Faith-Based Terrorism Requires an International Response

rabbi roston

The conference, 'Building Resilience in the New Threat Paradigm: Targeted Violence Against People of Faith,' brought together almost 200 representatives from law enforcement and faith-based groups from Europe and across the US. Above: Rabbi Francine Roston of Whitefish Montana talks about her experience being targeted by a white supremacist group.

Atlantic City, N.J. – Faith-based terrorism is an organized international movement that requires an organized international response, experts from several countries told participants at a two-day conference at Stockton University Atlantic City on June 11-12 that included an on-site tabletop exercise at St. Augustine Church. 

“We made a big strategic mistake thinking we are just dealing with hooligans,” said Saad Amrami, chief commissioner and policy advisor of the Belgian Federal Police. “They are looking to build political power. We need to change the paradigm.”

The summit, titled “Building Resilience in the New Threat Paradigm: Targeted Violence Against People of Faith”  was co-sponsored by the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University, the Center for Critical Intelligence Studies at Rutgers, and Stockton University, in partnership with the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

Almost 200 representatives from law enforcement and faith-based groups from Europe and across the United States came together to discuss the impact of faith-based terrorism and how to prepare and respond to it.

Following is a synopsis of each speaker and workshop. The conference was livestreamed and can be viewed at

June 11: 8:45 a.m. Opening Remarks

john farmerJohn Farmer, executive director of the Miller Center and former chief counsel for the 9/11 Commission, said security has improved since the attacks of 9/11 but  the world is facing a transnational threat.

“We have paid a heavy price for not recognizing that this transcends local and state boundaries,” he saidMiller.

 Paul Miller, after whom the Miller Center is named, said words alone will not stop terrorism.

"We can say 'never again', " Miller said, referring to the Holocaust. "But words will not stop rocket-propelled grenades or bullets from an AR15. 

lee levine"As long as (prejudice and genocide) exist, we need to prepare law enforcement and others to minimize the impact," said Atlantic City attorney Lee Levine, a sponsor of the summit.

Jared Maples, Director of the N.J. Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and  shared the state's efforts to create partnerships and work with communities and faith-based groups throughout the state through aMaplesn Inter-Faith Council.

"We communicate with them so they can be better prepared,"  Maples said. 

"We are letting people know we are there for them," said Col. Patrick Callahan, N.J. State Police sCallahanuperintendent. "Partnerships here and abroad are key." 

John Hill, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said cybersecurity is also a priority and they are working to help states and local communities build “cyber resiliency.”Hill

John Farmer, executive director of the Miller Center and former chief counsel for the 9/11 Commission, said security has improved since the attacks of 9/11 but  the world is facing a transnational threat.

“We have paid a heavy price for not recognizing that this transcends local and state boundaries,” he said.

michelle mcdonaldStockton Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Michelle McDonald welcomed the attendees and spoke the importance of the topic to everyone in every nation.

"There has been a sharp increase in sectarian violence," she said. "It affects how we live, how we travel, what schools we attend and how we worship.  I look forward to seeing what we can build together."

June 11: 9:30 a.m. Opening keynote: Francine Green Roston, Glacier Jewish Community/B'nai Shalom Congregation, Whitefish, Montana.

rabbi francine rostonRabbi Francine Green Roston's family was among several Jewish residents targeted by a white supremacist in Whitefish, Montana. She told  her story and emphasized the importance of community support and action.

She also shared the lessons she has learned that others can use, and stressed that if it happened in her small town in Montana, it can happen anywhere.

“The best cure for hate is a united community,” she said.  “We need to build bridges, not walls. We must reach out to each other.”

June 11: 10:30 a.m. International Panel: Mitigating Targeted Violence Against Vulnerable Communities

An international panel of experts discuss the spread of faith-based terrorism in Europe and why collaboration is needed to fight it.

building resilience international panelJonathan Biermann, deputy mayor of Uccle in Brussels said they are taking steps to make people aware of threats and how to protect themselves.

“This is a globalized problem and we need to address it in a globalized way,” said Stephan J. Kramer, president of the State Agency for the Protection of the Constitution of Thuringia, Germany. 

Stockholm Police Superintendent, Amir Rostami, said street gangs and anti-social organizations have become more violent and they create polarization in the community.

Speakers emphasized that the problem permeates all aspects of society and that there needs to be both international collaboration and the ability to target responses to a specific community’s needs.

“We can’t just do the same thing everywhere,” said Gunnar Appelgren, also a police superintendent with the Stockholm Police.

