(April 24, 2023 / JTA)
A Boston-area woman has been arrested and charged with leaving a series of paper swastikas outside the house of a Jewish lawyer who is representing her child’s father in an ongoing custody battle.
The case had been a source of fear and confusion in the local community for months, since the Jewish woman being targeted, Stephanie Lyons, first found the swastikas on her front lawn in Stoneham in November.
Lyons told The Washington Post that the swastikas had particularly unnerved her amid a larger climate of antisemitism; the incident came only a few days after rapper Kanye West launched what would become an extended antisemitic tirade.
“I just burst into tears,” she told the Post. “Someone had taken the time to cut these swastikas out of paper and write those words. They knew where we lived. They knew we were Jewish.”
Now local police have concluded that the culprit did in fact know Lyons. They have charged Kathleen Collins with a civil rights violation and two counts of witness intimidation, the Boston Globe reported.
Collins had previously made derogatory statements about Lyons during a video call with her son and his father, according to the police report, which also said she later reportedly admitted to the father that she had put out the swastikas. They also contained antisemitic messages including “JESUS HATER” and “GO TO HELL, JEW BITCH.”
Flyers and public messages have become a common delivery vehicle for antisemitism, with neo-Nazi groups like the Goyim Defense League frequently coordinating “drops” of flyers containing antisemitic conspiracy theories. Such perpetrators are rarely caught. A Jewish lawmaker in Florida has proposed a bill in his state that would specifically outlaw such demonstrations of “religious or ethnic intimidation.”
The Stoneham case was unusual because the preponderance of evidence and available motivation made an arrest possible. In addition, Lyons’ fiance is also a police officer in a different town and had collected the swastikas to save as evidence.
The Anti-Defamation League’s New England regional office supported the arrest.
“Vandalizing a family’s home with swastikas & antisemitic epithets is a very personal kind of hate at a time when the Jewish community is already feeling vulnerable,” Interim Regional Director Peggy Shukur said in a statement. “We hope justice in this case ultimately reflects how hateful this incident was and will restore a sense of safety for the victims and for the Stoneham community.”
Courtesy of JTA Photo credit: Tony Luong for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Stephanie Lyons at her home in Stoneham, Mass. Dec. 26, 2022. Her youngest child found swastikas on their front lawn.