December 1, 2021

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Texas teen arrested for allegedly setting fire to a synagogue may have ties to neo-Nazi group

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The fire Sechriest allegedly lit was small and set on the exterior of the synagogue. No one was injured. Damage is estimated to be around $25,000, which includes the cost of repairing the structure’s ornate wooden front doors.

According to KVUE, Sechriest was seen on video surveillance driving into the parking lot to the synagogue in an SUV, possibly a 2017 Jeep Compass. He was carrying a five-gallon olive green jerry can. He then left, still carrying the container. Austin Fire Department arson investigators say they saw the flames ignite from four different camera angles.

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The fire comes just a week after several anti-semitic incidents took place around Austin. 

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that on Oct. 24, members of the Goyim Defense League, a neo-Nazi group, hung “Vax the Jews” banners from an overpass near the local Jewish Community Center as well as several synagogues.

The Anti-Defamation League calls the group “a loose network of individuals connected by their virulent antisemitism.”

According to journalist and author Nate Thayer, Sechriest is a known member of the Goyim Defense League. 

Thayer points to camera footage that appears to be Sechriest. This followed by a photo of the alleged arsonist seen burning a Nazi swastika outside of Austin with at least 10 other members of the Goyim Defense League. And another photo of allegedly of Sechriest seen in a car on Halloween day harassing trick or treaters in Austin. The man in the passenger seat is wearing a hat with a swastika on it. 

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Following Sechriest’s arrest, Congregation Beth Israel Senior Rabbi Steve Folberg issued the following statement:

“We are grateful to the authorities including the Austin Fire Department, Austin Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their diligent and persistent work investigating this hateful, anti-Semitic act.

“It gives us some sense of relief to learn of this arrest, but we are staying vigilant. Across Central Texas and beyond, we are seeing a spike in attacks against Jews. We denounce all acts of bigotry and violence, especially those motivated by blind hatred of any of the proud and distinctive communities that enrich our civic life. We will remain strong and vigilant in the ongoing work of justice, safety and peace for ourselves and all our neighbors.

“We are also grateful to our friends at Shalom Austin and ADL Austin and for the support we have received from our Austin community and from around the world over the last 10 days. Those who wish to donate to help support our congregation after this hateful act may do so on our website.”

On the same day Sechriest was taken into custody, Kyle Rittenhouse took the stand in his murder trial. Rittenhouse is the teen who traveled to a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he shot and killed two protesters and wounded another. 

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, Virginia, there’s a federal civil trial of 24 white supremacist and racist groups and individuals who allegedly came to the town in August 2017 and provoked the violence and chaos that led to the murder of Heather Heyer. 

And in Brunswick, Georgia, there’s the trial of Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan, three white men who stand accused of chasing down and murdering an unarmed Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, while using racist slurs.



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