SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Gov. JB Pritzker says he is worried for his family's safety following several protests with antisemitic signs on display. The governor addressed his concerns just two days after 800 people gathered outside the Capitol building. A separate Reopen Illinois rally took place in downtown Chicago.
"You saw some of the signs. You saw the vehemence that people are carrying those signs with swastikas and pictures of Adolph Hitler, references to me and my family," Pritzker said. "Yeah, I’m concerned."
However, he says the majority of Illinoisans are doing the right thing by following public health guidelines during the pandemic. Pritzker noted several lawmakers are setting a bad example by refusing to wear masks or acknowledging hate speech. "Those were the same legislators that showed up at those rallies with those swastikas and those pictures of Hitler, and they were perfectly willing to stand up and speak in front of that crowd. That was okay with them."
None of the House Republicans at the rally addressed the participants holding racist signs. Rep. Chris Miller spent a portion of his speech calling Pritzker and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi domestic enemies. "She wants to destroy the United States of America and he wants to destroy the state of Illinois."
Following the rally, several reporters asked House Republican Leader Jim Durkin for a response to the rhetoric.
"Contemptible and repugnant"
"This is a small amount of a few people that show up at events that do nothing but bring out hate and bring out the worst in people in this country," Durkin said. "I find their actions contemptible and repugnant, and I find them contemptible and repugnant as well."
Durkin says he believes in free speech and everyone should have a right and opportunity to voice their support or objection to policies. "I don't support hate speech though. This doesn't reflect the good people in the Republican party or independents. They have nothing to do with us." Durkin went further to ask those individuals to stay home from future rallies or take their hate speech somewhere else.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady echoed Durkin's message. "Any protesters, whether they be Democrat, Republican, independent or otherwise, certainly have a right to freedom of speech," Brady explained. "But, there’s no place for hatred in our state, and I will continue to speak out, as will members of my caucus, against hateful speech."
Reopen Illinois organizers are planning to be in Springfield Wednesday as lawmakers return for the special session. Someone used the group's Twitter account to address the signs Saturday night, hours after the rally. "Reopen Illinois does not support ANY kind of anti Semitic messaging whatsoever."
Community leaders condemn hate
A group of community leaders from across Illinois also held a virtual press conference Monday morning to address the protests. They specifically condemned the antisemitic, racist and extremist rhetoric shown on signs and speeches in both cities.
"Hitler, Holocaust, and Nazi comparisons are antisemitic - period. Such comparisons delegitimize and trivialize the deaths of the six million Jews and millions of others, and soldiers who fought to defeat Nazism," said Anti-Defamation League Midwest Regional Director David Goldenberg.
"But beyond that, this language is especially concerning as ADL recently reported antisemitic incidents are up in Illinois 340% since 2016 and are at a national all-time high."
Several leaders involved in the press conference stress the need for others to step up and speak out against hateful speech. They say people have every right to express their feelings about the stay-at-home order, but racism shouldn't be included in the dialogue.
Andy Kang is the Executive Director of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice of Chicago. He says hateful rhetoric has almost always led to violence and hate incidents.
"That in and of itself also changes our political culture, and unfortunately it's led to some of the most shameful policies that our government and our country has ever adopted."
Later, Kang emphasized xenophobia or the scapegoating of the Asian community, or Islamophobia is "not just incredibly reckless, it's dangerous."
"Enough is enough"
Peoria NAACP President Marvin Hightower says it is disturbing to see the trend of people using these signs.
“We have the moral responsibility to say enough is enough and not allow this kind of harmful rhetoric to continue as it benefits no one and brings even more tension to an already-tense situation," Hightower said. The civil rights advocate also serves as Senior Pastor at Liberty Church in Peoria.
"The Bible clearly says that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Your neighbor is anyone that's not you. An attack against one in our community is an attack against all of us in our communities."