One new bill pushed by Assemblyman Gary Schaer would codify a definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance into state law. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)
A New Jersey lawmaker wants to create new criminal charges to address growing online threats amid a trend of rising hate crimes.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) introduced a bill package this week that would create new criminal charges for doxxing — the release of another person’s address or other personal information to incite harassment — and heighten penalties for false 911 calls that send police to houses of worship.
Schaer said the bills were needed amid a rise in episodes of doxxing and swatting, the term for such false 911 calls, which often aim to draw heavily armed tactical units to increase the distress caused to the victim or increase the likelihood of violence.
“There’s real danger here. There’s very real danger here, and anyone who is going to specifically make phone calls that there’s an active shooter situation or whatever, you’re talking about extraordinarily consequential incidents, potentially so,” Schaer said.
In 2017, police shot and killed a man in Kansas after someone falsely reported a shooting and kidnapping at the man’s house as part of a video game dispute. In 2020, a 60-year-old Tennessee resident died of a heart attack during a swatting incident.
Schaer worries swatting could, over time, erode police response times on top of costing municipalities money and threatening victims.
“The ultimate problem is that the police get a phone call one Monday, and they run. And on Tuesday, they run, and on Wednesday they run perhaps, but not so quickly,” Schaer said. “Four weeks from now, they’ll get to it, then something happens.”
One of the bills would expand the state’s existing criminal statute for false public alarm to add a specific crime when the false alarm includes a house of worship, which would mete out prison sentences of between five and 10 years, instead of the one to five years stipulated for most types of false public alarms.
At present, New Jersey has no criminal statute specific to doxxing, and one of the bills in Schaer’s package would create the first.
That legislation would allow jail terms of up to 18 months for those who disclose others’ personal information with the intent of subjecting them, their relatives, and others with whom the victim has a significant personal or professional relationship to harm, mental anguish, or stalking.
“I think that we’re all more than a bit overwhelmed by what seems to be going on in society, the lack of civility, the ‘all gloves off,’ just people ranting and raving and not concerned about consequences or perceptions or anything at all,” Schaer said. “It seems, somehow, we’re legitimizing behavior which is repugnant, at best.”
The final bill in the assemblyman’s package would codify a definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance into state law in a bid to bring attention to the rise in antisemitic hate crimes seen in recent years.
New Jersey police received 630 reports of bias crimes in the first 11 months of 2023, 41% more than they received through all of 2022. The total number of bias incident reports during that period rose by only 13%, and antisemitic reports accounted for 21% of all those police received.
“We need to confront it,” Schaer said of antisemitism. “One of the things we need to do is to understand and define what it is that we’re confronting.”
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