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Who are the Black Hebrew Israelites?

A man suspected of killing a police officer and three people at a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, was linked Wednesday to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, a law enforcement official said.

David N. Anderson, 47, appeared to have a connection to the movement, although the extent of his involvement remains unclear, the law enforcement official told The New York Times.

The Black Hebrew Israelite movement has a complex history in the United States, with sects and branches splintering into dozens of branches over theological and leadership disputes. The movement, which is now is best known for its confrontational brand of street preaching in urban areas, idates back to the 19th century.

What unites most Black Israelites is the belief that they are the true descendants of biblical Jews. Some sects within the movement disdain modern white Jews, experts say, claiming the mantle of the religion for themselves.

“Black Hebrew Israelites claim to be from the Twelve Tribes of Israel, who will one day be given dominion by God to rule over the Earth,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.

“They believe that Jewish people are ‘fake Jews’ imposters who will be supplanted by them in the future,” Beirich added. “They also believe that God will make whites, who these groups consider spawns of the devil, into their slaves, forced into eternal servitude.”

The first wave of the movement came out of the Holiness Movement in the 1890s, said Jacob Dorman, a scholar and author of “Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions.”

“These groups ‘reverse engineered’ Judaism from the Hebrew Bible, following a strain of biblical literalism found in the spirit-filled Holiness church, as well as a fascination with the Exodus narrative in African American religion, freemasonry, and the Anglo-Israelite movement,” Dorman told CNN.

During the Harlem Renaissance, the second wave centered around babbis who were followers of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Dorman said. This generation followed the philosophies of mainstream Judaism more closely.

The third wave formed in the 1960s and 1970s, with the first groups calling themselves Black Israelites as opposed to Black Jews.

This wave was often more patriarchal and miltitant, with a heavy focus on emigrating to Africa or Israel. They also sometimes adopted violent and confrontational rhetoric.

“If you experienced racism directed at you and your family and everyone who looks like you, you might also be attracted to a confrontational practice that intentionally insults those who you perceive to be insulting you,” he added.

The Black Hebrew Israelite movement is comprised of some groups or members that have expressed anti-Semitic sentiments, however the Southern Poverty Law Center does not recognize the overall movement as a hate group.

Beirich said the SPLC lists dozens of groups within the Black Hebrew Israelite movement as hate groups because its worldview and rhetoric are informed by bigotry against whites and Jews.

“The Black Hebrew Israelite groups that we list also force segregation on to their members, only allowing them to socialize, marry and procreate with members of minority groups and disparage non-members who don’t do the same,” Beirich said.

“While not all Black Hebrew Israelites have these characteristics, all of the groups that we list as hate groups do.”

Beirich said the SPLC considers these chapters a part of the Black Separatist movement, which espouses ideas of black supremacy and supports tenets of hatred against certain groups, in particular Jews.

Dorman and Beirich both say it’s nearly impossible to estimate how many adherents follow or participate in the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.

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