Sacto 9-1-1
November 10, 2009
Cops investigate synagogue vandalism as possible hate crime

From Kim Minugh and Pete Basofin

Detectives from four agencies are investigating whether vandalism reported at a Carmichael synagogue this morning was a hate crime, according to authorities.

Officials at Congregation Beth Shalom on El Camino Avenue contacted the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department about 10:40 a.m. to report that racist symbols and messages, including a swastika, had been spray painted on the sanctuary, said sheriff's Sgt. Tim Curran.

The vandalism included the "SS" lightning bolts - the symbol of the Nazi security forces; a swastika and the message "Kristallnacht still lives," Curran said.

"Kristallnacht," meaning "Crystal night" or "the Night of Broken Glass," refers to an event 71 years ago today in which the German Nazis attacked Jewish people and businesses across Germany. Over the course of two days, more than 1,000 synangogues were damaged, at least 91 Jews were killed and some 30,000 Jewish men arrested. The men were sent to concentration camps that had been newly expanded for the influx of prisoners.

In the attack on Congregation Beth Shalom, bushes lining the exterior of the sanctuary also had been burned, although Curran said detectives believe the fire was set to burn down the synagogue's sign and not the entire building.

Curran said the vandal - described as a man wearing dark clothing - was caught on surveillance video about 1 a.m., but the images reveal no other distinguishing characteristics.

The incident is being investigated by the Sheriff's Department as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District's arson team and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Curran said. Detectives will determine whether the act was a hate crime, and which agency will take the lead in the investigation, Curran said.

No suspects have been identified, and no witnesses have been found, Curran said.

Congregation Beth Shalom was one of three Sacramento-area synagogues targeted by two arsonists in 1999. Benjamin Matthew Williams, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, and his brother, James Tyler Williams, pleaded guilty in September 2001 to setting the fires, which caused almost $3 million in damages. They were sentenced to 30 years and 21 years and three months, respectively, in federal prison for the crimes.

Benjamin Williams committed suicide in his jail cell in 2002 as he and his brother awaited trial in connection with another case - the murders of a gay couple in Happy Valley two weeks after the synagogue fires.

James Tyler Williams remains in prison after being convicted of the murders, as well as the fire-bombing of an abortion clinic in Sacramento, according to media reports.

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