Texas man pleads guilty to synagogue arson

April 10, 2023

Residents of Austin, Texas were confronted by an unthinkable act of religious bigotry over a year and a half ago when a synagogue was targeted for arson. Last week saw the man responsible plead guilty to a hate crime. 

According to the Associated Press, 20-year-old Franklin Sechriest of San Marcos, Texas entered his plea in federal court this past Friday.

Security video footage and incriminating journal entries pointed to as evidence

Prosecutors pointed to security footage which showed Sechriest carrying a five-gallon container and toilet paper towards Congregation Beth Israel’s sanctuary.

Sechriest was also caught on camera running away from the synagogue and getting into a vehicle registered to a woman with whom he lived.

What's more, Sechriest described in a journal how he had visited Congregation Beth Israel three days prior to the attack as part of an effort to "scout out a target."

"I set a synagogue on fire," Sechriest later wrote before describing how he was motivated to commit the attack by his hatred for Jewish people.

DOJ Civil Rights Division head says that "hate-fueled violence will not be tolerated"

The Associated Press noted that Sechriest is scheduled to be sentenced on June 23 and could face as much as 20 years behind bars.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) put out a statement on Friday in which officials voiced condemnation for Sechriest's crime.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke serves as head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, and she was quoted as saying, "Antisemitism has no place in our society, and hate-fueled violence will not be tolerated."

"By targeting a house of worship, the defendant attempted to intimidate and disrupt the Jewish community," Clarke continued.

"The Department of Justice is committed to aggressively prosecuting antisemitic violence and will continue to hold accountable the people responsible for these deplorable incidents," she insisted.

U.S. attorney: Sechriest targeted "the well-being of the entire Jewish community"

Jaime Esparza is the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas and he offered a similar message, declaring, "These hate-filled crimes not only caused damage to a Jewish place of worship, but they were intended to intimidate and undermine the well-being of the entire Jewish community."

"Antisemitic violence and violence against any person or group on account of their religion will not be tolerated," Esparza went on to stress.

The U.S. attorney maintained that this office "will remain vigilant in bringing to justice criminals who engage in hate crimes."

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