FBI Announces Arrest In Plot To Attack Pueblo’s Temple Emanuel Synagogue

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Dan Boyce/CPR News
U.S. Attorney Jason R. Dunn, flanked by Special Agent in Charge Dean Phillips for the FBI Denver Division, left, and Pueblo Chief of Police Troy Davenport announce the arrest in a plot to bomb Temple Emanuel Synagogue in Pueblo, Colo., Nov. 4, 2019.

Federal officials have arrested a man accused of plotting to attack a historic synagogue in Pueblo. The co-conspirators turned out to be undercover FBI agents.

Court documents say Richard Holzer, 27, of Pueblo, was arrested Friday just after the agents brought him what were supposedly two pipe bombs along with dynamite to blow up Temple Emanuel.

“We thwarted an imminent threat to our community, and at this point, we do not believe that there is any remaining public safety threat to the Colorado area,” said Dean Phillips, Denver Special Agent in Charge for the FBI.

El Paso County Sheriff's Office
Richard Holzer's mugshot.

The investigation into Holzer began after an undercover FBI agent purporting to be a woman who supports white supremacy contacted him on Facebook in September. Holzer allegedly sent the agent pictures and video of himself with guns and images related to white supremacy. 

According to court documents, Holzer messaged the undercover agent about initiating a racial holy war and said with was going to Temple Emanuel “to scope it out.”

He told the agent that he planned to poison the synagogue, possibly with arsenic, but ultimately wanted to shut the synagogue down and condemn it. 

"After being contacted by undercover FBI agents posing as fellow white supremacists, Mr. Holzer indicated that he wanted to do something that would let Jewish people in the Pueblo community know that they are not welcome and that, according to him, they should leave or they will die," U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado Jason Dunn said.

The Temple Emanuel synagogue is the second-oldest in Colorado and was completed in 1900, according to Temple Emanuel's website. It has a congregation of about 30 families and a rabbi from Denver who travels to Pueblo twice a month.

Holzer repeatedly espoused anti-Semitic and white supremacist views in his messages with the agent. "I wish the Holocaust really did happen … they need to die," he wrote her on Facebook, according to the court documents.

The documents said that on Oct. 17, Holzer met with three undercover FBI agents in Colorado Springs and gave them white supremacy paraphernalia as gifts. Throughout the meeting, he “expressed his hatred of Jewish people” and eventually discussed using explosives on Temple Emanuel. 

On the evening of Nov. 1, Holzer, 27, described the fake explosives supplied by the undercover agents as "absolutely gorgeous" and said they should go ahead with the attack overnight to avoid police, the court document said. He brought a copy of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" with him, the documents said.

The agents then arrested Holzer, who waived his right to remain silent and spoke to investigators, the documents said.

"He referred to the plan as 'my mountain' and to Jews and Synagogues as a 'cancer' to the community," the document said.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of reporting threats in our neighborhoods," Phillips said. "If you hear someone making concerning statements, if you see someone posting troubling messages online, or if you observe any behavior indicating a potential threat within our community, please notify your local law enforcement agency or the FBI."

Phillips pointed people to 1-800-CALL-FBI and tips.fbi.gov.

The Anti-Defamation League had been watching Holzer well before his arrest this weekend, ADL regional director Scott Levin said. The ADL's Center on Extremism has been analyzing Holzer's posts on social media, though not this most recent incident.

"For a couple of years he's had a presence on social media and on sites that are visited by white supremacists," Levin said.

In a statement, the ADL noted that the threat against the Temple Emanuel synagogue in Pueblo is the 13th time since the attack at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018 "that a white supremacist has been arrested for allegedly plotting attacks or making threats against the Jewish community," according to a recent ADL report.

Holzer was in federal custody in the Denver area, said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver.

Holzer briefly appeared in court on Monday in handcuffs and wearing a gray polo shirt with a black collar. He told U.S. Magistrate Judge Kristen Mix that he understood the charge against him, and she scheduled his next court date for Thursday.

It was unknown if Holzer had a federal public defender Monday, although one would be appointed for him before Thursday's hearing, Dorschner said.

The Office of the Federal Public Defender in Denver said Monday it does not comment on its cases.