A lawyer for the man accused of bursting into an upstate rabbi's Hanukkah celebration and stabbing five people says that his client has "no known history of anti-Semitism."
However, a federal criminal complaint details how Grafton Thomas's journal included what an investigator felt were "anti-Semitic sentiments," like "'Hebrew Israelites' took from the 'powerful ppl [2 J (ebinoid Israelites [3 l)'"; "why ppl mourned for anti- Semitism when there is Semitic genocide"; and mentions of "'Adolf Hitler' and 'Nazi Culture' on the same page as drawings of a Star of David and a Swastika."
Thomas, 37, who was charged with five counts of attempted murder, plus burglary, in Rockland County court for the Saturday night attack at Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg's home in Monsey, NY, now faces five federal counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon resulting in bodily injury.
Witnesses described a man with a knife "the size of a broomstick" (here's a surveillance image) who used the weapon to "hit" those who'd gathered for the seventh night of Hanukkah, just before 10 p.m. on December 28th. One witness saw the suspect flee in a car and relayed the license plate number to authorities, who then tracked the vehicle to Harlem.
At 144th Street and 7th Avenue, NYPD officers pulled over the car during a traffic stop and apprehended Thomas.
A prosecutor said that officers saw Thomas, a resident of Greenwood Lake, NY, covered in a blood and smelling of bleach. According to the federal complaint, a machete with dried blood on it was found in Thomas's car, as was a knife, with dried blood and hair on it.
Governor Andrew Cuomo denounced the attack as "domestic terrorism" towards the Jewish community, while elected officials who represent Orthodox communities in Brooklyn called on the governor to bring in the National Guard, citing a number of anti-Semitic assaults in recent weeks.
Thomas pleaded not guilty to the local charges on Sunday. Following the court appearance, his family retained a new lawyer, Michael Sussman, and released a statement, "Grafton Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations. He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime. He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups."
Thomas's pastor, the Rev. Wendy Paige, told the NY Times that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and sought help. "There hasn’t been anyone who has given a real solution to deal with a grown man who is dealing with schizophrenia, other than ‘Go home and call us if something happens,'" she said.
The federal complaint notes that in addition to "anti-Semitic sentiments" in his journal, Thomas also used his phone's internet browser to conduct searches for "Why did Hitler hate the Jews" multiple times in November and December; a search for "German Jewish Temples near me" in November; a search for "Zionist Temples in Elizabeth NJ" and a search for "Zionist Temples of Staten Island" on or about December 18, 2019; and a search for "Prominent companies founded by Jews in America" on or about December 27, 2019.
Thomas is due in federal court on Monday afternoon.
Thomas was reportedly charged with menacing and reckless endangerment in Greenwood Lake last summer. The Times Herald-Record says, "Those charges were to be dismissed if he avoided legal trouble."
Thomas is being held on $5 million bail. The Post's sources claim that investigators are looking into whether he is connected to a November stabbing that occurred near a synagogue in Monsey.
The mayor of Greenwood Lake, Jesse Dwyer, said he used to play basketball with Thomas in high school. "He was just like everybody else," he said. "It’s very hard to believe someone from Greenwood Lake would commit a crime like this."