Three neo-Nazis unfurled large swastika flags outside a Riverside synagogue on Oct. 2 as congregants gathered inside for Shabbat and Sukkot prayers.
The incident was one of several recent encounters between members of the Riverside chapter of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and the local community. The group is planning a rally in Riverside this weekend, its second in four weeks, to protest illegal immigration. Hundreds of counter-protesters are preparing to oppose them.
Rabbi Suzanne Singer of Temple Beth El said the neo-Nazis paraded on the sidewalk adjacent to the synagogue during the service, leaving only after the last congregant had exited the building. She described the mood inside the synagogue as one of disgust and anger.
Beth El member Kevin Akin, who was present that evening, said the protesters used cell phones to photograph worshippers on their way out.
The neo-Nazis did not come onto synagogue property, Singer said.
More than 300 community supporters, including pastors and members of local churches, filled the synagogue the following week to celebrate Simchat Torah in an outpouring of solidarity with the Jewish community.
“The community turned something very hateful into something joyful and loving,” Singer said. “It was a very powerful moment.”
The impromptu gathering was the result largely of word of mouth, as local clergy heard about the neo-Nazi protest the week before and told Singer they would come with their parishioners to show their support. Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge and Mustafa Kuko, religious director of the Islamic Center of Riverside, also attended the event.
“[The NSM] represents the most horrific symbol of civilization,” Loveridge said. “One doesn’t want to see these symbols unfurled in Riverside or in any other city.”
The mayor issued a strongly worded statement denouncing recent and future NSM actions at the Oct. 6 Riverside City Council meeting.
Riverside is the California headquarters of the Detroit-based NSM, the largest neo-Nazi group in the United States, according to Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism. The group has a few hundred members nationwide and about a dozen members in Riverside, she said. The NSM has had a presence in Riverside since 2005.
Despite its virulently anti-Semitic ideology, the NSM has focused on illegal immigration in recent years to boost recruitment by exploiting anger some Americans have toward illegal immigrants.
On Sept. 24, eight neo-Nazis wearing black pants and boots and NSM T-shirts protested against illegal immigration at a Riverside site where day laborers commonly seek work. They were met by nearly 200 counter-demonstrators, including many Chicano activists, who snatched and tore up swastika-covered flags and chanted, “Nazis go home,” according to local press reports. Despite a few skirmishes, riot-gear clad police kept violence to a minimum and made no arrests.
Nearly 200 people representing 20 community organizations staged a second counter-protest at the Riverside City Hall.
Local neo-Nazis are planning another rally on Saturday in Riverside’s heavily Latino Casa Blanca neighborhood. Several hundred people representing more than 50 community groups from the Inland Empire and Los Angeles are expected to stage a counter-protest across the street, according to Temple Beth El’s Akin, who heads the counter-protest committee.
“The rally will express rejection of Nazi intolerance, racism and violence,” Akin said. “We are pleased that we have broad support across the religious and political spectrum.”