Deadly Shooting at California Chabad Highlights Threat to Jewish Houses of Worship

  • April 27, 2019
Chabad of Poway

Courtesy San Diego Union-Tribune

On Saturday April 27, 2019, a gunman identified in media reports as 19-year-old John Earnest opened fire inside the Chabad Congregation in Poway, California, leaving one dead and three injured.

The assault, which took place on the last day of Passover, occurred exactly six months after Robert Bowers’ deadly shooting rampage at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 congregants dead and two more wounded. It also comes on the heels of fatal attacks on two mosques in New Zealand and a number of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.

According to reports, the gunman entered the synagogue armed with an AR-style firearm and a handgun, and called 911 on himself as he drove away from the attack.

This act of violence may turn out to underscore the extent to which Jewish houses of worship are under attack, especially by individuals who espouse white supremacist ideology.

ADL's immediate research within hours of the incident identified that the alleged gunman may have posted a white supremacist letter/manifesto to the documents-sharing site PasteBin on the morning of the attack. The post, in which a user identifies themselves as John Earnest, details his hatred for Jews and all non-Christians, and refers admiringly to Bowers and Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand. Tarrant also used PasteBin to post his white supremacist manifesto.

The letter includes a laundry list of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including the longstanding white supremacist assertion that Jews are responsible for non-white immigration, which “threatens” the white race. “Every Jew is responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the European race,” the letter states, adding “… For these crimes they deserve nothing but hell.” This mirrors the language used by both Bowers and Tarrant prior to their attacks.

The letter continues: “Is it worth it for me to live a comfortable life at the cost of international Jewry sealing the doom of my race? I willingly sacrifice my future—the future of having a fulfilling job, a loving wife, and amazing kids. I sacrifice this for the sake of my people. OUR people. I would die a thousand times over to prevent the doomed fate that the Jews have planned for my race.”

The letter also alludes to “accelerationism,” a nihilistic philosophy of revolutionary change favored by some white supremacists, writing, “I used a gun for the same reason that Brenton Tarrant used a gun. In case you haven’t noticed we are running out of time. If this revolution doesn’t happen soon, we won’t have the numbers to win it.”

Echoing similar references made by Brenton Tarrant, the letter asserts that PewDiePie, aka Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, helped him plan and finance the attack. “I think it is important for you to know that I did not do this alone,” the letter states. “I had the help of a man named Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg. He was kind enough to plan and fund this whole operation—the sly bastard. Apparently, Pewdiepie hates Jews as much as Pajeets. Who would’ve known?"

The letter also claims responsibility for a recent arson attack at an Escondido mosque. “I scorched a mosque in Escondido with gasoline a week after Brenton Tarrant’s sacrifice and they never found shit on me.”

The final paragraph includes a call to arms, urging his readers to take violent actions themselves, much as Brenton Tarrant did before his deadly attack on two New Zealand mosques: “I have complete trust and certainty that all of you after reading this will begin planning your attack on the enemy—and you’ll attack again, and again, and again—until either we win, or we die.”

A post on 8Chan, a social media platform favored by white supremacists, including New Zealand shooter Brenton Tarrant also includes a link to the PasteBin manifesto.  If the 8Chan account does belong to Earnest, it is further evidence of the ways in which white supremacists are not only using social media to advance their ideology, but also advertising their heinous acts of violence.

The April 27 attack in Poway is just the latest in a long line of white supremacists’ deadly assaults against Jewish houses of worship:

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 2018: White supremacist Robert Bowers murdered 11 congregants and wounded two others in a shooting spree at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Bowers’ was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
  • Brockton, Massachusetts, 2009: Keith Luke, an unaffiliated white supremacist, killed two Cape Verdean immigrants and raped and shot a third. Police captured him after a brief chase—Luke subsequently admitted to police that he was planning to go to a local synagogue that evening to kill as many Jews as possible, then kill himself. He was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in 2013.
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 2004: Aryan Nations member Sean Michael Gillespie of Russellville, Arkansas, firebombed a synagogue in Oklahoma City with a Molotov cocktail in what was intended at the time to be the first of a series of 14 terrorist attacks (the number 14 is shorthand for the popular “14 Words” slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”). Gillespie received an extended sentence in 2005 because he tried to send a letter to the temple after his conviction that expressed his hatred toward Jewish people. The letter, which was read in court, also described his desire to spark a “racial holy war.”
  • Sacramento, California, 2001: White supremacist brothers Benjamin Matthew Williams and James Tyler Williams received hefty prison sentences for setting fire to three synagogues in Sacramento, California, as well a building housing an abortion clinic.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2000: During a racially motivated shooting rampage that targeted ethnic and religious minorities, Richard Baumhammers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killed an Indian man who was in the country on a work visa, a Vietnamese immigrant, a Chinese immigrant, an African-American man, and a Jewish woman. Baumhammers also fired shots into two Jewish synagogues and painted a swastika on one of the buildings. He eventually received the death penalty for his shooting spree.
  • Indiana and Illinois, 1999: White supremacist Benjamin Smith embarked on a two-day, two-state racially motivated shooting spree, killing two and seriously injuring eight other people in Indiana and Illinois, including six Chicago-area Jews leaving Sabbath evening synagogue services. Smith, who fatally shot himself as police closed in on him, was a member of the World Church of the Creator, now known as the Creativity Movement.
  • Eugene, Oregon, 1994: Chris Lord, a white supremacist linked to Volksfront and the racist skinhead group American Front, opened fire at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon, with an assault rifle on March 20, 1994. According to police reports, Lord shot 10 rounds at the unoccupied temple, half of which entered through the windows and damaged the interior.