Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is currently on a listening tour across Virginia, hearing stories about hate crimes and white supremacy.
When the bomb threat came here at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Old Town Alexandria, members of the congregation were told to stay in the historically black church until further notice. They were eventually instructed to leave in a single-file line.
It’s the latest example of what Attorney General Mark Herring says is a dangerous rise in hate crimes, which have increased 65 percent in the last five years. “And it is really important that leaders at every level — community, state, national — speak out universally and condemn hate crimes, white supremacy, anti-semitism,” Herring told a group gathered at the church Monday.
And he wants to pair that with legislation, prohibiting paramilitary activity by white supremacist groups and updating Virginia’s definition of hate crime to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
Judy Fentress-Williams is senior assistant to the pastor here at Alfred Street, and she says that bomb threat has lingering trauma. “White supremacists have become bolder, more vocal, and we have seen a greater presence than we’ve ever seen before," Fentress-Williams said. "So this is a very significant concern.”
White supremacist leader Richard Spencer had a headquarters a few blocks away until he was run out of town by protesters. And Northern Virginia has a long history with white supremacy. The head of the American Nazi Party set up headquarters in nearby Arlington until its leader was assassinated in the parking lot of a laundromat in 1967.