(December 30, 2019 / JNS) The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Monday that five federal hate crime charges have been filed against the suspect behind the machete attack on Saturday night at a home and prayer hall known as Rabbi Rottenberg’s Shul in Monsey, N.Y., slashing and injuring five of the around 100 celebrants at a Hanukkah candle-lighting party.
Grafton Thomas, 37, has been charged with five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill, a federal hate crime.
“Every American should be free to live and worship in safety,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “The department will vigorously prosecute those who commit hate crimes, and we will continue to work with our state and local partners to bring to justice to anyone who violates the civil rights of Americans.”
“As alleged, Grafton Thomas targeted his victims in the midst of a religious ceremony, transforming a joyous Hanukkah celebration into a scene of carnage and pain,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York.
“Today is the eighth day of Hanukkah, the festival of lights that commemorates Jews’ struggle to practice their faith more than two millennia ago,” he continued. “And we are about to welcome a new year. Even in the face of tragedy, both milestones are an occasion for renewed hope and resolve: To combat bigotry in all its forms—and to bring to justice the perpetrators of hate-fueled attacks.”
Authorities recovered from Thomas’s home handwritten journals consisting of anti-Semitic beliefs, including writing that “’Hebrew Israelites took from the ‘powerful people” and questioning “why ppl mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide,” according to the federal complaint filed U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of New York Paul Davison.
The complaint mentioned Thomas’s phone, which authorities seized, that had Internet searches in November of “Why did Hitler hate the Jews” and “German Jewish Temples near me.” In December, he searched “Zionist Temples in Elizabeth NJ,” “Zionist Temples of Staten Island” and “Prominent companies founded by Jews in America.”
Thomas’s phone accessed an article in December titled “New York City Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods after Possible Anti-Semitic Attacks,” according to the complaint.
If convicted, Thomas could spend the rest of his life in prison.
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