At the end of a week when an Annandale church and the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia were spray-painted with swastikas and anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim slogans, 250 people gathered at Little River United Church of Christ — site of the vandalism — to affirm their sense of community.
“Tonight, we come together not as a congregation, not as victims of a particular crime or another, but as a community, a wider community of people,” the Rev. David Lindsey told the gathering Saturday night. Throughout the pews were people wearing turbans, hijabs and kippot. In attendance were elected officials, clergy of various faiths and one uniformed police officer wearing a bulletproof vest.
“Tonight, we are here to begin healing — as a people and as a community,” Lindsey said.
An Annandale man was arrested on April 12 and charged in connection with the two vandalism incidents as well as posting hate flyers last month at Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale campus. The school, church and JCC are within a block of one another.
Fairfax County Police identified Dylan Mahone, 20, as the suspect, using video surveillance from the three sites. Mahone is the only suspect in the case, according to The Washington Post.
Mahone allegedly spray-painted swastikas, lightning bolt symbols associated with Nazi Germany and other anti-Semitic graffiti on the JCC building on April 11. He also allegedly spray-painted similar graffiti at the church that same night. The church’s banners and signs were defaced with anti-Muslim rhetoric, swastikas, anti-LGBT slurs and messages such as “Defend America” and “Hitler was right.”
“To be there and to see what transpired on Passover and during the holy week was especially hurtful for all of us,” Virginia Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D–District 41), who is Jewish, told the crowd. “Yet, I’m able to move beyond that, and I feel hope when I look around and see all of you here.”
Mahone may also be connected with a Twitter account called “Aryan Underground.”
Posted on the account were photos of the anti-Semitic flyers that Fairfax County and Northern Virginia Community College Police say Mahone distributed on campus. Accompanying the photos is the tweet: “Aryan Underground Virginia payed [sic] a visit to @NOVAcommcollege Annandale last night. More to come!” The letters “AU” were also spray-painted underneath a Nazi flag on the JCC building.
Judy Jacobs Miller, a professor at the college who attends Little River United Church of Christ, said her view of Mahone evolved throughout the week.
“As dark as this nighttime vandalism first seemed,” she said, “I see a very troubled young man, who like many of my students needs my compassion, my care and my forgiveness.”
Mahone took classes at the college but is not currently enrolled, according to spokeswoman Kathy Thompson.
At an April 13 news conference announcing Mahone’s arrest, Lindsey said that the tolerance for diversity that he professes was not always the norm in Fairfax County.
“We condemn what happened this past week, but we must also acknowledge that for most of the past 400 years, white supremacy has been the norm here in Fairfax County,” Lindsey said. “The events of this week have sadly proven that even now some of our neighbors are not with us.”
Mahone is charged with four counts of felony destruction of property, one count of placing a swastika on religious property with intent to intimidate, two counts of wearing a mask in public to conceal his identity and one count of posting hateful flyers on the college’s campus.
“The fact that [this] happened on Passover is particularly hurtful to our community,” Jeff Dannick, the JCC’s executive director, said at the news conference. “But in order for there to be light, there has to be darkness first. So what I am looking at is the light.”
At the Little River United Church of Christ on Saturday night, there was light as community members surrounded the building, each holding a candle. As each person lit a candle, they said a prayer or spent a moment in silence.