Federal prosecutors on Monday filed hate crimes charges against the man accused of bursting into a Hasidic rabbi’s home and stabbing five Jewish people at a Hanukkah celebration.
The charges came as police stepped up patrols in Jewish neighborhoods and stationed officers in front of synagogues and yeshivas across New York and New Jersey.
In the criminal complaint, authorities revealed evidence that could suggest the motivations of Grafton Thomas, who they say went on a bloody rampage Saturday at the house in Monsey, New York, a hamlet northwest of New York City with a large community of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Officials said they had found handwritten journals at Thomas’ home in which he expressed anti-Semitic views, including references to Adolf Hitler and “Nazi culture,” and drawings of a Star of David and a swastika, according to the complaint.
The complaint, signed by an FBI special agent, Julie S. Brown, also said that officials had searched Thomas’ phone, which showed that he had looked online for the phrase “Why did Hitler hate the Jews” four times in the last month.
He also searched for “German Jewish Temples near me,” and “Zionist Temples” in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and in Staten Island, New York, in recent weeks, the complaint said.
On Saturday, the complaint said, Thomas’ phone browser was used to call up an article titled “New York City Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods After Possible Anti-Semitic Attacks. Here’s What to Know.”
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in White Plains, New York, by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Thomas was expected to appear in court Monday afternoon.
Thomas’ family said Sunday that he had a long history of mental illness, including schizophrenia.
The assault in Monsey further rattled the Jewish community in the New York region, which was already reeling from a series of anti-Semitic incidents in New York City last week and a mass shooting in Jersey City, New Jersey, that targeted a kosher supermarket and left three people, including two Hasidic Jews, dead earlier in the month.
“We will keep the Jewish community safe, and we have a zero tolerance when it comes to hate crimes in New York City,” New York City’s police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, said Monday in an interview on “CBS This Morning.”
In an interview Monday morning on NPR, the public radio network, Mayor Bill de Blasio said of the attacks: “We consider this a crisis. Really, there is a growing anti-Semitism problem in this whole country. It has taken a more and more violent form.”
De Blasio added that he had directed city schools to undertake an “intensified curriculum” focused on anti-Semitism when classes resume Thursday. The goal, he said during the interview, was to teach young people that attacks motivated out of hate or ignorance bred only more violence.
In Rockland County, where the Saturday attack took place, the county executive, Ed Day, announced Monday that a private security firm would work with police to provide armed guards to synagogues in Monsey.
“We cannot stand around and do nothing,” Day said. “We are taking proactive action in order to address the concerns, the fears that are out there.”
Rockland County has more than 300,000 people, and 31% of the population is Jewish, according to the state. It is believed to have one of the largest populations of ultra-Orthodox Jews outside of Israel.
In recent years, the area’s ultra-Orthodox population has grown as Hasidic families from the city, priced out of their neighborhoods, have relocated there. Despite the distance, the communities in both the city and suburbs retain close ties.
The barrage of incidents left the community feeling particularly under siege as it observed Hanukkah, a celebration of a time long ago when Jews had defied external aggressors to openly practice their faith.
“People are afraid to send their kids out to school,” said Benny Polatseck, 30, an Orthodox Jewish community activist who lives in Monsey. “There is real angst.”
Four Orthodox Jewish elected officials, in a letter sent to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Sunday, went further.
“It is no longer safe to be identifiably Orthodox in the state of New York,” they wrote in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo after the attack. “We cannot shop, walk down the street, send our children to school, or even worship in peace.”
The five victims of the attack at the home of the rabbi, Chaim Rottenberg, were taken to the hospital. Four of them were treated there and released. As of Sunday afternoon, one remained there with a skull fracture, officials said.
Thomas, 38, was later arrested in Harlem, about 30 miles from Monsey, with blood on his clothes, officials said. According to the federal complaint, officers found both a machete and a bloody knife in the car.
On Sunday, Thomas pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary.
A statement issued Sunday night by a lawyer, Michael Sussman, in the name of the family said Thomas “had a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations” and “no known history of anti-Semitism.”
The federal complaint did not provide dates of Thomas’ journal entries, but it said he had searched online for pages expressing anti-Semitic sentiments as early as Nov. 9.
According to the complaint, one statement in his journals suggested that he had been influenced by the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, a religious group to which officials also linked one of the attackers in the Jersey City shooting.
While the movement is not known for promoting violence, some of its offshoots have been described as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, which track extremist organizations.
Officials have not linked the Monsey stabbing and the Jersey City shooting, and they have not established whether Thomas was part of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.
On Sunday, Cuomo said he had ordered the State Police’s hate crimes force to investigate the rampage.
The governor also called the Monsey stabbings an “act of domestic terrorism,” the phrase that officials eventually used to describe the Jersey City shooting.
In their letter to Cuomo, the four Orthodox Jewish elected officials urged him to declare a state of emergency. They asked him to deploy the New York National Guard to protect Jewish enclaves across the state and to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate anti-Semitic violence.
As of Sunday, New York City had seen a 23% rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes so far this year, according to police data.
Since the attack in Jersey City on Dec. 10, the New York City Police Department had been deploying more officers to protect synagogues, Shea, the police commissioner, said. Over the weekend, it stepped up patrols in three Brooklyn neighborhoods after what officials called an “alarming” increase in incidents last week.
After the Monsey attack, the city’s Police Department said it was adding four to six officers per shift, who will focus on houses of worship and community events.
The department is also installing additional security cameras in the three Brooklyn communities and installing six more light towers in one of them.
Cuomo also ordered the State Police to increase patrols in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods across the state.
“We should be celebrating this week,” Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said Sunday. “Celebrating life. Not commemorating the loss of life and the attack on life.”