New York - Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States 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 Thursday that Grafton Thomas has been indicted by a federal grand jury with five counts of willfully causing bodily injury to five victims because of the victims’ religion and five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill, federal hate crimes, related to his alleged machete attack during Hanukkah observances at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, on the night of December 28, 2019.
“Since before our founding as a nation and ever since, this country has provided refuge for people from other parts of the world who suffered violence and other forms of persecution because of their right to believe and worship as they see fit,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “The United States remains today a beacon of freedom for persecuted religious people all over the world, and violent attacks against anyone because of religion is both illegal and against everything our nation stands for. The United States Department of Justice will continue to prosecute anyone who engages in such conduct to the fullest extent of the law.”
“On December 28, 2019, Grafton Thomas allegedly came armed with an 18-inch machete and entered a rabbi’s home, where dozens had gathered for the holiday,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York. “We now allege that he did this with the intention of targeting his victims because of their religion. As alleged, with his face concealed beneath a scarf, he slashed and stabbed the assembled congregants, fled, and left at least five victims in his wake. Thomas faces life in prison for his alleged violent acts of prejudice and intolerance.”
“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 allegations in the Indictment and the Complaint:
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, including references to “Adolf Hitler” and “Nazi Culture.” 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, “why did Hitler hate the Jews,” and “prominent companies founded by Jews in America,” as well as a webpage visit on the day of the attack to an article titled, “New York Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods After Anti-Semitic Attacks. Here’s What to Know.”
Thomas, 37, is charged with five counts of willfully causing bodily injury to, and attempting to kill, five victims because of their religion in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 249, and five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 247. Each of the 10 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, its White Plains Division, and the Civil Rights Unit of the Office’s Civil Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael K. Krouse, Lindsey Keenan, and Lara K. Eshkenazi are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges in the Indictment are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.