Shahzad Tahir, community cohesion manager for the City of Stoke-on-Trent in England said terrorism is not just focused in big cities, but also in small towns, which have the same problems, but fewer resources to deal with them.

June 11: 12 p.m. Luncheon Keynote: Ronald Clark, Former Deputy Under-Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Ronald Clark, forClarkmer deputy under secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said finding a way to protect people is crucial. He proposed and discussed the "Clark Resilience Model" that is utilized within the Miller Center. The Clark Resilience Model focuses on building a unified community, and proposes safety ideas such as implementing internal committees in places of worship to act as liasons with law enforcement and report any threats. The model also emphasizes the act of teaching today's children safety habits and promoting the reporting of all hate communication by all citizens.  

“We need to find a balance between safe and secure and open and accessible in society, because just safe and secure would be like a prison,” Clark said.

building resilience church tabletop


June 11: 1 p.m. On-site workshop: Social media arrest/firebomb attack

Attendees participated in a tabletop exercise with community leaders and law enforcement personnel relating to social media attacks, hacking, and the firebombing of houses of worship to address needs assessments, planning, preparation, response, partnerships, and communication.   This exercise is not available on video


June 11: 3:15 p.m. Afternoon workshop: Replicating Success: Panel Discussion on Community Collaboration

Panelists discussed the importance of community collaboration to both prevent and respond to attacks.

building resilience - success"If you have to do it yourself, you won't get it done," said Perry Mays, chairman of the Coalition for a Safe Community in Atlantic County, New Jersey. 'That's why we formed a coalition."

Jamiel Altaheri, a captain with the New York City Police Department talked about their efforts to get to know the people in their communities.

We have to know their culture and community before we can help," he said, "and we have to build trust or we can't do the job."

Roger L. Parrino, senior advisor of security and emergency management at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey talked about training citizens to 'run, hide, fight' and watch for signs of unusual activity."

"Today, everyone has to take some responsibility," he said.

In England, prevention is taught with a "run, hide, tell" format said Michael Lewis, regional police officer with the Police and Crime Commissioners Offices. 

"Extremism doesn't happen in a vacuum," he said. "Solutions shouldn't either."

Patrick Rigby, chief of staff for the N.J. Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness said it is no  longer enough to train first responders.

"We need to see waves of first preventers," Rigby said.

Attendees said the conference has been eye-opening in showing how widespread the problem is. 

June 12: 9:30 a.m. Morning Keynote: Unifying the Front Against Violence: An Attack on One House of Worship is an Attack on All. 

building resilience dearbornRepresentatives from Dearborn Michigan,  Deputy Police Chief David Robinson, Rabbi David Nelson and Islamic Center of America Executive Director Kassem Allie talked about communication and partnerships that have been effective there, and the challenges that remain.  The Islamic Center was attacked in 2011 and as the largest mosque in the U.S. is often targeted for harassment and protests.

Robinson said the police have put a strong focus on community relationships and building trust within the many faith-based communities in Dearborn.

Rabbi Nelson said they have promoted the message that "an attack on one is an attack on all," to bring people together. 

Allie said security was enhanced after the attack, but is the relationships built with the faith-based and other communities. including a local militia, that have helped keep them prepared.

"Use law enforcement as a conduit to bring people together," Allie said. "Reach out to all, not just religious groups. Listen to the opinions of others."

June 12:  11 a.m. Panel Discussion: Managing the Fallout

Panelists from England, Brussels, Belgium, Kansas City and Montana discussed dealing with threats and attacks. 

"You have to plan, but  no matter how much you plan, it doesn't happen the way you plan it," said Todd Stettner, former president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of Greater Kansas City.  He said plans also have to be made for the aftermath of an attack, from the hours to weeks, months and years that include physical changes and mental health issues.  Security changes were not always popular, and not everyone agreed on how to respond.

building-resilience managing fallout"You have to train, train, train," said Richard Benson, former chief executive of Community Security Trust, and president of UK Tell Mama. "Without testing the plan, training, building relationships, you will be useless. People freeze in the situation, or may not be available. People need rest, so you have to have confidence in the team around you."

Adam Hammatt, the city manager in Whitefish Montana, said build the relationships before there is a problem so people know each other. 

"We are trying to instill a culture where everyone stands up against (hate and terrorism)," he said.

Jonathan Biermann, deputy mayor of Uccles in Brussels said a crisis team should be developed that can be activated quickly and leadership is crucial to make sure people have time to mourn, but also get back to the necessities of life. 

