California, police officials announced they are officially pursuing the writer or writers of the anti-Muslim letters, although the FBI says the letters do not constitute a hate crime because they lack a specific threat of violence, the L.A. Times reports.

“We know that incidents routinely evolve into crimes. We don’t want to wait until this evolves.”

But LAPD Commander Horace Frank said, “We know that incidents routinely evolve into crimes. We don’t want to wait until this evolves.”

Law enforcement interest in hate incidents, in-person or online, is not limited to the mosque threats. A November 26 anti-Scientology posting on Facebook by “itmc Sam St Germain” (itmc stands for Island Thunder Motorcycle Club), a man who lives in Pleasanton, California, was reported to LAPD Major Crimes and logged for investigation:

“F------ Freaks!! Would love for you freaks to pay me a visit. I would greet you at my door with a whole lot of copper and steel. Hard to find lead slugs these days.”

Hatemonger Leah Remini

This post, plus serious threats by others via Twitter and telephone, also reported and logged by police for investigation, came in the midst of a media blitz by A&E TV Network to hype its anti-Scientology reality show steeped in hate speech by Leah Remini and others. Threats spiked when the first episode was broadcast.

This would not be the first time Remini’s vitriolic pronouncements caused threats of violence or actual violence. Andre Barkanov, a man with no connection to Scientology, called the Church in July 2015 and threatened to kill its leader and “every single one of you.” Tracked down by police, he was found with a cache of weapons and counterfeit police insignia. He was extradited to California where he pled guilty in May 2016 to the felonies of making a criminal threat and stalking. When investigators asked him if he knew anyone in the Church, he said he knew of that “King of Queens lady” who had left the Church and had been in the news—Leah Remini. “I remember being mad watching this program,” he told police.

Leah Remini has another incident on her incite-to-violence rap sheet in the person of Erin McMurtry. “Inspired” by a TV interview of Remini, in December 2015 McMurtry drove her car through the front of the Church of Scientology in Austin, Texas, apparently intending to cause destruction, injuries or even fatalities. 

The individuals now posting the threats against Scientologists are, like Barkanov and McMurtry, demonstrating the textbook definition of bigotry: hate based on ignorance. A&E and Remini must be held accountable for poisoning the airwaves with anti-religious invective that stirs this ignorant hatred. Thoroughly informed by the Church of Scientology about the details of the incidents of violence provoked by Remini rants, A&E proceeded anyway, seemingly oblivious or simply indifferent to the potential violent effects of their broadcast. Would they give hours of unchallenged airtime to haters spewing anti-Semitic rhetoric—and then deny any responsibility or concern for possible repercussions? Of course not. 

The current threats are from individuals who have been incited by Remini to such a level that they are posting threats serious and specific enough to land them in police custody. Just as Remini’s on-air ranting last year stirred McMurtry and Barkanov to commit felonies against Scientologists, Remini’s blatant lies and twisted scenarios, no matter how contrived, are again inciting threats that could turn to violence.

A&E and Leah Remini have a lot to answer for.

Rebecca Blair
A Pennsylvanian, Rebecca Blair is a writer, editor and blogger specializing in religious freedom issues and American history and culture. A longtime Scientologist, she is active in local and national interfaith initiatives.