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Carmel synagogue vandal who espoused Nazism gets 3 years for hate crime

May 22, 2019

A 21-year-old man has been sentenced to three years in prison for spray-painting anti-Semitic graffiti and lighting fires outside a Carmel synagogue.

U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said 21-year-old Nolan Brewer of Eminence was sentenced Monday evening for conspiring to violate the civil rights of Congregation Shaarey Tefilla. Minkler announced Tuesday that Brewer pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime.

Nazi flags and iron crosses were found spray-painted July 28 on a brick shed outside the synagogue in Carmel, just north of Indianapolis. Several areas of the grass and ground around the shed were also scorched, leaving burn residue on part of the shed. Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard condemned the vandalism and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb cited the incident in asking the Legislature to pass a hate crimes bill.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana said in a statement that Judge Tanya Walton Pratt heard evidence of Brewer’s belief in Nazism and how he acted on those beliefs to carry out an attack that had been part of a much larger planned assault on the congregation.

“The evidence showed that the attack was not a spur-of-the-moment childhood prank. As Brewer had told the FBI, he and his wife, a minor, with whom he conspired to carry out the attack, targeted the synagogue because it was ‘full of ethnic Jews,” Minkler’s statement said.

“The day before, Brewer and his wife went to Walmart to purchase supplies for the attack.  Video surveillance showed them buying red and black spray paint, Gatorade bottles, aluminum foil, Drano cleaner, rubber gloves, Styrofoam plates, and bandanas. With the spray paint, they intended to, and did, paint large Nazi symbols on synagogue property. Brewer and his wife painted two red and black Nazi flags, each measuring several feet, which were flanked by two iron crosses …

“With the Gatorade bottles, aluminum foil, and Drano, they planned to create and detonate ‘Drano bombs,’ which were overpressure explosive devices. A mixture of Drano and aluminum foil can cause the release of gas, which in a sealed container such as a Gatorade bottle, can build until the point of an overpressure explosion,” the statement said.

“In addition to the items at Walmart, the evidence, including text messages, showed that Brewer and his wife filled a can of gasoline in preparation for the attack. They then combined it with the Styrofoam plates to concoct what Brewer referred to as homemade ‘napalm.’ The Styrofoam melted in the gasoline to create a viscous, flammable mixture.”

Brewer and his wife brought those items and more to the synagogue in the early-morning hours of July 28, but they did not follow through with plans to break into the house of worship and set fire to it, Minkler’s statement said. “A witness testified that Brewer told her they got spooked by the synagogue’s security cameras and lights after they arrived. So instead they sent their message on the walls of an external enclosure on the property by spray painting Nazi symbols and burning the ground with the homemade napalm.”

Brewer was arrested two weeks later, and Minkler’s statement said “his motivation was to generate ‘news headlines’ and ‘spark more radicalism,’ by showing other extremist groups that ‘people are actually doing things’ so ‘maybe we can have a voice.’”

Minkler’s statement said multiple co-workers from Brewer’s two jobs testified that, in the months leading up to the attack, he openly identified with Nazism and white supremacy at work, even attempting to recruit others. A former supervisor “testified that he heard complaints from over a dozen other workers who felt uncomfortable about Brewer espousing Nazism on the jobsite.” 

“After the synagogue attack, Brewer bragged to co-workers and a friend about what he had done. Multiple witnesses testified that Brewer was proud when he showed them photos on his cellphone that he took of the Nazi flags and napalm fire on the night of the attack. The judge also heard Brewer himself expressing satisfaction in the news coverage of the attack from text messages on Brewer’s cell phone, as well as in a covertly recorded conversation with an FBI cooperating witness,” Minkler’s statement said.

“Our nation was founded on the right of all people to practice their faith free of threats and violence,” Minkler said. “Sadly, over the past couple of years, our country has seen an increase in hate crimes targeting houses of worship, particularly against those of the Jewish faith. This case was one of them. The sentence handed down yesterday sends a clear message that society cannot, and will not, tolerate those who terrorize others for their religious beliefs.” 

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