New York - Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the FBI, announced Monday that Grafton Thomas has been charged with five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill, a federal hate crime, related to his machete attack during Shabbat and Hanukkah observances at a Rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, on the night of December 28, 2019.
Thomas is expected to be presented in White Plains federal court later.
”Every American should be free to live and worship in safety,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “The department will vigorously prosecute those who commit hate crimes, and we will continue to work with our state and local partners to bring to justice anyone who violates the civil rights of Americans.”
“As alleged, Grafton Thomas targeted his victims in the midst of a religious ceremony, transforming a joyous Hanukkah celebration into a scene of carnage and pain,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York. “Today is the eighth day of Hanukkah, the festival of lights that commemorates Jews’ struggle to practice their faith more than two millennia ago. And we are about to welcome a new year. Even in the face of tragedy, both milestones are an occasion for renewed hope and resolve: To combat bigotry in all its forms – and to bring to justice the perpetrators of hate-fueled attacks.”
“When an individual’s actions cross the threshold of a federal crime, as we allege Mr. Grafton did here, we will act swiftly,” said FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. “The message from today’s charges should be crystal clear – the FBI won’t tolerate violence against anyone. Working with our partners, we will hold anyone who commits a crime like this accountable for their actions. The federal penalties for this type of attack are severe and justified. In this instance, the local community was engaged, and their actions were essential to saving lives and led directly to Mr. Grafton’s capture. It’s the rest of our community’s joint responsibility to step up and engage as well – don’t give hate a platform to propagate and don’t dismiss this type of behavior as someone else’s problem, address it and immediately report suspicious activity to authorities.”
According to the complaint unsealed Monday in White Plains federal court:
On Dec. 28, 2019, Thomas entered a Rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, which is adjacent to the Rabbi’s synagogue, during observances related to the end of Shabbat and the seventh night of Hanukkah. Thomas declared to dozens of assembled congregants, “no one is leaving,” and attacked the group with an 18-inch machete. At least five victims were hospitalized with serious injuries, including slash wounds, deep lacerations, a severed finger, and a skull fracture.
Following the attack, Thomas traveled in a car to New York City, and he was stopped in Harlem by members of the New York City Police Department. The responding officers observed what appeared to be blood on Thomas’s hands and clothing, and smelled bleach coming from his vehicle. A search of Thomas’s vehicle led to the seizure of, among other things, a machete that appeared to have traces of dried blood on it. Law enforcement subsequently searched Thomas’s residence and cellphone pursuant to warrants. The residence contained handwritten journals with several pages of anti-Semitic references. Thomas’s cellphone contained Internet searches dating back to at least November 2019 for terms such as “Zionist Temples” in Staten Island and New Jersey, as well as a webpage visit on the day of the attack to an article titled, “New York To Increase Police Presence After Anti-Semitic Attacks.”
Thomas, 37, is charged with five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 247. An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Each of the five counts carries a maximum prison term of life. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.
Assistant Attorney General Dreiband and Mr. Berman praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI, the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office, the Ramapo Police Department, the Rockland County Sherriff’s Office, the New York State Police, the Clarkstown Police Department, and the New York City Police Department.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit and its White Plains Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael K. Krouse and Lindsey Keenan are in charge of the prosecution.