An 18-year-old is accused of directing synagogue attacks across the country under the name 'Operation Kristallnacht,' according to the FBI

Nicole Einbinder
synagogue shooting anniversary

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar


  • Federal authorities have accused a New Jersey man of ordering the vandalism of synagogues in Michigan and Wisconsin in September.
  • According to a criminal complaint filed last Tuesday and unsealed on Wednesday, 18-year-old Richard Tobin allegedly directed members of a white supremacist organization to deface the synagogues with swastikas and other anti-Semitic symbols.
  • Tobin's arrest comes as the US grapples with a "record-high" number of anti-Semitic incidents, the Anti-Defamation League said in October.
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Federal authorities allege that a New Jersey man ordered the vandalism of synagogues in Michigan and Wisconsin in September, according to a criminal complaint filed last Tuesday and unsealed on Wednesday.

Richard Tobin, an 18-year-old from Brooklawn, New Jersey, allegedly directed members of a white supremacist organization, referred to as "Group 1" in court filings, to attack the two synagogues with swastikas and other anti-Semitic symbols. "To the best of my knowledge, nothing like this has ever happened before," Rabbi Martyn Adelberg, of Beth Israeli Sinai Congregation in Racine Wisconsin, told The Journal Times following the attack.

Tobin told an FBI agent in October that he directed members of Group 1 to vandalize properties throughout the country, launching "Operation Kristallnacht" (in reference to the 1938 pogrom in Nazi Germany, in which Nazis torched synagogues, vandalized properties, and killed around 100 Jews) with other members to "tag the sh-t" out of synagogues. The September attacks were carried out by the "Great Lakes cell" of Group 1, he said.

He communicated with members through online platforms and encrypted online messaging applications from his New Jersey home to discuss, among other things, the recruitment of prospective members, the creation of a white-ethno state, acts of violence against minorities, the group's military training camps, and ways to make improvised explosive devices, according to the complaint. A search of Tobin's computer revealed an obsession with neo-Nazi propaganda, terrorism, and acts of mass violence.

The group's insignia is associated with a neo-Nazi social media network called The Base, which was created by a self-proclaimed white nationalist intent on uniting neo-Nazis and encouraging them to carry out violence against minority groups, according to VICE. The symbol was adopted by the Nazis after 1923 to memorialize members who died in Hitler's failed Beer Hall Putsch, according to the complaint.

During his interview with the FBI, Tobin described his desire to incite violent attacks. He said that he had considered committing "suicide-by-cop" on numerous occasions and believed that carrying out a suicide bombing would be "pretty badass." He also said he felt "enraged" by black shoppers at a mall in Edison, New Jersey, while sitting in the parking lot with a machete, and wanted to "let loose."

"Tobin said that he was triggered by the state of the country, such as when he saw a 'pride parade' or a large number of African Americans in one location. For example, simply being in Times Square in New York caused Tobin to have these feelings," wrote FBI Special Agent Jason Novick.

Tobin's arrest comes as the US grapples with a "record-high" number of anti-Semitic incidents, the Anti-Defamation league said last month. There were 780 anti-Semitic incidents reported in the first six months of 2019, the anti-hate organization found.

In an effort to combat a potential rise of white nationalist and neo-Nazi violence heading into 2020, federal law enforcement officials have launched hundreds of investigations across the country to stymie domestic terrorism, The New York Times reported.

Tobin currently remains in custody in New Jersey, pending a mental health evaluation, according to court filings.