Courts

Amid Spike in Anti-Semitic Incidents, Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Threatening to Kill Rabbis

The battle against racism and anti-semitism continues.
The battle against racism and anti-semitism continues. commons.wikimedia.org
In Amarillo, a man threatened to “execute” several prominent rabbis in New York City, according to the U.S. Department of Justice in North Texas.

On Wednesday, before U.S. Magistrate District Judge Lee Ann Reno in Amarillo, Christopher Stephen Brown pleaded guilty to threatening to murder three rabbis late last year, the DOJ said in a press release on Thursday.

Now, he could face up to five years in a federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Federal authorities charged and indicted Brown in December, after he made a series of threatening phone calls to the New York-based Chabad Lubavitch, a Jewish organization that provides spiritual guidance and assistance to Jewish people.

Identifying himself as “Madrikh Obadiah” in those phone calls, Brown singled out three rabbis and vowed to “tear their eyes and tongues out, blow their heads off, and kill every rabbi he could find,” the DOJ said in its release.

In voicemails, YouTube videos and messages he sent Chabad Lubavitch through its website, Brown promised he’d kill “every Jew he could find,” according to court documents. In one message, he stated, “Death to all Jews.”

In the DOJ's release, Matthew DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI in Dallas, said Brown's statements "indicated that he wanted to potentially commit violent acts against members of the Jewish faith."

"This action is a criminal violation and also instills fear in a community that has long been a target of hateful rhetoric and violence,” DeSarno added.

Brown’s guilty plea comes just a few months after the Anti-Defamation League watchdog reported that 2021 saw an all-time high in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S.

According to an ADL report published in April, there were 2,719 anti-Semitic incidents last year, a 34% increase from 2020 and the highest number since the advocacy group started tracking such incidents more than four decades ago.

"We remain in a battle for the soul of our nation." – Joe Biden

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The ADL’s data includes violence, threats, hate speech and conspiracy theories, among other bias incidents targeting Jews.

At the same time, anti-Jewish hate crimes spiked in 2021, swelling by 59%, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

The center documented at least 373 anti-Jewish hate crimes in 20 major U.S. cities around the country, according to a report published earlier this year.

Although the FBI has yet to release its annual hate crimes data for 2021, the bureau recorded the highest number of hate crimes in a decade in 2020.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden called on the U.S. Congress to increase its efforts to fight hate crimes and promised to fight the "venom and violence" of white supremacy during a summit at the White House.

Dubbed the "United We Stand" summit, the event included lawmakers and community leaders from around the country.

Addressing the attendees, Biden said hate speech received "too much oxygen" online and called on Congress to do more to oblige social media companies to clamp down on hate speech on their platforms.

"We remain in a battle for the soul of our nation," the president added.

At its annual convention earlier this year, the Texas GOP adopted a new platform that included a call for abolishing laws against hate crimes.

Last year, the FBI in Dallas arrested Christian Michael Mackey, a member of a now-defunct neo-Nazi group who described himself online as the "radical Jew slayer," on charges related to federal gun laws.

Mackey had attempted to sell a rifle to an undercover FBI informant who claimed to be a convicted felon, and he later pleaded guilty to one count of possessing an unregistered firearm. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, according to court documents. 
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.