- By JAYMIE BAXLEY || firstname.lastname@example.org
- Feb 14, 2023
Standing on a hill near the Vass bridge where an anti semitic banner was dropped in December, Barbara Rothbeind, president of the Sandhills Jewish Congregation, said the community cannot let its “silence be a sign of complicity.”
“We do not have the luxury of time to be afraid to speak out,” she told a crowd of over 50 people, many of whom held up literal signs denouncing hate and bigotry, on Tuesday morning. “Together we are the face of Moore County and our words and deeds of love, peace, justice will be the banners that we will hang as a welcome sign to all those entering Moore County.”
Barbara Rothbeind was one of several local leaders who spoke during “Take Back the Bridge,” a demonstration organized by the Sandhills Coalition of Peace, Love and Justice. The event was both a condemnation of the white supremacy-espousing banner that was unfurled over U.S. 1 and a celebration of the Town of Vass for its swift response to the vandalism.
The banner, which was emblazoned with Nazi symbols and phrases associated with white supremacist groups, was discovered as Jewish families were preparing to observe the first night of Hanukkah on Dec. 18. The following day, Vass issued a statement saying its mayor, commissioners and staff “unequivocally denounce antisemitism and hate in any form.”
“All forms of hate against any group will not be tolerated in our community,” the town said at the time. “The disgusting antisemitic sign that was hung on a bridge near Vass does not reflect the beliefs of our community. The Town of Vass will rise above this hate.”
O’Linda Watkins-McSurely, president of the Moore County NAACP, on Tuesday presented Eddie Callahan, mayor of Vass, with a plaque on behalf of the coalition in appreciation of the town’s “incredible and powerful denunciation of hateful bigotry in all its forms.”
Addressing the crowd, Callahan described Vass as a “small town built on diversity.” Issuing the statement, he said, was something “that just had to be done.”
A second banner bearing anti semitic messages was found hanging from another bridge overlooking U.S. 1 on Christmas morning. Both incidents are being investigated by the Moore County Sheriff’s Office.
The banners were dropped amid a national uptick in anti semitic incidents. In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League tracked a record 2,717 cases of anti semitic harassment, vandalism or assault. A 2022 survey by the league found that prejudice against Jewish people had nearly doubled since 2019.
Tuesday’s event also included remarks from Charles Oldham, chair of the board of directors for the local LGBTQ organization Sandhills Pride. He noted that the banners were discovered mere weeks after two electrical substations in Moore County were sabotaged by intentional gunfire, leaving tens of thousands of local homes and businesses without power for days.
No arrests have been made and police have yet to announce a potential motive for the attacks. Still, Oldham noted that similar crimes targeting the nation’s critical infrastructure have been linked to white supremacists in recent months.
“We have to be steadfast and we have to show to the world at large that’s not who we are and it’s not something that we can accept in this community,” he said.