INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A federal judge sentenced a 21-year-old man to three years in prison after the man pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime in a 2018 attack on a Carmel synagogue, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
Court documents released Tuesday show that Nolan Brewer, of Cloverdale, planned to set fire to Congregation Shaarey Tefilla, detonate homemade bombs and release what he referred to as homemade napalm, as well as burn swastika symbols into the synagogue floor.
Evidence presented during a five-hour court hearing showed the July 28 attack “was not a spur-of-the-moment childhood prank,” according to a release from U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler.
Brewer told the FBI that he and his wife — whose name was not released because she is a minor — planned to attack the synagogue because it was “full of ethnic Jews.”
In the months leading up to the attack, Brewer “openly identified with Nazism and white supremacy at work,” wore a swastika necklace and made racist and anti-Semitic remarks, according to multiple co-workers’ testimony. Brewer also tried to recruit co-workers to his “movement,” according to the testimony of one of Brewer’s work supervisors.
Video surveillance of a Walmart store on July 27 showed the couple buying spray paint, which they used the next day to vandalize the synagogue with large Nazi flags and iron crosses, according to Minkler.
Video also shows them buying Gatorade bottles, aluminum foil, Drano cleaner, rubber gloves, Styrofoam plates and bandanas. They planned to used those supplies along with gasoline to create “Drano bombs” and “homemade napalm,” according to the documents.
Court documents say they brought all the things they bought and parked about a mile away from the synagogue early in the morning of July 28. They planned to “break in, place the burning napalm on top of the Drano bombs, and let the explosion spread the fire throughout the synagogue,” Brewer told the FBI in an interview. One witness testified that Brewer said he planned to burn two swastikas into the floor of the house of worship as part of a symbol he had drawn.
But Brewer and his wife did not break in that morning because, according to a witness, Brewer said he and his wife “got spooked” by security cameras and lights on the property. That’s when, instead, they spray-painted on the outside of another part of the property, burning the ground with their “homemade napalm,” court documents say.
Brewer bragged about his attack on the synagogue and showed people photos of the vandalism, according to witnesses, and sent text messages about his satisfaction at how the news covered the attack.
When the FBI arrested Brewer two weeks after the vandalism, he still had the supplies for the planned attack in his car. According to court testimony, the couple wanted to burn down the home of the rabbi and “were looking for other targets,” according to court documents.
Brewer said in an FBI interview that the motivation behind the hate crime was to “generate news headlines” and “spark more radicalism.”
In addition to his prison time, Brewer was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and repay Congregation Shaarey Tefilla $700 for the damage he caused to the property.
Corey Freedman, president of Congregation Shaarey Tefilla:
“On behalf of the Congregation Shaarey Tefilla community, we thank Assistant United States Attorney Nick Linder and his team for the support through the progress of this case—as for the sentence, we believe that justice has been handed down.
“While we can hope that this is the last we hear of this case, and that the sentence will help deter others from this type of hate crime, we know better and must continue to be strong and band together, just as we did at the solidarity gathering event last August.”
FBI data shows that hate crimes “motivated by religious bias” have gone up, over the past six years, by 52%. From 2016 to 2017, that increase was 21%. Consistently over the past several years, anti-Jewish crimes have made up more than half of religious-bias motivated hate crimes. In 2017, it was 58.1%.