Hackers target Warnock’s annual MLK Shabbat service in Atlanta
The Rev. Raphael Warnock delivered his first Sunday sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Jan. 10, 2021, since winning the runoff election for the U.S. Senate days earlier. (Photo from Ebenezer Baptist's pubic livestream)
The annual MLK Shabbat is a hallmark of Atlanta’s religious calendar, a moment when the city’s Jewish and Black communities celebrate a unique bond while honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. And Friday’s event took on more resonance with the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a mainstay of the program, on the cusp of joining the U.S. Senate.
But the annual event, organized by The Temple, was marred by an online assault that the synagogue called the “largest-ever attack” to its internet infrastructure. It affected not just the famed Atlanta congregation, said president Kent Alexander, but also a network of other religious institutions that relied on its broadcast.
In an email Saturday to congregants, Alexander said that “malicious user agents” conducted an organized attack on the synagogue’s website with the objective of shutting the service down.
“In doing so, they blocked access not only to The Temple, but to every other synagogue client website across the country,” Alexander wrote. “Eventually, access was restored for all, but The Temple was last. Our site was down for over an hour into the service.”
An FBI spokesman said agents were aware of Friday night’s incident at The Temple and in contact with members of the synagogue. No additional details about the investigation were immediately available.
Warnock, who plans to remain as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, has delivered a sermon at the event for 12 years. And his address Friday touched on the historic nature of the Democratic Senate sweep this month.
Soon, Warnock will be sworn in as the first Black U.S. senator in Georgia history, while fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff will become the state’s first Jewish U.S. senator.
“Regardless of your politics, will you pray for us?” Warnock asked near the close of his sermon. “We must build together the beloved community. It takes all of us.”
Warnock has been targeted before by hateful hackers, including an August virtual town hall he hosted that was bombarded with racist attacks and others spouting nonsense from the QAnon conspiracy theory. An organizer called it “a cacophony of the worst of human awfulness.”
The Shabbat celebration is among a series of MLK weekend events that culminates in a service at Ebenezer, the congregation where King once preached.
While thousands were able to access his Friday sermon through YouTube or other sites, countless others were locked out. Alexander said authorities are conducting an investigation, but posited that the Temple “was singled out by a racist and anti-Semitic group or individual bent on silencing” the event.