Demonstrators wave signs outside City Hall in Portland on Monday night, April 10, 2023, protesting what they saw as law enforcement's lackluster response to a violent Nazi march through the city on April 1. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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On Sunday, many people celebrated Easter, the most important holiday in the Christian faith. We are also in the midst of Ramadan, and Passover. This convergence of these holidays is a reminder of the overlap of these faiths and the long history of religious diversity in the U.S.

So, it is especially disheartening to hear during Passover that antisemitism is on the rise in the U.S., and in Maine. Although the numbers are small, there was a doubling of antisemitic cases in Maine from 2021 to 2022. Last year, there were 13 antisemitic incidents in Maine, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Six involved harassment and seven were vandalism. In 2021, there were six cases total.

Nationally, the Anti-Defamation League’s audit of antisemitic cases in 2022 reported a 36 percent increase, or 3,697 antisemitic cases, in the United States. It was the highest number since the nonprofit began tracking antisemitism in 1979. There was a doubling of antisemitic cases in New England, according to the audit, which was released in late March.

“The fact that numbers increased in nearly every category, including harassment and vandalism, is a grim reminder that antisemitism continues to infect our communities in real and pervasive ways,” Peggy Shukur, ADL New England interim regional director, said in a press release that accompanied the audit.

Shukur noted that an antisemitic act, such as a swastika at a synagogue or a hateful banner over a highway, is recorded as only one event, yet these instances can spread harm and hate to dozens, even hundreds of individuals.

“Behind every one of these numbers are people who have experienced the harm, fear, intimidation and pain that reverberates from each of these incidents,” Shukur said.

Unfortunately illustrating that antisemitism and white supremacy are not a thing of the past and that it remains a real, vile threat in New England, a group of neo-Nazis gathered and marched in Portland on April 1. They are part of a neo-Nazi group known as the Nationalist Social Club, or NSC-131. The group, which is based in New England, is known to target Jewish and LGBTQ groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

With their faces covered and dressed in black jackets and khaki pants, a couple dozen people carried a banner that read “Defend White Communities” and did Nazi salutes in downtown Portland. They also yelled hateful slurs at those passing by, according to Portland police.

Newscenter Maine reported that a counterprotester was assaulted by one of the NCS-13 members and police broke up the altercation. Police, however, did not take any statements and let the Nazis leave the scene.

Cumberland County District Attorney Jacqueline Sartoris said more could have been done to hold NCS-13 accountable and that she met with the city’s police chief to discuss how to respond to future events.

In a statement on Monday, Sartoris emphasized that police and others must not let the masked anonymity of the neo-Nazis, and the understandable fear of their victims to speak out or press charges if they will be named, allow neo-Nazis to escape accountability for their actions.

She also suggested the Portland Police Department should consider the formation of a hate crimes unit and called for more outreach to vulnerable populations who are likely targets of hate crimes.

The Portland City Council said Monday that it is considering next steps with the police department after 200 people rallied outside City Hall to urge a stronger response to hate groups like NCS-13. Many people also spoke to the council Monday about not feeling safe in Maine’s largest city after the April 1 events and police response.

This month’s events in Portland, and the ADL audit, are a sad reminder that incidents of hate like these are likely to continue to occur, and potentially increase. Police departments need to do a better job of monitoring hate websites so they can try to be aware of when and where these gatherings might happen. This will help them better prepare for and respond to events like the NCS-13 appearance in Portland.

Sartoris’ recommendations are solid, modest steps that the council and police department should act upon. They should also be considered by other communities because, unfortunately, hate groups will continue to target Maine. And Maine communities need to repudiate this hateful ideology to remind people that it has no place here.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...