Colorado white supremacist synagogue, man accused of domestic terrorism.
A 27-year-old Pueblo man, who hoped to incite a racial holy war and plotted ways he could destroy the second-oldest synagogue in Colorado to “get that place off the map,” is accused of domestic terrorism and a hate crime by federal authorities.
Richard Holzer of Pueblo was charged Monday with intentionally attempting to obstruct persons in the enjoyment of their free exercise of religious beliefs, through force and the attempted use of explosives and fire, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted for plans to blow up Temple Emanuel Synagogue in Pueblo.
Law enforcement and temple leadership lauded a collaborative effort to stop a threat against the Jewish community in Pueblo before it was carried out, and the temple’s leaders vowed the incident would not stop them from proudly practicing their faith.
“We’re not going to be victims,” Michael Atlas-Acuna, Emanuel’s president, said. “We’re not going to allow them to stop us doing what we’re doing.”
The FBI began investigating Holzer when the agency received a tip about him, FBI Special Agent in Charge Dean Phillips said at a news conference Monday afternoon. Holzer was spreading white supremacist views that encouraged acts of violence, according to an affidavit filed Saturday in U.S. District Court in Colorado.
The arrest affidavit paints the picture of a man with extreme racist views against Jews and other minorities. He actively espoused his radical views on social media and met multiple times with undercover FBI agents who convinced him that they wanted to help with the plan to destroy the synagogue.
Holzer allegedly met undercover agents Friday night at a motel with plans to ignite explosives at Temple Emanuel in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The undercover agents brought two pipe bombs and 14 sticks of dynamite that Holzer intended to use on the synagogue. Law enforcement said the explosives they brought were fabricated.
Holzer brought a knife, a mask and a copy of “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler with him, FBI Special Agent John Smith wrote in the affidavit.
Holzer called the plan his “mountain” and referred to Jews and the synagogue as a “cancer,” according to the affidavit.
“Like, this is a move for our race,” the affidavit quotes Holzer as saying to agents. “One of these days, we’re probably gonna do something where one of us, couple of us even, probably won’t come back.”
When an undercover agent speaking with Holzer about his plans to blow up the temple raised the possibility that someone might be inside when the bomb detonated, “Holzer stated that he did not think anyone would be there, but that if they were, Holzer would not care because they would be Jews,” Smith wrote in the affidavit.
Holzer had also threatened to poison water at the temple to kill congregants as one of his options to get the synagogue to shut down, “to make them know they’re not wanted here,” according to the affidavit.
The FBI worked with local, state and federal law enforcement to arrest Holzer, Phillips said at the news conference.
“We thwarted an imminent threat to our community, and at this point, we do not believe there is any remaining public safety threat to the Colorado area,” he said.
Holzer will appear in court Thursday morning for a detention and preliminary hearing. He remains in federal custody.
The Pueblo man communicated with multiple undercover FBI agents who posed as white supremacists starting Sept. 28, which led to the final meeting Friday before his arrest, according to the affidavit.
Holzer told an agent he previously was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and is now a skinhead. He allegedly sent pictures of himself wearing symbols and clothes that represented white supremacy and videos, including one where he wore a mask and machete and said “May the gods be with me for what I must do.”
“Mr. Holzer repeatedly expressed his hatred of Jewish people and his support of a racial holy war,” U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn said at the news conference.
On Sept. 29, Holzer told an undercover agent that he had paid $70 to a Mexican man, nicknamed “Mexican Hitler,” to “hex and poison a local synagogue” and that he put arsenic in the water pipes of the synagogue on Oct. 31, 2018, the arrest document stated.
Temple Emanuel Rabbi Roberta Becker said in an interview with The Denver Post on Monday that no such incident took place.
On Oct. 12, Holzer told the agent he was preparing for a racial holy war and planned to check out Temple Emanuel, sending videos from the synagogue, and saying he was going to poison it again, possibly with arsenic.
Holzer told the agent he wanted to “go out with a final act for the movement,” according to the affidavit.
He met with undercover agents several times before his arrest Friday to provide gifts with white supremacist symbols, make plans and take pictures.
“This is a big center here for them here in town,” Holzer said, according to the document. “Thing is, why not hit the heart, right?”
He called the attack on the synagogue “phase two” and wanted “phase three” to be outside of Pueblo and “bigger and better,” the agent wrote.
Analysts with the Anti-Defamation League reported Holzer to local law enforcement in the summer of 2016 after tracking some of his social media posts, Scott Levin, the organization’s mountain state regional director, said.
The ADL had been monitoring Holzer since May 2016, Levin said, witnessing posts that moved beyond just hate speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.
“There were indicators that this person might eventually become a danger,” Levin said, noting that Holtzer’s federal charge is independent from the concerns raised three years ago.
The Pueblo case comes a little more than a year after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh left 11 people dead and seven more injured — the worst attack on American Jews in United States history.
Since that shooting, law enforcement has thwarted at least 12 plots by white supremacists to attack Jews and Jewish institutions, Levin said.
“Quite frankly, to now have to face the fact that if not for some swift action by law enforcement, we could have had another extremely awful situation right here in Colorado,” he said.
Temple Emanuel’s leaders are working to evaluate what changes they may make to security at their house of worship, a Victorian-style, red-brick building in one of Pueblo’s oldest neighborhoods. The temple, founded in 1898 and completed in 1900, was referred to as the “little jewelbox” in Pueblo papers at the time, according to its website.
Pueblo Police Chief Troy Davenport spoke at the news conference about the inclusiveness of his city, calling it a diverse community.
“This kind of behavior is frankly intolerable in our city,” he said.
Becker, the temple’s rabbi who has been with the synagogue since 2001, leads the 35-family congregation that she calls “warm, welcoming and open to everyone.”
She said she was caught a little off guard Monday when she heard the news of the plot.
“But unfortunately, with the rise of anti-Semitism around the world and around the country, it’s not terribly surprising,” she said. “These incidents occur anywhere.”
The community — both Jewish and not — has rallied behind them, Atlas-Acuna said. After the news broke, a woman and her daughter came to the synagogue to give him flowers.
“She started crying, and it got me crying too,” Atlas-Acuna said. “I didn’t know this woman at all.”
Anti-Semetic incidents in Colorado remain at near-historic levels, according to a 2019 ADL report. The past three years have seen the highest total of incidents in more than 12 years, the organization found, ranging from Swastikas scrawled on sidewalks to rental homes being vandalized.
“The reality is that problems continue to occur at a rate and volume that should concern anybody,” Levin said.
The FBI encourages people to report any potential threats to local law enforcement, by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or at tips.fbi.gov.