Man arrested in alleged synagogue bomb plot had long online trail of hate

The white supremacist arrested last week for allegedly plotting to bomb a historic Colorado synagogue has been actively associating with other known extremists and espousing anti-Semitic and racist ideology on social media for years, according to the Anti-Defamation League. 

Richard Holzer, 27, was arrested on Friday night on federal hate crime charges after meeting with undercover FBI agents to pick up what federal authorities described as "inert explosive devices that had been fabricated by the FBI, including two pipe bombs and 14 sticks of dynamite."

According to the charge against him, he planned to use the devices to blow up the Temple Emanuel synagogue in Pueblo, Colo., which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Signs, flowers and candles expressing love for the Jewish community stand outside the Temple Emanuel in Pueblo, Colo., on Nov. 5. Richard Holzer, 27, of Pueblo was arrested Friday by the FBI after he allegedly said he was going to blow up the temple because he hates Jews. (Photo: Christian Murdock/AP/The Gazette)
Signs, flowers and candles expressing love for the Jewish community stand outside the Temple Emanuel in Pueblo, Colo., on Nov. 5. Richard Holzer, 27, of Pueblo was arrested Friday by the FBI after he allegedly said he was going to blow up the temple because he hates Jews. (Photo: Christian Murdock/AP/The Gazette)

Holzer reportedly worked at a grocery store in Pueblo, a city of approximately 111,000. 

At a press conference Monday, Dean Phillips, FBI Denver special agent in charge, told reporters that Holzer first came onto the FBI’s radar in late September thanks to a tip alerting it to online comments “indicating a possible threat to the community." 

But the ADL’s Center on Extremism says it has been tracking Holzer’s activities since 2016, and “has shared information with law enforcement on several occasions (unrelated with this case), citing concerns he might be dangerous.”

As far as the organization can determine, until last week Holzer’s extremism mostly took the form of online posts and participation in white supremacist events. His major act of anti-Semitism consisted of “urinating on a synagogue in Thousand Oaks, Calif.,” which he allegedly videotaped and posted to Facebook.

“He frequently posted online about killing his enemies,” reads a report published to the ADL’s website Tuesday detailing some of Holzer’s activities both online and off that raised concern in the years leading up to his arrest last week. 

According to the ADL, Holzer posted several photos and videos of himself on Facebook “wearing black military-styled fatigues adorned with a mixture of Klan and neo-Nazi pins and patches.” In June 2017, ADL researchers spotted Holzer in several images from a “March Against Sharia” rally in Denver. Photos from the event show Holzer dressed in a black “white power” shirt and marching alongside the associates of the now disbanded neo-Nazi group the Traditionalist Worker Party

The report published Tuesday contains photos obtained by the ADL from Holzer’s many alleged Facebook accounts, including one in which he is holding the flag of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, alongside the caption: “age 17 and an NSM prospect.”

In another photo, Holzer is seen with Jacob Laskey, a prominent white supremacist who spent 11 years in prison for throwing stones engraved with swastikas through the windows of a synagogue in Eugene, Ore., during religious services in 2002. 

An ADL spokesperson told Yahoo News thatHolzer constantly changed his username on his Facebook account,” using a variety of different aliases including Rikard Buschmaan and other variations on his real name, such as Rickard Holzer, RH Wotanson, Rikardo Elk-Spirit and Rik Holzer.” Though none of those names currently appear to be affiliated with an active Facebook account, the spokesperson said, “Our law enforcement contacts did confirm his identity.”

Asked to verify some of the details provided by the ADL, Jeff Dorschner, the spokesman for U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Colorado, provided Yahoo News with the Justice Department’s press release announcing Holzer’s arrest and a copy of the affidavit detailing accusations against him. 

In the affidavit, FBI Special Agent John Smith writes that Holzer “used several Facebook accounts to promote white supremacist ideology and acts of violence, including racially-motivated acts of violence, in direct messages and group chats with other like-minded individuals.” Among recent messages the FBI says Holzer sent to other Facebook users was one on Sept. 3, 2019, that read, “I wish the Holocaust really did happen...they really need to die.” 

The Anti-Defamation League says that since 2016 it has been tracking the activity of Richard Holzer, who was arrested on Nov. 1 for allegedly plotting to bomb the Temple Emanuel synagogue in Pueblo, Colo. (Photo: Anti-Defamation League via Facebook)
The Anti-Defamation League says that since 2016 it has been tracking the activity of Richard Holzer, who was arrested on Nov. 1 for allegedly plotting to bomb the Temple Emanuel synagogue in Pueblo, Colo. (Photo: Anti-Defamation League via Facebook)

 

It was through one of these Facebook accounts that the FBI initially made contact with Holzer, on Sept. 28, 2019, through an online covert FBI employee posing as a white woman sympathetic to white supremacist views. According to the affidavit, Holzer described himself as a skinhead in Facebook messages to the covert FBI employee and proceeded to send several photos of himself wearing clothing with white nationalist and Nazi symbols and carrying various weapons, including firearms, a machete and a knife. He also “sent a video of himself urinating on the front door of what appears to be a Jewish center,” a scene similar to the one described by the ADL. 

The affidavit says that Holzer told the covert FBI employee on Oct. 3 that he was “getting ready for RAHOWA,” meaning a racial holy war, and subsequently began sending videos and audio recordings from outside Temple Emanuel, where he intended to poison the water with arsenic on Oct. 31. 

Smith writes that Holzer “brought various white supremacy paraphernalia as gifts” for undercover FBI agents at an Oct. 17 meeting in Colorado Springs, during which he “repeatedly expressed his hatred of the Jewish people” and brainstormed other methods of attacking the synagogue, other than poisoning with arsenic, to “make them know they’re not wanted here.” Eventually, they discussed the idea of using pipe bombs, which they undercover agents offered to supply. 

According to the affidavit, after he was arrested Holzer admitted that he had planned to blow up the synagogue, describing Jews as a “cancer” to the community. While Holzer said he did not intend to hurt anyone in the explosion, which he planned to carry out late at night, he admitted that even if someone was at the synagogue when he arrived he would have gone through with the attack “because anyone inside would be Jewish.” 

Holzer’s arrest comes just days after the first anniversary of the shooting that killed 11 people and injured several others at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, one of the deadliest anti-Semitic attacks in U.S. history. 

According a report published by the ADL last month, “at least 12 white supremacists have been arrested for their alleged roles in terrorist plots, attacks or threats against the Jewish community specifically” since the Tree of Life shooting. Holzer brings that number to 13.  

At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing last week, federal law enforcement and Homeland Security officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, described domestic terrorism, particularly racially and ethnically motivated violence committed by white supremacist extremists, as one of the most significant growing threats to national security. 

Holzer, who is currently being held without bond, made his first court appearance Monday afternoon, but has yet to enter a plea. Court records show that on Tuesday, Mary Butterton of the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Denver officially joined case as attorney for Holzer. Butterton also submitted a request for Holzer’s next court appearance, currently set for Thursday, to be rescheduled to Friday. 

In response to a request for comment on this story, Butterton referred Yahoo News to her office’s website, which states, “This office does not comment on its cases.”

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