Rabbi Jason Rodich at the entrance to Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, which has long used metal detectors and unarmed guards to screen people coming into the building. (Photo/Sue Barnett)
Rabbi Jason Rodich at the entrance to Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, which has long used metal detectors and unarmed guards to screen people coming into the building, July 2019. (Photo/Sue Barnett)

Federal funds OK’d to protect Bay Area houses of worship

UPDATED Dec. 10, 1 p.m.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has unanimously authorized $830,242 in federal spending for an educational program aimed at preventing violence against houses of worship in the Bay Area.

Funding for the two-year program comes from the Department of Homeland Security, via its Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention program. In the Bay Area, the initiative will educate 100 as-yet unnamed houses of worship on how to recognize warning signs and credible threats, for instance when a person is being radicalized or is mobilizing for a violent act. Similar programs will be held at 55 Bay Area high schools.

The Dec. 8 passage of the funding for TVTP was particularly important in light of a rise in violent antisemitic attacks in the United States. In one case that has received a lot of attention, Ross Farca was arrested by Concord police in 2019 after allegedly planning a mass shooting targeting Jews. Farca is accused of posting threats against Jews on an online forum, and police say he built an illegal assault weapon in his bedroom.

“We need better education so people can detect indications of someone signaling that they are going to engage in violence,” said Rafael Brinner, director of Jewish community security at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, adding that the aim is to become aware “sooner rather than later.”

While Brinner wrote a letter in support of the TVTP program in May, he also said that training “only goes so far.” He argued that current laws should be altered so that it’s easier for law enforcement to arrest individuals who are making threats against communities — rhetoric that is sometimes “misclassified” as protected speech, he said.

“Concord PD’s arrest of Ross Farca in June 2019 is illustrative of this need,” he wrote. “In an online chatroom, Farca expressed a desire to rack up a higher body count than the shooter at the Chabad of Poway a month earlier. This alone might not have led to his arrest; it was bragging that he had an illegally modified AR-15 that brought police to his door.”

The TVTP program is overseen locally by the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), a project that utilizes federal funds “to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist incidents and catastrophic events” in 12 counties, according to its website. S.F.’s Department of Emergency Management is the fiscal agent responsible for the program’s funds, according to Brinner.

UASI did not respond in time for publication when asked which synagogues would receive training.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler is a staff writer at J. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ggreschler.