The FBI arrested a self-proclaimed white supremacist who allegedly planned to blow up a historic Colorado synagogue and poison congregants as part of a “racial holy war,” federal officials said Monday. Investigators called the alleged plot a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism.


Richard Holzer, who was arrested Friday in Pueblo, Co., is accused of plotting to bomb a historic Colorado synagogue. El Paso County Sheriff’s Office via AP

Investigators said Holzer wanted to blow up the Temple Emanuel synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado. The structure is the state’s second-oldest synagogue and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Holzer was arraigned Monday afternoon on a charge of attempting to obstruct people from exercising their religion through force and of attempted use of explosives and fire. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The public defender assigned to represent Holzer did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, and it was not immediately clear whether he had entered a plea.

“We thwarted an imminent threat to our community,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Dean Phillips said in a news conference. “Mr. Holzer will now be afforded an opportunity to explain his actions in our legal system.”

Holzer’s arrest comes as Jewish institutions around the country are still reeling from the mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018. The alleged gunman left a trail of anti-Semitic posts on social media before 11 congregants were fatally shot and six others were wounded in the deadliest attack on Jews in the U.S. Last month, Jewish groups gathered with law enforcement officials in Washington to plan how to respond to future attacks on Jewish facilities.

The arrest also reflects a recent spike in reports of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. In 2017, incidents targeting Jews and Jewish institutions surged 57 percent, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which attributed the jump to an increase of reports in high schools and on college campuses.

Anti-Semitic incidents dipped slightly last year, but 2018 had the third-most instances of anti-Semitic violence and harassment since the ADL started collecting the data in 1979. In the first half of 2019, the ADL recorded 780 anti-Semitic episodes, noting that six white supremacists were arrested for attacks on Jewish targets during that time.

The FBI started monitoring Holzer this year, after investigators noticed a string of hate-filled, anti-Semitic posts on social media, according to the affidavit.

An undercover agent posing as a white supremacist reached out to Holzer on Facebook in late September, investigators said. After sending the agent pictures of himself holding guns and wearing swastikas and other white supremacist paraphernalia, Holzer bragged that he had tried to “hex and poison” the water at the Temple Emanuel synagogue in 2018, according to the affidavit. Investigators said that he told the agent that he paid a cook to put arsenic in the water pipes and that he intended to do it again on Halloween.

His goal, he said, was to “make them know they’re not wanted here,” according to the affidavit. He also allegedly told the undercover agent that he was “getting ready for RAHOWA,” an acronym for “racial holy war” often used in white supremacist circles.

According to the affidavit, Holzer used several Facebook accounts to promote white supremacy and racist violence in direct messages and group chats.

“I wish the Holocaust really did happen,” he allegedly said in one message. “They need to die.”

He also allegedly sent pictures of himself posing with handguns and semiautomatic rifles while dressed in clothing featuring what FBI agents described as “white supremacy symbols.”

In other messages, he said he hated Jews “with a passion” and spoke about how he wanted to “die in a cop Shoot out,” according to the FBI.

In mid-October, investigators said, Holzer and a friend met with undercover agents at a restaurant in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Holzer talked about how he wanted to destroy the synagogue. When one undercover agent asked how he would do it, Holzer allegedly said he was considering Molotov cocktails.

The group then drove to the synagogue and discussed the possibility of using pipe bombs to inflict more damage, according to the affidavit. The undercover agents offered to supply the bombs, and over the following days exchanged messages about how to go about the attack, investigators said. During that time, Holzer allegedly passed along videos of him inspecting the building.

On Friday, Holzer rode with an undercover agent to a motel to meet two other agents, who presented him with two pipe bombs and 14 sticks of dynamite, all of which were inert, according to the affidavit. “This is absolutely gorgeous,” he allegedly said.

After his arrest, Holzer confessed to the plot, which he referred to as “my mountain,” according to the affidavit.

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