WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CN) – Bringing federal hate crime charges over a machete attack that left five people wounded at a New York rabbi’s home, prosecutors on Monday highlighted anti-Semitic evidence in the suspect’s internet search history.
Grafton Thomas had used search terms including “Why did Hitler hate the Jews,” “German Temples near me,” “Zionist Temples in Elizabeth NJ,” “Zionist Temples of Staten Island” and “Prominent companies founded by Jews in America,” according to the five-count complaint filed this morning.
Thomas was apprehended within hours of a bloody attack that occurred shortly before 10 p.m. on Saturday, the seventh night of Hanukkah, adjacent to a Rockland County synagogue in Monsey, about 40 miles outside New York City.
As detailed by FBI Special Agent Julie Brown in the complaint, 38-year-old Thomas wore a scarf over his face as he entered the rabbi’s home. “No one is leaving,” he announced before stabbing and slashing at the Hasidic Jewish worshippers with an 18-inch long machete.
Five victims suffered serious injuries — including a severed finger, slash wounds and deep lacerations — and at least one was in critical condition with a skull fracture, according to the complaint. The rabbi's son was also injured.
Prosecutors say Thomas fled to Harlem after the attack. Though his hands and clothing smelled strongly of bleach, the Greenwood Lake man still had blood all over his hands.
Thomas remains jailed after pleading not guilty in state court Sunday to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. Bail was set at $5 million.
New York Attorney General Letitia James released a statement saying she was left “deeply disturbed” by the incident. “There is zero tolerance for acts of hate of any kind and we will continue to monitor this horrific situation,” James said. “I stand with the Jewish community tonight and every night.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also struck against the horror of the attack. “So many Jewish families in our city have close ties to Monsey,” he tweeted. “We cannot overstate the fear people are feeling right now.”
The federal complaint against Thomas alleges five counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon and resulting in bodily injury.
Thomas was presented on the new charges Monday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Davison in White Plains, New York.
His defense attorney Susanne Brody did not challenge the government's request to keep him detained.
Brody, a publicly appointed federal defender, told the judge that she was aware of Thomas having “issues with bipolar and schizophrenia" for which he is prescribed Latuda and fluoxetine.
Announcing the federal charges on the eighth and final day of the Jewish holiday, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman wrote on Monday that Thomas' targeted attack transformed "a joyous Hanukkah celebration into a scene of carnage and pain."
"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," Berman added, noting that the federal charges were brought just as New Yorkers prepare to ring in the new year.
The complaint says Thomas expressed anti-Semitic sentiments in handwritten journal entries, in which he wrote, “Hebrew Israelites” took from the “powerful ppl (ebinoid Israelites)” and questioned, “why ppl mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide.”
The journal also included references to Hitler alongside drawings of a Star of David and a swastika.
Prosecutors noted that the suspect's use of “ebinoid Israelites” appears to be a reference to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, a group that the Anti-Defamation League says includes outspoken extremists who “blame Jews and other ethnicities for all social ills plaguing black individuals.”
Thomas is black.
The perpetrators of a shooting earlier this month at a kosher grocery market in Jersey City, New Jersey, are suspected to also be followers of the same movement.
Last month in Monsey, a man was stabbed while walking to a synagogue.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Saturday’s bloody attack was the 13th anti-Semitic attack in New York since Dec. 8 and endemic of “an American cancer on the body politic.”
“This is violence spurred by hate, it is mass violence and I consider this an act of domestic terrorism,” Cuomo said. “Let’s call it what it is.”
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