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Suspect in Austin synagogue arson kept journal allegedly detailing attack

FBI charges Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18, with October vandalism; diary entries on day of incident include ‘Scout out a target’ and ‘I set a synagogue on fire’

A fire outside Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas, on October 31, 2021. (Austin Fire Department)
A fire outside Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas, on October 31, 2021. (Austin Fire Department)

The FBI has charged a suspect already arrested on local charges relating to a fire set at a synagogue in Austin, Texas.

Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18, was transferred to federal custody on Monday, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Investigators with the Austin fire department arrested him last week on an arson charge related to a fire at Congregation Beth Israel on October 31.

The federal charge document cites alleged entries in Sechriest’s handwritten journal, including one, on the day of the attack, that said, “Scout out a target,” and another that said, after the attack, “I set a synagogue on fire.”

The journal, according to the charge sheet, includes antisemitic and racist entries and images, as well as a to-do list that includes laundry, meditation and checking out Tinder, the dating app.

According to a donation page on the synagogue’s website, the fire destroyed the synagogue’s carved wooden doors, damaged the building’s stained glass windows and caused smoke damage throughout the sanctuary.

The fire was the latest in a series of antisemitic incidents in the Austin area. On October 24, members of the Goyim Defense League, a neo-Nazi group, hung banners from an overpass near the local Jewish Community Center, as well as a number of synagogues, proclaiming “Vax the Jews.”

Though the banner was removed and the demonstration around it broken up by police, an identical banner was hung from the same intersection just two days later. At the time, leaders of the Shalom Austin Jewish community center warned community members that the group might stage further demonstrations in the area in the coming days.

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