A Massachusetts man attempted to burn down a Jewish nursing home earlier this month that had been discussed as a target on white supremacist platforms online, federal authorities say.
John Michael Rathbun, 36, was arrested Wednesday on two counts of attempted arson. He is accused of placing a gasoline-filled canister outside Ruth’s House, a Jewish-sponsored assisted living facility in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and trying to ignite it. It did not ignite, and no one at the facility was hurt.
The incident took place on April 3, according to a criminal complaint. Police said they discovered a burnt Christian religious pamphlet in the nozzle of the canister. Blood on the canister matched Rathbun’s DNA, according to federal investigators.
“As alleged, John Rathbun placed a homemade incendiary device near the entrance of a Jewish assisted living facility, located within a short distance of three Jewish temples, a Jewish private school, and a Jewish Community Center,” Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston division, said in a statement Wednesday. “This case highlights the very real threat posed by racially motivated violent extremists.”
According to a federal affidavit, FBI agents started investigating a white supremacist group in March that used two unidentified social media platforms to promote and plot mass killings in the U.S. targeting religious and racial minorities.
The group often listed targets for such attacks, including mosques and synagogues, the affidavit states. One member of the group suggested targeting “that jew nursing home in longmeadow massachusetts.”
Authorities believe the same member created an “event” in the group calendar titled “jew killing day,” scheduled for April 3. It named the location as “Jew Nursery Home” and contained the message “FUCK JEWS,” according to the affidavit. The event was “accepted” by six other users.
When agents confronted Rathbun, the affidavit says, he “categorically denied any involvement” or interest in white supremacist groups. He said he only used the internet to watch pornography and access a dating website.
Rathbun, who had cuts on his hand, also initially denied involvement in the arson attempt. But when the agents “informed him that his DNA matched the blood” found on the gas canister, his demeanor changed and a short time later he “stated that he did not know what he was going to do and that he wanted to cry,” according to the affidavit.
Rathbun will make his initial court appearance this week via videoconference, according to the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office, as courtrooms in the state and across the country are closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He could face up to 20 years in prison.
News of Rathbun’s alleged attempt to burn down the facility comes as nursing homes are struggling to cope with outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, which is particularly fatal for the elderly.
Ruth’s House was already in lockdown on April 3 when Rathbun allegedly tried to burn it down, according to a note on the company’s website. Although no one there has contracted coronavirus, almost 100 residents at an affiliated nursing home nearby have tested positive for the virus. Twenty-one of them have died.
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