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Politics and Government

Security tighter as Colorado’s first Jewish governor takes office amid rising threats, hate crimes

An LGBT organization is also on alert for a rise in harassment in Colorado

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A rise in activity from anti-Semitic organizations in Colorado is prompting authorities to take additional security precautions to protect Gov.-elect Jared Polis.

The safety measures were evident at the Democratic election night party, where guests navigated a series of walk-through metal detectors to enter the ballroom where Polis declared victory as the state’s first Jewish chief executive and the first openly gay elected governor in the nation.

And it remains visible at recent public appearances, where Polis has been accompanied by a larger protective detail than the one that travels with current Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gov.-elect Jared Polis is Colorado’s first Jewish governor. His term comes at a time of rising anti-Semitic hate crimes in the state. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado State Patrol, which provides security to the governor-elect, declined to discuss any threats to Polis or details about the additional safety measures. But Trooper Josh Lewis, a patrol spokesman, said the goal is to “make sure they feel safe, and if that requires an additional person or detail,” it is provided.

“We look at any type of threat that may be received,” he said. “The person is the person — be it the governor or the governor’s family. We are obviously going to do our best to protect them with the best information we receive.”

The level of security depends on a number of factors, Lewis added, and “may change day to day depending on whether there is a credible threat.”

The Republican Party did not have walk-through metal detectors at its election night party. Mara Sheldon, a Polis spokeswoman, said she would not answer questions for this story.

Colorado authorities report an uptick in anti-Semitic hate crimes

Colorado saw 106 reported hate crimes in 2017, on par with the prior two years, according to FBI data released in November. But the number of anti-Jewish crimes reported in the state hit a five-year high at 13.

And in the past six months, anti-Semitic threats and speech reached higher levels, according to the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the intelligence agency in the Department of Public Safety.

“It’s safe to say we’ve seen an increase in our shop of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi, white supremacist rhetoric,” said Kevin Klein the division’s director and Hickenlooper’s Homeland Security adviser. “That’s something that’s very concerning.”

Klein said a few threats were deemed credible and referred to the FBI or local law enforcement agencies. The shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, just 10 days before the election, amplified the atmosphere, Klein said. He referred all questions about the governor-elect to the Polis team.

“When it gets specific about an entity or a person, then we start taking that seriously,” he said. “We’ll start investigating that (threat), but we have an obligation to make sure everybody’s First Amendment rights are protected.”

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 reported by the Anti-Defamation League is three times the number in Colorado in 2015, according to the organization’s data, which includes instances of harassment and hate speech that don’t rise to the level of a crime.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in incidents in Colorado and across the country,” said Scott Levin, the league’s mountain states regional director. “Certainly there has been an embodiment of hate that’s taking place in Colorado.”

And it’s not just directed at people of Jewish faith, Levin added. He pointed to statistics that show hate crimes based on race, sexual orientation and gender identity have remained relatively flat or show slight declines.

“What’s happening against Jewish people isn’t happening in a vacuum, so it’s important that all communities that are subject to this hate work together and support each other,” he said.

LGBT activist fears backlash after Polis’ victory

Out Boulder County, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, has seen an uptick in discrimination reports across the county beginning over the summer, a problem executive director Mardi Moore attributes to the national political climate under President Donald Trump.

Moore is concerned that even as Colorado elected Polis, there is a minority of voters who are mad the state made history by electing the first openly gay governor.

Discrimination reported in recent weeks included the word “faggot” scrawled in chalk on a sidewalk in an affluent Boulder neighborhood, as well as threats of physical harm. She is on high alert.

“Those folks have become emboldened to say mean-spirited, hateful things without any recourse. Are they more likely to say something now?” Moore wondered. ”It appears to be true.”

In recent weeks, Boulder County launched an anti-bias hotline, a partnership between the district attorney’s office and community groups. Out Boulder County is also working to build stronger relationships with law enforcement, including statewide training on LGBTQ language and bias, Moore said.

A backlash against Polis’ election is possible, but Daniel Ramos, the executive director of the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado, said he is no more worried about discrimination since the election than he was before it.

“We’ve seen a pretty steady stream of discrimination against LGBTQ people,” he said.

Polis’ election is a “real opportunity to continue to send a very clear message about the Colorado way of life,” Ramos said, noting that One Colorado saw “very few incidences of homophobic campaigning” leading up to the election. The organization saw only a few anti-gay posts on social media during the campaign.

“That’s a testament to the progress we have made,” he said.

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