Six places of worship have been attacked in one month. Local officials and police denounce a sustained campaign of hate crime. 

By Massimo Introvigne / Bitter Winter

A woman caught by a surveillance camera while desecrating statues at the Huong Tich Temple. Source: Santa Ana Police Department.

During the last month, six Buddhist temples have been attacked and vandalized in Orange County, California—three in Garden Grove, two in Santa Ana, and one in Westminster. The Vietnamese Huong Tich Temple, in Santa Ana, suffered the most damage. 15 statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were defaced with black spray paint. One had the word “Jesus” painted on the back. The temple evaluates the damages at least at $ 6,000.

Surveillance cameras proved that two women teamed up in the attack. Source: Santa Ana Police Department.

There had been similar attacks in the area in 2018, and in Montreal, Quebec, in February and March this year. California police in fact first suspected a woman involved in the 2018 attacks, but she was kept under surveillance and was not responsible for the most recent incidents.

Religion News Service reported on December 10 that there have been 17 such attacks against Buddhist temples in the United States in 2020. In April, three statues were beheaded at Wat Lao Santitham temple in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

There has been speculation that the attacks are due to a climate where some regard Asians as responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, but this seems unlikely, considered that the pattern is similar to other series of incidents that occurred in North America before November 2019.

It seems that a racist motivation should also be excluded, at least in the most recent cases: the two women the Santa Ana Police Department is trying to identify, based on the video surveillance of Huong Tich Temple, may well be Asian themselves, as was the woman involved in the 2018 incidents.

The most likely explanation is that these are religiously motivated hate crimes, perhaps perpetrated by ultra-fundamentalist Christians excited by a literature depicting Buddhism as demonic.

The word “Jesus” was spray-painted on the back of a statue. Source: Office of Santa Ana City Councilor Thai Viet Phan, via Facebook.

We read in social networks (where the CCP employs an army of trolls) that these incidents prove that, while the U.S. protest against problems with Buddhist statues in China, the same incidents happen within their own borders. Hate crime knows no borders, but there is a substantial difference ignored by this propaganda. In China, Buddhist statues and temples not aligned with the government are desecrated by the authorities, and the police arrests those who try to protest and resist the vandalism. In the United States, these crimes are the work of private citizens, and the police is mobilized to arrest them and protect the temples and the statues.

A source in the Santa Ana Police Department told Bitter Winter that, despite the COVID-19 crisis, no efforts are being spared to arrest the perpetrators, and the city has a policy of “zero tolerance” to hate crimes.

On November 28, Thai Viet Phan, the first Vietnamese American who was elected a member of the City Council in Santa Ana, attended a press conference at Dieu Ngu Buddhist Temple, where religious authorities, elected officials, and police officers vowed to protect the temples and put a halt to these despicable hate crimes.