School officials in Marin County say they believe they have identified the student behind antisemitic Instagram accounts claiming to represent Redwood High School students “organized in antisemitism.”
The accounts, which used crude antisemitic drawings as profile pictures and targeted at least one Jewish student this week with hateful messages, have since been taken down by Instagram. One was called “redwoodhs_soas” (“students organized against semitism”), with 10 followers and 123 accounts followed; another was called “Redwood SOAS.”
A description of the former read: “Redwood students organized in anti semitism. We Currently compiling a google doc of jews in the district. Hit us up if you want to help!”
The incident alarmed Jewish parents in the district, some of whom shared screenshots on a shared WhatsApp group. Others sent emails to the district superintendent. The Tamalpais Union High School District is a high-achieving public school district in a largely affluent area of the county.
On Thursday, David Sondheim, principal of Redwood High, which is in Larkspur, emailed a letter to members of the school community, alerting them to what he called a “very disappointing and disturbing act of social media use and hate speech,” and said the incident was under investigation by the school district and by local police.
“These Instagram accounts promote antisemitism, racism, sexism and homophobia and have requested to follow several current and former Tam District students,” Sondheim wrote. “Hate motivated behavior and prejudice that targets even one student on our campus or in our community wounds us all and is an affront to what we stand for and strive to demonstrate.”
Daniel May, a 14-year-old Jewish freshman at the private Marin Academy in nearby San Rafael, was targeted by one of the accounts. He said the person identified Jews by scouring the followers of the Redwood Bark, the school’s student newspaper, because “only Jews follow the Redwood Bark.”
In a direct Instagram message, May was sent a photo of a boy wearing a kippah and asked “this u?” May said it wasn’t. May then asked what the sender thought of Jews.
“I hate Jews,” the person replied. “It is extremely malevolent and depraved. Also jews practice cultural degeneracy and decadence.”
The account was called “rhs_anti_semi_truck_league” with the same profile picture as Redwood SOAS. A Jewish friend of May’s had also received a follow request from the account.
J. spoke with May over the phone on Friday after he had just finished a day of remote learning at home. He said that online antisemitic harassment was not new to him.
“Things like this aren’t really that much of a shocker,” he said. “I know they’re out there.”
May says he doesn’t know how the accounts found him since he doesn’t go to Redwood and wasn’t following the Redwood Bark. After the incident, he said he decided to follow the paper.
Requests for comment from Sondheim, Redwood’s principal, were directed to Tara Taupier, the district superintendent.
Taupier told J. that although the investigation was less than two days old, “we do believe that we have identified who is responsible for the Instagram accounts” and that district leaders had passed their suspicion to local law enforcement. She said in addition to the antisemitic messages shared in screenshots with J., additional messages were “blatantly homophobic” while others used language “mocking the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement.”
Detective Scott McKenna said on Friday that the Central Marin Police Authority was aware of the incident, but did not say whether it was being investigated as criminal.
“Due to the nature of the information I received I did take a report/case on it and will look into it,” McKenna wrote in an email.
Taupier said the student’s behavior was grounds for suspension as an act of bullying defined by the California Education Code, but that it did not “constitute a mandatory recommendation for expulsion,” which would depend on other factors such as the student’s history.
The incident follows a number of antisemitic acts in Bay Area public schools in recent years.
Last fall, a 21-year-old alumnus of Burlingame High School was arrested after allegedly spray-painting antisemitic, racist and homophobic graffiti, including swastikas, on the outer walls of his alma mater.
In the 2017-2018 school year, a student was taunted at Burlingame Intermediate School for being Jewish, and at Burlingame High School a Jewish student’s locker was defaced with a swastika and an anti-gay slur. Those two incidents led the Anti-Defamation League to organize an anti-hate town hall event at the middle school last May.
In 2017, Natasha Waldorf, a Jewish student at Alameda High School, was harassed with antisemitic text messages using the word “kike” and referencing “ethnic cleansing.”
According to the California attorney general’s office, there were 141 hate crimes targeting Jews in 2019, an 11.9 percent increase. The data does not include “hate incidents,” the report notes, only acts that rise to the level of criminality. Studies have shown hate crimes in the United States to be significantly underreported.
Jews were the most frequent targets of hate crimes motivated by religious bias, accounting for 68 percent in the state.