White Supremacist Who Plotted Temple Emanuel Bombing Gets 19 Years In Federal Prison

Temple Emanuel
Hayley Sanchez/CPR News
Congregants and guests attend Shabbat at Temple Emanuel on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, a week after a foiled plot to attack the synagogue in Pueblo. It was packed and Rabbi Berdie Becker and Mike Atlas-Acuña, the president of the synagogue’s board of directors lead the service.

Richard Holzer, a 28-year-old Pueblo man who plotted to bomb the town’s Jewish synagogue Temple Emanuel, was sentenced to more than 19 years in federal prison on Friday.

Holzer was arrested in November 2019 for intending to plant pipe bombs at the synagogue in an effort to drive Jewish people out of Pueblo. He thought he was working with a few friends to do it, but they were actually undercover FBI agents, who furnished him with nonfunctional pipe bombs.

“This crime deserves no more mercy,” said federal Judge Raymond Moore. “The notion that he has turned some corner is fantasy; it is absolute, abject fantasy. No one, no one who knows him says this is aberrational for him. Even his parents refer to him as having a dark hating side.”

Moore continued, “I have described this crime as I have felt about it, is one of the most vulgar, aggressive, evil crimes that can be committed against an entire group of persons.”

Holzer, a white supremacist who adhered to Nazi ideology, did not address the judge in the day-long hearing. His sentence also includes restrictions on social media and a ban on visiting synagogues after he is released.

He will serve his time in a Colorado federal prison. He did not have a trial, but instead pleaded guilty in October 2020 to a federal hate crime and explosives charges.

"Justice has been served," Mike Atlas-Acuña, chair of the temple's board of directors. "I think there's a big sense of relief... everybody's going to have a sense of relief."

Atlas-Acuna said he's grateful to federal and local law enforcement who worked on the case, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, which monitored Holzer's online antisemitism for years before his arrest.

"Today's sentencing brings some closure to an incident that caused pain and fear in Pueblo's Jewish community, as well as alarm and concern for all Jews in Colorado and across the country," said the ADL's Mountain States Regional Director Scott Levin.

Federal prosecutor Julia Martinez said, while in federal custody this past year, Holzer has not shown any remorse — and in fact has doubled down on wanting to continue to hang out with his supremacist friends once out of custody.

Judge Moore said during the hearing that a swastika “appeared” in Holzer’s jail cell, but he had no proof who drew it. Moore said he wasn’t punishing the man’s ideology, that he didn’t care if Holzer “sat in a basement for the rest of his life and believes that Jews are evil.”

“I care about what he does, and what he does is blow up synagogues,” Moore said.

Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia/CC
The Temple Emanuel synagogue in Pueblo is the second-oldest in Colorado and was completed in 1900.

Defense attorneys argued that Holzer’s brain isn’t fully developed because he suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. They argued that a lengthy prison sentence would likely not serve him well and could further push him into a life of crime.

Moore rejected that argument mid-way through.

“Is he dangerous? That’s the $64,000 question and my answer is, yes he is,” Moore said. “He’s been into supremacy his entire adult life. He continuously espoused that he wanted to do it. He bragged about it to his friends so they knew it was him who did it … This was ‘his mountain’ — to use his words.”

Atlas-Acuna said he was grateful for the judge's unequivocal words during the hearing. "He was sending a very strong message to any future individuals who would plot to do this to any group, not just to Jews, but to Muslims or to Christians, to anybody... that this is not acceptable."

Throughout 2019, Holzer communicated with undercover agents online, in voice memos and in person, expressing hatred for Jewish people and his desire to engage in a holy war.

Holzer told agents he had tried to poison the water supply at the synagogue with arsenic — that effort was unsuccessful. Then he said he hoped to “vandalize the place beyond repair” to let Pueblo’s Jewish community know they weren’t welcome. Holzer then brought up the idea of bombing the synagogue late when no one was there.

In the sentencing hearing on Friday, Moore said the undercover agents gave Holzer several “outs” before going through with the plan -- including asking him, “what if someone is inside when you do it?”

Holzer’s response, according to Moore: “Well then you know what? They get erased too. I’ve got no mercy for Jews.”