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Austin synagogue arsonist pleads guilty to hate crime

Franklin Sechriest was caught on video carrying toilet paper and a five-gallon container before running away after the blaze began.

Austin firefighters at Congregation Beth Israel on Oct. 31, 2021. Source: Twitter.
Austin firefighters at Congregation Beth Israel on Oct. 31, 2021. Source: Twitter.

Franklin Sechriest of San Marcos, Texas, pleaded guilty on April 7 to multiple charges in connection with setting fire to Congregation Beth Israel in Austin on Oct. 31, 2021. He faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 23.

Sechriest was caught on video camera carrying toilet paper and a five-gallon container towards the synagogue before running away after the blaze began. Cameras also recorded the license plate of his car.

The defendant’s antisemitism-filled journals reveal that earlier days before the attack, he had visited the synagogue parking lot to “scout out a target.” His writing further includes an admission to the crime, which caused $25,000 in damage. “I set a synagogue on fire,” he wrote that day.

Following the attack, Sechriest chronicled news of the investigation of his crime in his journals.

The FBI and the Austin Fire Department investigated the case.

“Antisemitism has no place in our society, and hate-fueled violence will not be tolerated,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Justice Department. “By targeting a house of worship, the defendant attempted to intimidate and disrupt the Jewish community.”

The Anti-Defamation League recorded an increase in antisemitic incidents in 2022 in Texas, which it calls the state with the fifth most such incidents in the country.

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