Schenectady Black church’s online Bible class disrupted by trolls spewing racist, homophobic messages

SCHENECTADY — A historically Black church has been targeted by online trolls spewing racist hate speech.

When more participants than usual began pouring into Duryee Memorial AME Zion Church’s online Bible study on Tuesday night, Pastor Nicolle Harris raised an eyebrow.

Typically, between 15 and 20 people participate.

But she thought the lesson’s focus, the Book of Revelation, was perhaps relevant for a lot of people.

“We’ve had people join before who aren’t members of our church,” Harris said.

Then the hate speech started in the Zoom chat:

“George Floyd Deserved It,” someone typed repeatedly.

Another said, “SATAN IS THE TRUE GOD.”

Others used homophobic language, the N-word and mentioned Adolf Hitler.

Harris started removing people; she turned off cameras and microphones, and calmly continued the lesson, asking parishioners to ignore the chat window.

She placed the number of disrupters at roughly 15.

“Whoever they are, they know each other and planned that,” said Harris, who believes Duryee Memorial was targeted because of its status as a historically Black church.

“I think they knew that and wanted to come in and cause a problem,” Harris said. “It’s unfortunate because you want to be able to invite people to Bible study.”

Now the church will have to implement more stringent safeguards, said Harris, who will report the incident to Zoom and law enforcement.

Schenectady Clergy Against Hate discussed the incident on Wednesday.

As a group, the clergy will focus on developing strategies for how to respond to similar attacks, whether monitoring online waiting rooms or exploring how to enhance security protocols.

They’re also preparing to send out a letter of solidarity to parishioners at Duryee Memorial. 

“We grieve with you. We support you, and we’re with you on this,” said Rabbi Matt Cutler of Congregation Gates of Heaven, which recently experienced a similar incident.

“Unfortunately, it’s not out of the ordinary,” said Cutler, who branded the disruptions as a form of terrorism.

Cutler and Rev. Dustin Wright praised the parishioners for opting to power through their studies.

“It just goes to show how important it is for people to study their scriptures in the face of a lot of hate directed at them,” Wright said.

Harris said her congregation is strong and will power through the attack.

She said she draws inspiration from the Rev. Isaac Groot Duryee, a white abolitionist who founded the church in 1837.

Unity has been a longstanding church tradition for Duryee Memorial, which is located in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood.

“Our church is an example that both communities can work together,” Harris said. “I would hope we can serve as an example of what can be done as far as unity is concerned.”

— to dailygazette.com

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