Texas man sentenced to 10 years for setting synagogue on fire in anti-Semitic hate crime

The entrance signage for the United States Department of Justice Building in Washington D.C. The Department of Justice, the U.S. law enforcement and administration of Justice government agency.
The entrance signage for the United States Department of Justice Building in Washington D.C. The Department of Justice, the U.S. law enforcement and administration of Justice government agency. | Getty Images

A Texas man was sentenced to 10 years in prison plus three years of supervised release on Wednesday for attempting to burn down a synagogue in an anti-Semitic attack.

Franklin Sechriest, a 19-year-old resident of San Marcos, pleaded guilty to arson and hate crimes charges in April, stemming from a 2021 crime in which he tried to burn down the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Austin, which dates back to 1876.

In addition to the prison time and supervised release, he must pay the Jewish congregation $470,000 in restitution.

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Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in a statement that Sechriest is "being held accountable for this depraved, antisemitic attack on Congregation Beth Israel."

"This hate-filled act of violence against a house of worship was an attempt to sow fear in the Jewish community and was intended to intimidate its congregants," stated Clarke.

"Attacks targeting Jewish people and arsons aimed at desecrating synagogues have no place in our society today, and the Justice Department will continue to aggressively prosecute antisemitic violence."

According to court documents, Sechriest drove to the synagogue on Halloween 2021 and was seen in surveillance video carrying materials that would be used to set fire to the building.

Sechriest also admitted to the crime in a journal and later confessed to it, noting that he specifically targeted the congregation because it was Jewish.

Sechriest's sentencing comes at a time when many are concerned about a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the United States amid the war between Israel and Hamas, which was sparked by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack that took the lives of over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. 

Last month, authorities arrested 21-year-old Patrick Dai from Pittsford, New York, over online posts in which he allegedly threatened to kill Jewish students at Cornell University.

Cornell President Martha E. Pollack released a statement denouncing the online threats and declaring that the university "will not tolerate antisemitism at Cornell."

"The virulence and destructiveness of antisemitism is real and deeply impacting our Jewish students, faculty and staff, as well as the entire Cornell community. This incident highlights the need to combat the forces that are dividing us and driving us toward hate," Pollack stated.

"Regardless of your beliefs, backgrounds or perspectives, I urge all of you to come together with the empathy and support for each other that we so greatly need in this difficult time."

According to Amnesty International, there has been a rise in both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks in the United States since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Amnesty International USA Executive Director Paul O'Brien released a statement in early November condemning this apparent trend, saying it "should concern everyone."

"The escalating conflict in Gaza and Israel has spilled over to cities across the US. It has manifested as a rise in discriminatory rhetoric, along with threats and physical attacks targeting people who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Muslim, Palestinian or Arab," stated O'Brien.

"Antisemitism, Islamophobia and targeting individuals and communities for their ethnicity or nationality are hatred. The right to be free from discrimination is a fundamental principle of human rights law, and all governments are obliged to combat discrimination in all its forms."

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