Montclair’s Oren Segal helps lead ADL efforts
Last month, Oren Segal and three other Montclair residents were named NJ-11 Heroes by Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-11.
“I’ve had a cape in my closet for many years, so now I have a reason to wear it, I guess,” said Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
Scott Cherkin, who nominated Segal for the honor, called his friend an “amazing local hero fighting hate not just for Jewish people but all minorities. He was regularly in the his work is more relevant than ever.”
Segal, who moved to Montclair several years ago, was born and raised in New York. He is a graduate of Wheaton College and previously worked at The New York Times. For the last 17 years he has worked for the ADL, an anti-hate organization that fights antisemitism, extremism and bigotry.
He oversees a team that investigates potential suspects. When they identify someone who may pose a threat, they share that information with law enforcement, in hopes of preventing an attack.
For Segal, work that exposes the negative sides of the world has always piqued his interest.
“I was just always interested in sort of the underbelly of society, and also injustice,” he said. “Finding an organization that enables me to pursue my intellectual curiosity on why people are hateful and violent, while at the same time being able to find ways to creatively try to stop them, has just always been in my DNA for reasons, frankly, I cannot explain.”
Segal and his team at the ADL take a holistic approach to fighting hate. He stressed that his team likes to take a “hearts and minds” route to combat hate before it even starts. It's important for people to make a vocal response against misconceptions about communities, he said.
“Correcting the record is part of what we do, and calling out individuals who promote that type of hatred, no matter who the targets are, is one of the things that we do, we use our bully pulpit,” he said.
Segal and his team hold companies and social media platforms responsible for not adhering to their own terms of service.
“We say if the platforms that companies are making money off of are also places where shooters are incubating their hate, they need to do more,” he said.
Despite the work his organization does, Segal said that in the past six years he’s seen an increase in the spread of negative rhetoric. He said he doesn’t know if it’s a result of a contentious former president or other influencers, but hate and extremism have been “on steroids.”
“The normalization of hate in this country has made these issues front and center for people in a way that maybe hadn't been before,” he said. Though violence against minority communities has been a stain on America’s history since its inception, incidents in these past years have allowed Americans to see hateful acts committed on a widespread scale.
The rise in social media not only gives people access to hate but also promotes their hatred on a global scale faster and easier than at any other time in history. “Our technology always seems to move faster than our sort of conscience or our responsibility for that technology,” he said. “And we've certainly seen that today.”
Using the recent example of the famous rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, using antisemitic language, Segal pointed out how harmful it is that an influential figure with more than 30 million Twitter followers can spew hate.
“Here's somebody who was able to promote really, really offensive and hateful conspiracies about the Jewish community and have more followers on Twitter than there are Jews on the planet Earth,” he said.
As social media platforms continue to grow, Segal and his team are trying to make companies “believe that accountability is important, and that people are more important than profits.”
He has been honored by the FBI and was named to The Forward’s list of 50 most influential American Jews in 2019.
“I work with heroes every single day,” he said. “I know what real heroes look like. And they’re people that you often never hear about.”
Though Segal does see a rise in extremist activity that keeps him busy at work, he is encouraged by the amount of good in the world that works to counteract these hateful acts.
“I truly believe that the moment in time that we are in now in this country is not going to be remembered solely for the violence and the hate,” he said.
“But what good people and communities around the country, including in Montclair, did to stand up in the face of that hate. That is what is ultimately going to be remembered more than any of the bad stuff. So that's why I stay optimistic during this time.”
The other three Montclairians named NJ-11 Heroes by Sherrill were Janet Duni, director of care coordination at Vanguard Medical Group; Gabrielle Rossi, executive director of Girls in Gear, and Aminah Toler, a founding member of Montclair Mutual Aid.