Anti-Semitic message found in Chico campaign office

Just days after the Aug. 21 opening of a Gore-Lieberman campaign headquarters in Chico, someone scribbled anti-Semitic messages within the office walls.

The scrawling, "No Jew in the White House," covered a large dry-erase board as well as a 2-by-3-foot calendar inside the office, which is located alongside the shut-down Senator Theatre.

Bob Ray, coordinator of the Butte County headquarters for the Democratic presidential campaign, said he found the messages when he arrived at work on the morning of Aug. 24, a Thursday.

Finding the door unlocked, Ray said he entered with caution and soon saw "something written sideways on the calendar." Originally suspecting the writing was a political prank by Republicans, he inspected it further. "When I realized what it said, it freaked me out. I immediately felt sick to my stomach."

Chico police are investigating the incident as a hate crime, but currently have no leads, according to Police Chief Mike Efford.

"It looks like a volunteer from the office may have left the door unlocked and someone, without force, walked in and wrote [the messages]," Efford said. "We're not saying that it's not a matter of concern to us — unfortunately, there's little we can do at this time."

But Ray said he was concerned by the investigation. When police originally visited the office, they did not take any photographs of the crime scene or dust for fingerprints, he said.

After being contacted by the Bulletin a day after Ray's discovery, police returned to the Gore-Lieberman office to take photographs of the dry-erase board and collect the calendar page.

"We did not fingerprint the building because there was nothing to fingerprint — it would have been close to impossible," Efford said. "As for not taking a photograph, someone just didn't do their job."

Closely timed with the report of the incident in the campaign office, three separate reports of graffiti reading "Kill the Jew" were called into Chico police.

The first, found on the bulletin board of a launderette, was called in on Aug. 23. The second, found on a breezeway between the El Rey movie theater and the Chico Museum, was called in on Aug. 25. And the third, found on a unisex bathroom door at Ringel Park, was called in on Monday.

Police believe the "Kill the Jew" messages, all written with black felt tip marker, came from the same source. They do not, however, believe the messages are linked to the incident in the Gore-Lieberman office.

"At this point, our determination is that these are separate," Sgt. Ford Porter said Tuesday. "In the graffiti case, the same message was written in permanent pen at all three locations. In the Democratic office…the message 'No Jew in the White House' was written on the grease board with the grease pen and on the calendar with a different pen.

"Someone cared enough, so to speak, not to be permanent."

But Porter said this assessment could quickly change if new evidence is found.

"Were keeping our eyes and ears open," he said. "Unfortunately graffiti is a tough crime to solve. We really depend on someone who might have seen or heard something calling in."

The "No Jew in the White House" message may not have been permanent — it has since been erased and the calendar has been taken into police custody.

But the incident's impact has made a permanent mark on some supporters of presidential candidate Al Gore and vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman.

"I'm really frightened," said Doris Smith, chairperson of the Butte County Democratic Central Committee. "I think this in one of the worst things anyone can do — to bring racism and anti-Semitism into this campaign."

But Jay Ziegler, the California director for the Gore-Lieberman campaign, said that, despite "a deep and irrational prejudice, [which] continues to exist in the United States," the Democratic candidates will prevail.

"Vice President Gore is very proud of his selection of Joe Lieberman to serve on the ticket," he said. "There should be no doubt that they will continue to fight for the working families of California and beyond."

Jonathan Bernstein, director of the Central Pacific region of the Anti-Defamation League, called the anti-Semitic message a "cowardly act" in a press statement issued Aug. 25.

"The vandals' objectives will backfire," he wrote. "Americans will vote for a candidate based on merit, not ethnic or religious background."

Ray, however, believes the Democratic vice presidential nominee should help make the message loud and clear by coming to Chico and standing up with the community.

"If Lieberman came here," said Ray, "there'd be thousands of people supporting him. That's the right message to send — that these anti-Semites are in the minority."