Charlottesville police ignored pleas to protect synagogue from neo-Nazis

Members of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA, feared for their safety during protests by hate groups Saturday. (Photo: Google Maps/PA)

Members of Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Charlottesville, VA, feared for their safety Saturday during protests by hate groups. (Photo: Google Maps/PA)

A Charlottesville synagogue was denied extra police protection and had to hire private security to guard against white supremacists gathered for last weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally.

According to a blog post by Alan Zimmerman, president of the Congregation Beth Israel in the Virginia town, police promised to provide “an observer” near the synagogue for Saturday’s rally after groups of neo-Nazis and white supremacists had gathered with torches Friday night to protest the removal of a statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee. The police failed to keep that promise, Zimmerman said, and so the group was forced to hire private security.

Zimmerman described the fear he and others felt as the hate group members marched by the synagogue, chanting “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic slogans, some carrying Nazi flags and symbols. As around 40 people prayed inside during services, Zimmerman stood outside with the armed security guard and tried to make sense of what he was witnessing.

“For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple,” he said. “Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either.”

Zimmerman noted a man with a white polo shirt lurking outside the building and became worried he was eyeing the synagogue for an attack. He would recognize the same polo shirt on the neo-Nazi who later drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters 200 feet from the synagogue, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and wounding 19 others. Though it was a different man, Zimmerman suspected the attacker and the man casing the building were part of the same hate group.

“Even now, that gives me a chill,” Zimmerman said.

After the services ended, the group inside the synagogue had to leave the temple through the back door for safety reasons, a move that broke Zimmerman’s heart.

“This is 2017 in the United States of America,” he added.