""An attack is a sprint followed by a marathon," he said. "The only way to succeed is to be prepared."

Saad Amrani, chief commissioner and policy advisor for the Belgian Federal police said local police are a critical tool in counter-terrorism because they know their residents and can build the necessary relationships. 

"A good crisis is the one you can avoid," he said.

Rabbi Francine Roston, who was the target of online harassment, said groups like the Miller Center can help.  She said law enforcement initially did not take her concerns seriously enough because the harassment was only online. 

"You need a diverse set of tools in your tool box," she said.

June 12: 11 a.m. Panel Discussion: Using Social Media to Shape the Narrative vs. Becoming a Victim of it.

Extremist groups are very proficient at using social media and law enforcement and others must become equally proficient at combating it panelists said.

"The rhetoric is used to manipulate and instigate," said Alex Goldenberg, social media analyst for Cardinal Point Strategies.

building resilience social mediaBryan Cunningham, executive director of the UC Irvine Cybersecurity Policy &  Research Institute, said governments are involved. He recalled a then young Soviet Officer Vladimir Putin, who was interested in learning to spread disinformation.

"Let us not forget our friend in Russia," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said he is concerned that people are not developing the critical thinking skills required to identify false information, and while Artificial Intelligence algorithms are improving, they still require human review. 

"Any algorithm will have a massive number of false positives," he said. "It needs human accountability."

Goldenberg said social media algorithms can also reinforce extremist views by suggesting other sites that are similar to the one being watched.

Cunningham said the proliferation of media choices has actually narrowed what people watch.

"Citizens have to work to get more than one point of view," he said.

Tony Sgro, founder and CEO of EdVenture Partners talked about how the Peer to Peer Facebook Global Digiatal Challenge has inspired students at more than 300 colleges around the world to develop social media campaigns and other initiatives to reach out to their peers with positive messaging that challenges extremism.

"They are developing tools to push back against extremism," Sgro said.

"If we think of them as a virus," Cunningham said. "We have to use our ability to develop antibodies to fight it."

Stockton University Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Susan Fahey showed data indicating that hate crimes began rising again in 2015 following a steady decline since 2000. She cited a study that found if people were given data that showed crime was decreasing, they became less willing to commit a crime. She said that could indicate that people can be influenced to change when given actual data rather than just rhetoric.

June 12: 12: 30 p.m. Luncheon speakers: Sahar F. Aziz, Director, Center for Security, Race and Rights at Rutgers Law School and the Rev. Dr. B. Herbert Martin, Sr., President, Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.

B. Herbert Martinbuilding resilience azizIncidents of Islamophibia and anti-Semitism have been rising, Sahar Aziz said, along with an increase in hate speech on social media.

"We must find ways to work together even if we do  not always agree," she said. "We must unite to make sure all people of faith can worship freely."

The Rev. Dr. B. Herbert Martin said he is a firm believer in unity, organizing and networking.

"Together we can do more than apart," he said.  

He said there are some intra-faith challenges, in that not everyone agrees on working with people of different faiths. But, he said, everyone needs to understand three things: why they are being attacked, how they can protect themselves, and who will protect them.

"They go to where people feel safe and secure," he said of attacks on houses of worship. "It is meant to sow fear, anxiety and mistrust."

He said people must stand together and protect each other and model what a better society looks like.

"We are people of the light," he said. "We refuse to be overcome by darkness. Let us create a community where all peoples and their gifts are appreciated. Our ancestors are depending on us. Future generations are waiting for us."

June 12: 1:30 p.m. Panel Discussion: "Stockton University Builds Resilience Through Education."

Representatives from Stockton University's Holocaust Studies program and Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center discussed the work of the program that reaches into local high schools and across the globe with a certificate training program

“Survivors from the community wanted to take an action of resilience to respond to that horrific time. Our response is the action of education,” said Judith Vogel, coordinator of Stockton’s minor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies program.

Program graduate Irvin Moreno-Rodriguez, who is now in Stockton's Masters in Holocaust and Genocide Studies program, said the program changed the way he views the world.

“I’m a product of the education that Stockton University provides, and what’s always stuck with me is my ability to look at issues and problems from a different perspective—the human perspective,” he said.

Holocaust Center executive director Gail Rosenthal talked about the work of the center, whose entrance is framed by railroad tracks from the rail line that took Jews to the death camps.  The education, she said, begins before people even step through the door.

 holocaust panel

 The livestream of the conference can be viewed at

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Diane DAmico
Director of News and Media Relations
Stockton University
Galloway, N.J. 08205