On a day filled with national headlines revealing his campaign to dispatch shotgun-toting civilians into residential areas of Brooklyn, Rabbi Yakove Lloyd was delighted to hear that the Voice wished to hitch along on one of his Jewish Defense Group’s planned nightly patrols. “Of course, of course!: He fairly sang into the phone last Tuesday, declaring himself a great fan of the publication. “The press conference is on Sunday at noon, then the first patrols leave at nine.”
Despite the hype, he did not sound like a man consumed by his stated motivation—fear inflamed when fugitive Abdul Rahman Yasin, wanted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, disclosed in a June 2 television interview that the city’s Jewish enclaves had been the original target. Nor did he sound like the angry face of “the Jewish fist,” as he likes to describe his group, prepared to extinguish a suspicious interloper without a moment’s hesitation. Rather, he was a guy enjoying the happy dilemma of too many press requests to patrol along.
“Channel 2, Channel 4, Channel 7,” he began, ticking off an impressive list that reached all the way to CNN. “I’ve been bombarded,” he confessed, ever since he ordered his secretary to fax a June 9 notice to the Associated Press and Reuters announcing that armed patrols would monitor for terrorist activity in Flatbush and Borough Park. What captured the attention of world media was not the heightened security Lloyd offered—although rumors that future terrorism could be of the corner-synagogue, small-potatoes variety suggested community patrols could actually be helpful. It was his mention of pump-action shotguns and 9mm pistols. “But not to worry,” he soothed. “We’ll get you something for an exclusive.”
At the June 16 press conference on a Borough Park street corner, however, Lloyd arrived with little to offer anyone. A slight man with large eyeglasses and an anxious manner, he stood alone, without the promised scores of supporters, enduring a battery of skepticism from the media. “Where are your members?” one reporter asked. “Why are they afraid?” demanded another. “It just looks a little bit fictitious,” a third snapped, too annoyed to phrase the remark as a question. Lloyd watched as a phalanx of politicians stole much of his thunder; State Assembly member Dov Hikind made a widely reported spectacle of ordering the rabbi to “go home!”
In an interview with the Voice several days earlier, Lloyd had claimed his group enjoyed a membership of 4000 to 5000 who paid $25 in yearly dues. Regarding the patrols, he had boasted, “I can get more than 50 people within an hour to a particular place.” Nearly 80 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65, including college students and professionals and three law enforcement officers, had signed up to patrol seven nights a week wielding shotguns, handguns, and baseball bats, he claimed.
He spoke of Thursday-night training sessions in “how to be an effective street fighter” at a secret location in Queens. And Lloyd, whose parents were intimately involved in the militant—according to the FBI, terrorist—Jewish Defense League of the assassinated Meir Kahane, declared, “I would like to follow in his footsteps, except live.”
His initial announcement last week sparked fear and anger in targeted areas, where on any given day a good number of residents in hijab can be found shopping and socializing among the Hasidim. Local officials reported receiving dozens of phone calls from constituents of all stripes concerned about vigilante violence. (Existing civilian watch groups—such as the Shomrim patrols in Williamsburg and Crown Heights, which are unarmed and sanctioned by the NYPD—have been accused over the years of using unjustified force by mainly Latino and black residents.)
The head of one community center in Bay Ridge said her Arab and Muslim clients “absolutely refuse to step one foot outside of this neighborhood” into abutting communities Lloyd had claimed as his group’s turf. One lifelong Borough Park resident of Egyptian descent, Amal Elsheemy, said, “This kind of thing is going to raise hostility. We’ve never had any issues. Now I should worry if my mom is walking down the street, because she is covered and looks different, like she doesn’t belong here.”
Lloyd denied there would be racial or ethnic profiling. “There are Jews who are darker than African Americans. There are many Jews who look like Arabs and the other way around, so you can’t look for an Arab terrorist. You have to use your imagination, be creative,” he said. Asked then to imagine a potential suspect, he said, “That’s a very hard question to answer. You’re looking for anything out of the ordinary, people who don’t belong. Somebody who wears a heavy coat in the summer.” He said his group was not trained in surveillance, explaining, “We can’t train for something that we don’t know about.”
The federal government’s numerous terror alerts and calls for citizens to be vigilant had “lit a fire under my apathy,” he said. “The FBI and CIA said suicide attacks will inevitably happen here. I advocate every group who believes they’re in danger to start self-patrols.” Referring to a March directive from D.C. that good Americans go forth and double the number of neighborhood watches within the next two years, he said, “That’s how I see fulfilling the mandate of President Bush’s statement.”
“If we see anyone strapped with dynamite in a heavy coat in the summer, we’re going to shoot to kill,” said Lloyd. He agreed a real-life scenario would likely be murky and conceded that the group’s lack of surveillance training “could lead to an error in judgment, absolutely.”
That kind of talk brought out droves of detractors to Sunday’s noon press conference. Politicians from every level of government vied for airtime with increasingly feisty denouncements. (“He’s a wacko loco!” offered Brooklyn Councilmember Simcha Felder.) Members of the 66th Precinct, prepped by a week’s worth of media inquiries to the NYPD and mayor’s office, were out in full force.
The vehement community opposition was why Lloyd decided late Sunday to call off the night’s patrols, he explained for news reports that evening and on Monday. But journalists who showed up at the appointed hour and launch point, just in case, groused that he had called nothing off—there had never been an army of armed vigilantes in the first place. One Canadian reporter, covering Lloyd’s group for both a major newspaper and a radio network, went red with mortification when she learned she had filed a story destined for early editions about patrols that would not be.
Lloyd called the Voice Sunday night to deliver that promised exclusive. He denied that his critics had cowed him, and he fumed at the suggestion that his troops of supporters existed only in his dreams and were at best an elaborate ruse to win fame. He insisted he had had “over 50 people ready—they made arrangements with baby-sitters,” but that the threat of blanket arrests had deterred them.
“We’re going to regroup this week, get our lawyers ready, get people who have money for bail if need be. And then if we get arrested, we get arrested,” said Lloyd. “We have a lot of people in our group. We’re going to show people we have a large group. We’re not finished.”
Whatever. Shotgun patrols might have made for sexier copy, but in a larger sense, no news from Lloyd was good news.