Federal prosecutors charged the man accused of stabbing five people celebrating Hanukkah in a rabbi’s home with hate crimes Monday as they cited journal entries that included references to Jews and anti-Semitism. Grafton E. Thomas, 37, will be facing five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by attempting to kill with a dangerous weapon and causing injuries.
A criminal complaint hints at a possible motivation for the attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, which is home to lots of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Law enforcement agents found journals in the suspect’s Greenwood Lake, New York, home with comments that included “why ppl mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide.” The journal also had drawings of a Star of David and a swastika, as well as references to Adolf Hitler and “Nazi culture.” The phone that was recovered in his car included recent searches for phrases including “German Jewish Temples near me” and “Why did Hitler hate the Jews.” That last phrase was searched four times in the past month.
It seems the suspect was well aware that there had been a series of attacks targeting Jews in the region over the past few weeks. Authorities said that on Saturday the suspect used his phone’s browser to access an article titled “New York City Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods After Possible Anti-Semitic Attacks. Here’s What To Know.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday’s attack marked the 13th anti-Semitic attack in New York since Dec. 8. Officials don’t believe Thomas is connected to any of the other recent attacks.
Thomas’ family said through his lawyer that he had no history of anti-Semitism and had “a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations.” The family said Thomas “was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races” and “is not a member of any hate groups.” In court papers filed in 2013 as part of an eviction case in Utah, Thomas said he suffered from schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. He also characterized his ailments as “spontaneous and untamed.”
Thomas was arrested shortly after the Saturday night attack, when he allegedly stabbed five people at a Hanukkah celebration in the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg. Four were treated and released, and one victim was in critical condition with a skull fracture. Thomas pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary on Sunday.