More antisemitic graffiti was found on the former Laconia State School property over the weekend, prompting an investigation involving the Laconia Police Department, the Civil Rights Unit of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The vandalism included swastikas, references to and recruiting information for several white supremacist groups and, notably, threatening language targeting and naming a prominent member of the city’s Jewish community, according to Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield.
Laconia police were called around 8 a.m. Sunday morning by a person walking the property who saw the graffiti. The tagging was found on a former water control building and a water tower off Eastman Road and Green Street.
“Any act of antisemitic graffiti, or actions, we take very seriously — whether it’s a swastika carved on a park bench or this graffiti, it’s all wrong,” Canfield said. “We will not tolerate it and will bring all law enforcement resources to bear to investigate these types of crimes and do all we can to find the perpetrators and prosecute them to the fullest extent.”
Canfield said he hopes the investigation reveals any potential links between this and past instances of hate symbols tagged at the State School and other places in the city. In addition to its investigation, the department has staged two camera surveillance trailers on the property.
Laconia city leaders, including the mayor, city manager and members of the Human Relations Committee and of city council, held a meeting with law enforcement and faith-based community leaders Tuesday afternoon.
Ira Keltz, president of Temple B’nai Israel, released a statement Tuesday, signed by him and Rabbi Jan Katz. It reads, in part, “Rosh Hashanah is a time of reflection, renewal, and hope. This reprehensible act goes against the principles of tolerance, respect, and understanding that our community holds dear.
“We are deeply saddened that such hatred and bigotry exist in our community. We firmly believe that our diversity is our strength, and we will not allow the actions of a few to define our town. Instead, we will use this incident as an opportunity to come together as a community and to educate ourselves and others about the importance of acceptance and respect for all.
“We are grateful to be a part of a town where our neighbors, friends, and community members continue to offer their assistance and solidarity. Together, we will stand strong against antisemitism and all forms of hatred, ensuring that Laconia remains a place of unity and compassion for all.”
Ahead of the meeting, city leaders firmly condemned the vandalism, which was discovered during the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
“I am outraged by these acts,” Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer said Tuesday. “I feel it stands as a very sobering reminder that there are neo-Nazis and white supremacists embedded in our extended communities. We have to be vigilant in protecting our freedoms, our fellow citizens, defending our shared values in this community.”
Any act of hate is a call to action for the entire city, Hosmer said. “We’ll do whatever is necessary to either educate folks about the dangers of this type of extremism, to shed some light on the darkness of ignorance that’s perpetrated by these groups and to stand together for each other and not let this type of behavior divide our community.”
“To say that we are saddened and appalled by what was found would be an understatement,” City Manager Kirk Beattie said. Working with both law enforcement and community groups, especially faith-based organizations, “we’re showing a united front both in how we’re investigating this, but also how we work together to move forward from what’s happening.”
A year ago, also around the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Nazi symbols were found in graffiti at Opechee Park and at the Laconia Public Library. Laconia police also found antisemitic graffiti at the State School property at the end of last year.
“I think it’s fair to say that what we saw in the past to what we saw now, especially where a member of the community has been named … that there is an escalation in that,” Beattie said. “The police department is working to make sure that the member of the community who was named feels safe and knows that we are doing everything we can to find out who did this.”
“Our Civil Rights Unit is aware of the incident and is working with the Laconia Police Department, which is the point agency for the investigation, to investigate the matter. Because this is an ongoing investigation, the unit cannot comment any further at this time,” a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office wrote in an email response to a request for comment Tuesday.
Canfield and Beattie encouraged anyone with information about the vandalism to contact the Laconia Police Department at 603-524-5252, anonymously via Tip411 or through the city’s crimeline at 603-527-1717.
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