When a man armed with a semiautomatic rifle opened fire in a synagogue in Poway, California, north of San Diego, on Saturday, killing one and injuring three, Albuquerque resident Mikey Weinstein wasn’t surprised, given the vitriol and digs at the Jewish faith he deals with regularly.
During the recent Passover celebration, Weinstein went to the Santa Fe National Cemetery to visit the grave of his father, Gerald Weinstein, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
There, atop the grave marked with a Star of David and pebbles that visitors placed, as is Jewish tradition, was something decidedly not part of that tradition – a cross made of palm fronds.
Did wind blow the cross from another grave? Weinstein doesn’t think so. He walked a 500-foot radius around the site to see if other graves had been marked with similar crosses. Only his father’s grave was singled out.
Coincidence? “There are no coincidences in my world,” Weinstein said definitively.
Weinstein, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, or MRFF, said the gesture angered and upset him and his family because it was clearly a swipe at his religion and was disrespectful to the memory of his father, a proud and observant Jew.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation was formed in 2004 to ensure that all members of the U.S. Armed Forces are granted their First Amendment rights of religious freedom – as well as freedom from religion if they so desire.
Through lawsuits, or the threat of lawsuits, Weinstein has forced people in command positions in the military and at military academies to back off from what he calls the “weaponizing of Christianity,” particularly by fundamentalist Christians who try to coerce subordinates to comply with directives that cross the line separating church and state.
“About 95 percent of the MRFF’s clients are Christians who feel they are being persecuted in the military for not being Christian enough,” Weinstein said. “Our typical client is a Protestant and a member of the military; next typical is Roman Catholic. It goes down from there to Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Native Americans. We even have 12 members of the Church of the Jedi, right out of Star Wars. We don’t ask. It’s all about the Constitution.”
He says his adversaries have dubbed him Satan’s lawyer and the greatest threat to the military.
Swastikas and crosses have been painted on the walls of his Albuquerque-area home; windows of the home were shot out; tires slashed; and dead and disemboweled animals tossed into the yard.
Not surprisingly, the Weinstein home has been turned into something of a fortress, with guard dogs, security cameras and private security guards.
Weinstein and his family have been the target of anti-Semitic cyberhate.
Examples from emails put that into perspective:
• Mikey is the reason nobody trusts or likes the Jew tribe anywhere, anyhow and anytime.
• You are a traitor to Jesus Christ you Jew dirt. And you are the traitor to America.
To be clear, Weinstein, 64 and a registered Republican, does not have ill will toward the military. He is a 1977 graduate of the Air Force Academy and served for seven years with the Judge Advocate General Corps.
A former legal counsel with the Reagan administration, Weinstein also worked at prominent law firms in New York City and Washington, D.C., and was general counsel to Texas billionaire and two-time presidential candidate H. Ross Perot.
Weinstein left Perot’s employment to devote full time to the newly formed the MRFF nonprofit, largely in response to Hollywood actor, producer and director Mel Gibson, who in 2004 released his film “The Passion of the Christ.”
At the time, Weinstein’s sons were cadets at the Air Force Academy, one a senior and the other a freshman. Both told of being the target of anti-Semitic harassment.
Other cadets soon reached out to MRFF about “incredible pressure that commanders at the Academy were putting on cadets, faculty and staff to see the movie, exhorting them to accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior,” Weinstein said.
Though he believes conditions have deteriorated since Donald Trump began seeking office, and despite his daily immersion in the muck and sludge of humanity, Weinstein is not without hope.
“My sense is that this country has shown a certain level of resiliency throughout history, and whenever it has seen things that are particularly noxious we have responded positively, though sometimes slowly,” he said. “We realized that slavery was wrong and ended it; we realized that women should have the same opportunities as men and granted those rights … and it’s wrong to hold prejudices against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”
That resiliency is uniquely American and helps define us “and allows us to find true north on our moral compass so we can locate that place of love and respect for all human beings,” he said.
“We’re getting there – slowly – but we are getting there.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Rick at 823-3929, firstname.lastname@example.org.