Swastikas painted on The Rock for second time

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Members of Knoxville's Jewish community reported that swastikas were again painted on The Rock on UT's campus Saturday night following the Kentucky game.

WVLT News received photos countless swastikas covering The Rock but chose not to show them.

Witnesses reported about six people wearing masks were seen spray painting the antisemitic symbols Saturday night.

A group of students quickly covered up the painting with a new message about donating blood.

The University of Tennessee shared the following statement, "Last night, symbols and messages of hate were painted on the Rock. This is the second time in as many weeks that the Rock has been used to communicate hate. These messages are hurtful and threatening to many members of our community and do not represent our Volunteer values. The safety and security of our students, faculty, and staff is the university’s number one priority. The University of Tennessee Police Department has increased surveillance, campus-wide, as a response to these incidents. The university's administration are aware and are discussing how best to support our students. We encourage anyone who needs support to call 865-974-HELP."

The act of hate came less than two weeks after Jewish community leaders reported an uptick in acts of hate. On November 2, a swastika was painted on The Rock. A student reportedly witnessed suspicious activity near The Rock. Rayman said that upon closer inspection, the student realized several people were painting the words "Stronger through hate" over the original message, "Stronger than hate." A swastika had also been painted over the Star of David, according to Rayman.

He said the student quickly called on friends to cover up the message with a new one that read, "Vols mean all." Leaders said it was the latest in a series of antisemitic actions according to Chip Rayman, President of the Knoxville Jewish Alliance at the Arnstein Jewish Community Center.

Tara Bain, the Director of Hillel at UTK, said two students, not one, witnessed the suspicious activity Friday night. She said, "The Jewish community and the university are coming together this week, as well as representatives from other organizations, to create a plan for unity."

Tyra Haag, Director of Media Relations for the University of Tennessee, said, "We are saddened that individuals would use this public forum to express their hateful views. The Rock has always been a standing area of free speech and free expression. Even though the First Amendment protects hate speech, our campus community takes it upon themselves to paint over messages that are not reflective of the university’s values. UT is made up of people with a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. Hate is not welcome on our campus.”

The incident at The Rock was the latest in a series of troubling events. Rayman said a swastika was etched onto the front door of the Jewish Community Center, a flyer with a swastika was placed on the rabbi's car at Temple Beth El on Kingston Pike, and flyers containing messages about "kosher tax" were placed on 26 cars at the Jewish community's Noshville food event. Rayman said an anti-Israel program was also recently hosted in Knoxville.

"We are being watched, the Jewish community is being watched. The perpetrators seem to know where we are and when we're going to have an event and they've showed up at a couple of them, even with a police presence. So they're bolder, much bolder, coming onto the property," Rayman said.

Each incident was reported either to the Knoxville Police Department of the local field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to Rayman.

On Tuesday night, Rayman spoke at the Knoxville City Council meeting and shared details of the recent events with council members. He listed five acts of antisemitism within the community, "A swastika was etched into our glass front at the Arnstein Jewish Community Center. At Temple Beth El, a Hitler flyer with swastikas was placed on a rabbi’s vehicle and on our front doors.”

Rayman continued, "It’s not just us. It’s the black churches, its' the mosque, it’s our own Unitarian church that was attacked in 2008. We’re all at risk though I feel like the Jewish community in particular is being watched."

He asked for additional security for the city's Jewish locations. He urged Mayor Madeline Rogero to consider a campaign against hate to provide, "messages about love, about getting along, about tolerance, and plaster and broadcast them all over our county."