Several Jewish leaders and elected officials in Montgomery County are criticizing the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) for refusing to link a surge of hate-based incidents in recent weeks to the election of Republican Donald Trump.
They say they are particularly troubled that, in response to a tweet from state Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D) this week, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) replied that hate is not “new.”
Ron Halber, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said there is “a direct correlation” between the vitriolic rhetoric of the Trump campaign and “the uptick of anti-Semitic and bigoted events happening across the country and in my home town of Montgomery County.”
“Anyone who is denying that has their head in the sand,” Halber said.
At a legislative breakfast sponsored by the council on Thursday, Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal of Gaithersburg’s Shaare Torah synagogue asked Rutherford about recent race-based incidents in the county, including a swastika drawn on the wall of a high school bathroom and a “whites only” sign taped to a boy’s bathroom at another local high school.
Rutherford, who is African American, condemned the incidents and encouraged people to report them, Blumenthal said Friday.
Then the lieutenant governor went on to say that he did not know why the incidents are happening now, Blumenthal said. Many in the overwhelmingly Democratic audience gasped, according to several people who attended the event.
Blumenthal said Friday that he was “disappointed” that Rutherford did not see a correlation between the incidents and the divisiveness of Trump’s campaign, which featured strong support from white supremacist groups and frequent attacks on immigrants and Muslims.
Kagan, who attended the breakfast, tweeted afterward that she was “shocked” that Rutherford was “perplexed by the increase.”
In a reply, Rutherford tweeted: “You act as though hate is new. It was always there. I’d rather people show their real colors than hide.”
Kagan called Rutherford’s tweet “remarkably offensive.”
“He should be condemning, not offering safe haven, to those with racist attitudes in our state,” she said.
Shareese Churchill, a spokeswoman for Rutherford, said both Rutherford and Hogan “condemn racism and acts of hatred from all sides. Citizens have the right to protest peacefully, but all Marylanders must treat each other with respect, and acts of violence or damage to public or private property will not be tolerated.”
Churchill said Rutherford, who grew up during the civil rights movement, has “stared real racism and discrimination in the face.” She said his tweet was “simply referencing the indisputable fact that racism and race-related tensions have been issues facing our nation for hundreds of years.”
Hogan, who like Rutherford disavowed Trump early in the presidential campaign, also has declined to link the president-elect’s rise to recent incidents in Maryland.
When asked about the incidents shortly after the election, Hogan said, “We would not like to see any hate crimes on either side of this issue.” He noted that the only actual violence that had been reported in Maryland was “anti-Trump protesters beating up a Trump supporter” during a march.
Halber said he spoke to Rutherford by phone on Friday and “there is no doubt in my mind that he rejects bigotry.”
“It’s not as important how this began,” Halber said. “I’m just glad that the lieutenant governor is denouncing anti-Semitism and bigotry.”