RACINE — An 18-year-old from New Jersey faces federal charges filed by the FBI for allegedly coordinating the defacement of two Jewish synagogues: one in Hancock, Michigan on Sept. 21 and the second being Racine’s Beth Israel Sinai Congregation on the night of Sept. 22.
Richard Tobin of Brooklawn, New Jersey, is accused of coordinating with at least two people from the “Great Lakes Cell” of an online-based white supremacist group. Tobin allegedly encouraged other members of his hate group to “tag the (expletive)” out of synagogues, according to a criminal complaint filed last week.
The complaint states that Tobin “and other known and unknown individuals did conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate minority citizens, including Jewish citizens, of the United States, to hold and use real and personal property in the same manner as that right is enjoyed by white citizens.”
Data released by the FBI last week shows that hate crimes in total were down in 2018 across the U.S., but actually saw a slight increase in Wisconsin, an increase attributed to a spike in north-central Wisconsin. There were 48 identified hate crimes in Wisconsin in 2017, and 52 in 2018, according to the FBI.
“I was quite happy that they caught the person,” Joyce Placzkowski, president of Beth Israel Sinai Congregation, said on Monday.
Placzkowski said she was surprised the graffiti-ing was a coordinated effort, not just “some kid who had some time on his hands and some spray cans.”
“I never thought this would never happen in Racine, especially for such a small synagogue.”
The complaint shows that Tobin talked candidly about what he is accused of doing with FBI investigators.
He referred to the defacements — which included the spray-painting of swastikas, slurs and anti-Semitic imagery — “Operation Kristallnacht,” named after the infamous “Night of Broken Glass,” during which Nazi stormtroopers ransacked and demolished Jewish homes and businesses in Germany in November 1938.
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which coordinated the investigation, said that Tobin is “a member of a white racially motivated violent extremist group.” The group was not named directly in the FBI’s complaint, although Tobin has been connected to the neo-Nazi network known as “The Base.” According to the FBI’s report, The Base has “proclaimed war against minority communities within the United States and abroad.”
The person who actually spray-painted the Beth Israel Sinai Congregation, 3009 Washington Ave., was not named in the complaint. He/she was only referred to as “CO-CONSPIRATOR-1” in the criminal complaint. A spokesman for the Racine Police Department told The Journal Times that no arrests have been made locally in this case.
After obtaining a search warrant, the FBI searched Tobin’s phone. Tobin had allegedly been using encrypted messaging to coordinate with his co-conspirators, directing them to damage the synagogues. He also told them to break windows of the synagogues, but that did not occur at Beth Israel Sinai.
The co-conspirators and Tobin reportedly shared media reports of the hate crimes with one another, using the encrypted messaging service, in the days following the hate crimes.
The Beth Israel Sinai Congregation is small, with about 30 members. But at a service one week after the defacement was discovered, more than 100 people showed up in support of Racine’s Jewish community.
“The tragedy is it seems to be happening more and more,” Rabbi Martyn Adelberg said during the service. “We live in a culture that permits people to say anything they want without regard for somebody else; you’re bound to have a breakdown in communication. We have to continue to work to eradicate all forms of hatred wherever they may exist.”
Adelberg later wrote on Facebook: “I would like to thank the thousands of individuals who showed their love and support after my synagogue, Beth Israel Sinai, was spray painted with swastikas and antisemitic graffiti.”
Among those who spoke out against the defacement and stood with the synagogue were Mayor Cory Mason, Alderman Trevor Jung (whose district includes the synagogue), Former Mayor John Dickert, Racine Interfaith Coalition Organizer Prentiss Robbins and U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis.
“If something like that happens to you, you wonder what your neighbors will do. But so many people came out. They cleaned the windows off. They cleaned the bricks off. They made donations to help with the repairs,” Placzkowski said. “It was a good feeling.”
According to the criminal complaint, the white supremacist group Tobin aligned himself with described itself as a “White Protection League.” The goal of these leagues is to prevent “our People’s extinction,” referring to the feared “extinction of the white race.”
The group’s messaging primarily targeted people who are Jewish or African American. Tobin said he feels “enraged” when there are “many African Americans around.”
Tobin also told investigators that he often feels depressed and is “triggered by the state of the country.” He also said that he wants to die in a “blaze of glory.” He said he has considered suicide by cop “on numerous occasions” and that “carrying out a suicide bombing would be ‘pretty badass,’ ” according to the complaint.
He allegedly had manuals on how to make bombs in his possession, and explicitly referenced the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people on April 19, 1995 — the deadliest domestic-origin terrorist attack in U.S. history.
Tobin allegedly told the FBI that making a bomb of that scale would be “pretty straightforward.”