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$1M in security grants for South Jersey groups facing bias threats

While calling on New Jerseyans to speak out against “words of intolerance that can become acts of intolerance,” the governor defended political friends like Iowa Rep. Steve King, whose remarks have stoked controversy.

Condemning recent hate crimes and threats, Gov. Christie on Tuesday announced $1 million in grants for religious institutions and nonprofits in South Jersey counties that are ineligible for federal security aid.

While calling on New Jerseyans to speak out against "words of intolerance that can become acts of intolerance," the governor defended political friends whose remarks have stoked controversy. Of U.S. Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who recently tweeted that "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies," Christie said at a Trenton news conference: "I don't agree with that statement."

But "I'm still friends with Congressman King," said Christie, who was joined by representatives of the state's Interfaith Advisory Council. He said King "has the right to say what he believes."

An early backer of Donald Trump, Christie said the president had done enough to speak out against hate crimes, noting his recent remarks to Congress about anti-Semitism, and brushed off a question about acts of hate in the aftermath of Trump's election. "I don't think it's related to any particular election," Christie said. "I don't think prejudice and hate reserves itself for every four years."

There have been 45 incidents of "anonymous threats to and suspicious activity around" faith-based institutions in New Jersey this year, said state Homeland Security Director Christopher Rodriguez.

Christie, who formerly served as New Jersey's U.S. attorney, said the state was facing "very similar challenges" to the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"We know that bias against any race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is completely unacceptable to us as a state," he said. Recent bomb threats to Jewish community centers in the state and across the country, he said, "have demonstrated our vulnerability to this type of intimidation."

The Katz JCC in Cherry Hill was among the centers that received threats.

Because it is not considered a region most at risk for terrorism, South Jersey has not been eligible for grants through the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program.

With its new grant program, "the state has stepped in," Christie said. Nonprofits determined by the state Homeland Security director to be at "high risk of terrorist attack" in nine counties — including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem — can apply for grants of up to $50,000 to install security equipment.

Applications will be reviewed by the state Office of Homeland Security and the Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force, including based on a risk analysis, Christie said. Homeland Security will hold an informational session on April 19 at the Burlington County Office of Emergency Management, and applications will be due May 24.

More information on applying for the grants can be found at https://www.njhomelandsecurity.gov/securnj.

Christie said the state expects to award the money by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.

While promoting the state's action, Christie argued that people play a more important role than laws in preventing acts of hate. "We set what is socially acceptable in our society," he said.

Addressing the comments by King — for whom Christie has raised money  — the governor warned about Twitter that "we should all be really careful in today's world. 140 characters don't allow for a lot of nuance."

"It seems that a lot of areas of our country right now, everyone's governing by 140 characters," Christie said. "I think that governing, and life, is a lot more complicated than 140 characters."

But he declined to weigh in on Trump's tweets accusing former President Obama of wiretapping — claims that FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers Monday he had no information to support. "Yeah, I'm not getting into all that," Christie said.

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