Herring, who is pushing a package of legislation aimed at battling hate groups, said he first noticed the increase in acts of violence in 2015, when he spotted some anti-Hindu graffiti on a bridge in Loudoun County. He also cited the growing number of anti-Semitic attacks in the country, including the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue and the killing of four people at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City.
In 2018, about 1,400 religion-based hate crimes were reported, and anti-Semitic attacks account for about 60 percent of them, according to the Anti-Defamation League, he said.
In Virginia, Herring said, a state police report found that hate crimes in the state have risen about 31 percent in the past six years.
“The hate and white-supremacist violence that threaten the Jewish community also pose a threat to Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, the African American community, LGBT Americans and others who do not comport to someone’s twisted and narrow definition of who belongs and who is a part of our commonwealth,” Herring said.
Swift condemnation should have greeted the attacks, he said, but tacit acceptance has emboldened them.
His anti-hate proposals would update the definition of hate crimes to include sexual identity and disabilities, keep guns away from those convicted of hate crimes, empower the attorney general’s office to prosecute hate crimes and prohibit paramilitary activities. He said they have failed in past sessions but have a strong chance of advancing this year with new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
His proposals could threaten rallies such as the one that brought thousands of gun-rights supporters bearing firearms to the streets of Richmond on Jan. 20. But Herring said the bills would not infringe on First or Second amendment rights.
“There should not be bands of heavily armed, seemingly uniformed [people] in formation, private militias marching in unison up Water Street in Charlottesville or any other community,” he said to applause.
The attorney general seemed more interested in discussing lessons learned from the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville than the gun rights demonstrations in Richmond last week. In response to an audience member’s question, Herring praised the strong law enforcement presence in the state capital for preventing overt violence at the recent rally.
Another audience member said demonstrators who supported gun-control bills were mostly absent from the Richmond rally. Herring agreed, saying that those activists “unfortunately felt intimidated, something that should never happen.”