A Texas man who kept a diary filled with vicious anti-Semitic comments was sentenced to prison Wednesday for committing a hate crime and setting fire to an Austin synagogue in 2021.
Franklin Sechrist, 19, of San Marcos, Texas, was arrested in April on federal charges of arson and hate crimes in connection with the Oct. 31, 2021, fire at Congregation Beth Israel, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Pleaded guilty in court.
On Wednesday, Sechrist was sentenced to 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $470,000 in restitution.
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“This defendant will be held accountable for this depraved, anti-Semitic attack on Congregation Beth Israel, a community with a rich history and heritage dating back to 1876,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. ” “This hateful act of violence against a house of worship was an attempt to instill fear in the Jewish community and was aimed at intimidating believers. “This kind of arson has no place in our society today, and the Department of Justice will continue to aggressively prosecute anti-Semitic violence.”
According to court documents and confessions made during the plea and sentencing hearing, Sechrist said he went to the synagogue three days before the fire to “reconnoitre the target.”
On the night of the arson, Sechrist was seen on surveillance footage driving to the synagogue and walking toward the synagogue’s sanctuary carrying a five-gallon container and toilet paper.
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Moments later, surveillance camera footage showed flames and Sechrist was seen running away from the flames and running toward the open driver’s side door of the vehicle.
A citizen reported the fire and the Austin Fire Department quickly responded and extinguished the blaze.
“I set the synagogue on fire,” Sechrist wrote in his diary the same day.
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The page that followed that entry indicated that Sechrist was actively monitoring media reports to track the progress of the arson investigation.
Prosecutors said Sechrist admitted that he targeted synagogues out of hatred for Jews, wrote in his diary that he had “set the synagogue on fire,” and actively sought media coverage to track the progress of the fire investigation. He said he was monitoring the situation.
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“No one should have to fear that their daily lives will be threatened by hate-fueled violence or that their places of worship and communities may become targets of hate,” said Jamie Esparza, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. said. “We stand firm with those affected by this arson, and my office will continue to fight crimes of hate while pursuing justice for the victims.”