Massachusetts man tried to torch Jewish nursing home, feds say

Federal prosecutors say a western Massachusetts man tried to torch a Jewish-affiliated assisted living center that white supremacists had targeted for violence on social media sites. John Michael Rathbun, 36, is accused of leaving a homemade incendiary device near the entrance to the Ruth’s House facility in Longmeadow on April 2, but the device was intercepted by police and didn’t explode.

Rathbun was charged with two counts of attempted arson in a federal criminal complaint released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts. Prosecutors say Rathbun’s DNA was found on a five-gallon gas can filled with flammable gasoline that was left along a pedestrian pathway about 50 yards from the facility. A charred piece of paper, later identified as a Christian religious pamphlet, was found in the nozzle of the canister and had apparently been lit on fire in an attempt to ignite the gas, the complaint says.

“In times of national crisis, hatred based on religion often blossoms into violence,” U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said in a statement. “The charges in this case allege that the defendant tried to blow up a Jewish assisted living residence with a five gallon gas canister, at the same time that the facility was being discussed on white supremacist online platforms.”

Federal investigators search the East Longmeadow, Mass. home of a man accused of trying to blow up a Jewish assisted living facility WSHM

Massachusetts state Senator Eric Lesser decried the case as a “horrific act of anti-Semitism,” reports He said it was emblematic of a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism and hate crimes across the country.

“I hope all people of conscience will join me in condemning this horrendous crime, which strikes at the very heart of our nation’s founding edicts,” Lesser told the news site.

Ruth’s House is “guided by Jewish value, but serves all faiths,” according to its website. It’s located within a square mile of other Jewish community sites including three temples, a private school and a community center.

The facility had been discussed on two social media platforms by a white supremacist group that the FBI found has promoted mass killings against religious and racial minorities, discussed using explosive devices including Molotov cocktails, posted pictures of weapons and tactical gear, and identified targets including synagogues and mosques. 

On March 4, according to the complaint, a user of one of the social media sites described two targets for potential mass killings, one of which the user referred to as “that Jew nursing home in longmeadow massachusetts.” The FBI believes the user was referring to Ruth’s House, and that the same user also created racist and anti-Semitic calendar invitation posts on another social media site. One was an April 2 event the user referred to as “Hating n—-s day,” and the other was an April 3 event referred to as “Jew killing day.” The location for the April 3 event was listed as “that Jew nursery home,” another apparent reference to Ruth’s House, and contained the message “F—- Jews,” according to the complaint. The FBI believes the message was a call to violence to target the assisted living facility, according to the complaint. 

The user’s profile on the site’s forum for the group said: “I hate jews. We should make a real holocaust sometimes. Only mistake Hitler made,” and “Hey n—r. I hate n—-s.” 

According to the complaint, the FBI hasn’t determined whether Rathbun is involved with the white supremacist group or any other white supremacist activities. On Wednesday, investigators served out a search warrant at his East Longmeadow home after the Massachusetts crime lab found his DNA profile matched that of blood stains found on the Christian pamphlet found in the gas can. 

When confronted by federal investigators and Longmeadow police, Rathbun denied having anti-Semitic sentiments or being involved with white supremacists. He admitted using heroin and driving past a Jewish school every day on his way to a methadone clinic, but denied knowing that Ruth’s House was a short distance from the school on the same road.

Investigators found gas cans at his home, which he said he used for a lawnmower. When he was confronted by investigators with photographs of the blood-stained pamphlet and told that his DNA matched the blood, “Rathbun’s demeanor visibly changed, and a short while later, he stated that he did not know what he was going to do and that he wanted to cry,” the complaint says.

Rathbun’s mother, who lives at the home, told investigators she distributes Christian pamphlets but didn’t recognize the one found in the gas can. An agent saw that Rathbun had visible cuts on his hands.

Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, said in a statement that the case “highlights the very real threat posed by racially motivated violent extremists,” a group that includes white supremacists. The FBI recently designated such groups a “national threat priority.”

Rathbun is not facing hate crime charges and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Massachusetts declined to comment when asked whether such charges would be filed in the future. She said the investigation is ongoing.

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