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Race baiters, many in New Jersey, 'wear suits and ties like everyone else'

Stereotypes enable anti-Semitism to grow into hate crimes, experts say, yet people who commit such crimes are often pegged into a single profile themselves.

Stereotypes enable anti-Semitism to grow into hate crimes, experts say, yet people who commit such crimes are often pegged into a single profile themselves.

That's why it might come as a surprise that Wednesday's U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum shooter, James von Brunn, drove a Hyundai instead of a pickup truck - and that New Jersey, one of the nation's wealthiest states, has the highest rate of anti-Semitic incidents.

"We have haters among us," said Etzion Neuer, New Jersey regional director for the Anti-Defamation League. "New Jersey has a little bit of everything: the Klan, skinheads and black extremists. We have two white-supremacy record labels in the state."

The ADL's 2008 national audit included incidents of vandalism, harassment and physical assaults against Jewish individuals, property and community institutions. New Jersey had 238 incidents, including 177 of vandalism, 59 of harassment and 2 assaults of Jews.

"There's a real misconception for many of us here in the Northeast that this is strictly a Southern phenomenon," Neuer said. "We think it's men with Southern accents driving pickup trucks."

Although the numbers were down from the prior year, they were still high enough to give the Garden State the dubious top ranking for the first time.

Heidi Beirich, director of research at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Birmingham, Ala., which tracks hate groups, said New Jersey's top ranking has a bright side.

"New Jersey does an excellent job of reporting these crimes," she said. "People cooperate there."

According to the law center, New Jersey has 40 active hate groups and Pennsylvania has 37. Many of those groups have adapted, however, retaining the hate while doing away with uniforms and customs that tip off law enforcement.

"Half the time you would never know who they were," Beirich said. "They wear suits and ties just like everyone else."

The law center counted 926 active hate groups in the United States in 2008 - finding them in every state except Alaska and Hawaii.

California, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania, all states with large Jewish populations, rounded out the top five states in the ADL's audit. Pennsylvania reported 97 incidents in 2008, a small decrease from the previous year.

Maryland, where von Brunn lived, had 27 incidents last year.

Neuer said most anti-Semitic incidents in New Jersey are not committed by organized groups or lone white supremacists.

"It often happens in mundane places, like schools," he said. "It's kids learning things at home."

Helen Kirschbaum, education-program coordinator at the Goodwin Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Cherry Hill, said Holocaust education is mandated for all public schools in the state.

The idea, Kirschbaum said, is to make the Garden State a model of acceptance.

"We try to teach important lessons: to not judge and accept people regardless of their race or religion," she said. "When you have hate in your heart, you'll find people to hate no matter where you are."

To view the Southern Poverty Law Center's map of active hate groups, visit: