Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
An elderly Jewish couple from Mountainair claim a charred cross they found lying in their yard on Aug. 19 is just the latest example of numerous incidents of antisemitic harassment directed toward them.
Tom Bigham, 76, and his wife, Merrie Bigham, 70, moved to Mountainair about 20 months ago and have slowly been fixing up an old house. For more than a year, someone in a car from an adjacent road has parked and repeatedly flashed the vehicle’s high beams into their home.
It happens often and has even persisted after Bigham erected a fence around his property in an attempt to block the light, he said.
“We don’t really know anybody around here,” he said. “I’ve talked casually with some of them but don’t really know them.”
People passing their house might surmise they are Jewish, he said, because the couple has placed several Stars of David on their fence and on the outside of their home, some of which can be seen from the road.
Further, he said, he and his wife have been repeatedly harassed while driving in their car in Mountainair, Los Lunas and Belen.
“Someone in a car or a pickup truck would run up on our bumper, then back off and do that a few times before speeding up alongside and then passing,” Bigham said. “This is way beyond someone just being a rude driver.”
All of these incidents, he said, “make us feel unsafe and fearful more than you can know.”
Bigham said he reported the driving harassment to police in Belen and the latest incident involving the cross to Mountainair police. Mountainair police said Friday that they have turned over the case to the Albuquerque office of the FBI.
FBI spokesman, Frank Fisher, confirmed that the FBI is looking into it but no decision has yet been made if a formal investigation will be opened.
Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights advocacy organization, joined with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the Anti Defamation League in condemning the alleged antisemitic harassment.
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper released a statement saying “American Muslims are in solidarity with members of the Jewish community in New Mexico and nationwide as they and all other minority communities face the challenge of rising bigotry. Political and religious leaders must speak out strongly against antisemitism and all other forms of hate.”
Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester, in a statement, expressed “shock, dismay and grief” at the alleged antisemitic harassment.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters as people of faith and citizens of the United States,” Wester wrote. “This horrible expression of hate and intolerance is an attack on all of us. It stands in stark contrast to the respect and love that we have for our ancestors in the faith and it rips open wounds too terrible for words.”
Cross burnings “have long been used to intimidate and terrorize victims,” said Scott Levin, the ADL’s Mountain States regional director. He applauded law enforcement for moving quickly to look into the incident.
The ADL, he said, is “disturbed to learn of this alleged hate crime based on the family’s Jewish identity,” and it “condemns this incident in the strongest terms.”
He added that when a person is victimized because of religious, racial, sexual or other identity, “other members of that group may feel unsafe and unwelcome.”