by Ben Sales
(JTA) — A white supremacist has been arrested for plotting to blow up a synagogue in Colorado.
Richard Holzer, 27, was charged for planning to attack Temple Emanuel, a congregation in Pueblo of 35 families whose building dates to 1900.
According to an affidavit describing the charges, Holzer is a self-described “skinhead” and former Ku Klux Klan member who has used Facebook to “promote white supremacy ideology and acts of violence.”
The affidavit describes weeks of undercover work by the FBI leading to Holzer’s arrest on Friday, beginning with an undercover agent making first contact with Holzer online in September. Holzer told the agent he was preparing for a “RAHOWA,” or racial holy war.
In mid-October, Holzer met for the first time with FBI agents posing as white supremacists and discussed his plan to blow up the synagogue. He also gave them white supremacist paraphernalia, including a flag, patches and a mask.
Holzer also claimed to have enlisted a Mexican ally in a scheme last year to poison the synagogue’s water supply with arsenic — he said it led to the synagogue being shut down. But Helena Atlas-Acuna, the synagogue’s board secretary, said the water supply was not, in fact, poisoned.
“I want something that tells them they are not welcome in this town,” Holzer said, according to the affidavit. “Better get the f— out, otherwise people will die.”
Over the course of the next two weeks, the agents purported to work with Holzer on building bombs and planning to blow up the synagogue. Holzer scoped out the building multiple times.
On Friday, Holzer met again with the agents, who presented him with fake bombs they said could blow up the synagogue. Upon seeing the bombs, which were inert, Holzer said “This is absolutely gorgeous.”
Holzer was arrested subsequently and charged with attempting to obstruct religious exercise by force using explosives and fire. Following the arrest, Holzer admitted that he had planned to blow up the synagogue, even if there were people inside.
He will face a preliminary hearing on Thursday and faces up to 20 years in prison.
Michael Atlas-Acuna, Helena’s husband and Temple Emanuel’s president, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Monday that he and his wife first learned of Holzer’s plot from press reports. He said the congregation is already conscious of its security but will review its procedures and policies given the news.
“We’re not going to be intimidated,” Michael Atlas-Acuna said. “We take security very seriously and we do what we have to do to secure the synagogue. We’re not going to be victims or see ourselves as victims. We’re going to defend ourselves.”
At a news conference Monday, law enforcement officials said the synagogue no longer faces an imminent threat. Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI classified the alleged crime as domestic terrorism.
“Pueblo is a diverse community, a community characterized by inclusiveness and not these types of behaviors,” Troy Davenport, Pueblo’s chief of police, said at the news conference. “This kind of behavior is frankly intolerable in our city.”