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Crime and Courts

Pueblo man arrested by federal agents wanted to blow up historic synagogue, court documents say

Richard Holzer, 27, wrote on Facebook that “I wish the Holocaust really did happen … they need to die,” according to an arrest document

Temple Emanuel in Pueblo. The Jewish synagogue was built in 1900 and is the second oldest in the state. (Photo by Jeffrey Beall, via Flickr)
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A 27-year-old Pueblo man with a history of voicing hatred toward Jews on social media was arrested over the weekend on suspicion of attempting to blow up a historic synagogue in the southern Colorado city — the second oldest in the state. 

An arrest warrant was issued for Richard Holzer on Saturday in a document unsealed on Monday. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

“We thwarted an imminent threat to our community,” said Dean Phillips, special agent in charge of the Denver division of the FBI. “We do not believe there is any remaining public safety threat to the Colorado area.”

Jason Dunn, Colorado’s U.S. attorney, said that Holzer’s alleged crimes constitute an act of domestic terrorism.

“Mr. Holzer repeatedly expressed his hatred of Jewish people and his support of a racial holy war,” Dunn said at a brief news conference Monday afternoon at his office in downtown Denver. “… Mr. Holzer indicated 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.”

Colorado’s U.S. attorney, Jason Dunn, speaks to reporters on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, about Richard Holzer’s alleged plans to blow up a synagogue in Pueblo. He is flanked by Dean Phillips, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Denver division, on the left, and Pueblo police Chief Troy Davenport. (Screenshot from CBS4 feed)

The arrest documents says Holzer wanted to “demolish” Temple Emanuel in Pueblo, a synagogue built in 1900 that is on the National Register of Historical Places. The temple has a small congregation.  

In September, an undercover FBI agent identifying as a white woman supportive of white supremacy contacted Holzer through Facebook, the warrant says. Phillips said the FBI was acting on a tip.

Holzer began making anti-Semitic comments toward the agent and sent a video of himself urinating on the front door of what appeared to be a Jewish center. 

Over the next month, the agent and Holzer continued talking and Holzer said that “he wanted to put the synagogue on the ground and demolish it,” the warrant says. 

The undercover agent told Holzer they could get him explosives to destroy the synagogue. The warrant says the two met on Friday, along with other undercover agents posing as white supremacists.

Holzer had a knife, a mask and a copy of the book “Mein Kampf,” the autobiographical manifesto of Adolf Hitler. The warrant says he wanted to blow up the synagogue at 2 or 3 a.m.

When Holzer was arrested he “admitted that he had been planning to blow up a synagogue that night with the pipe bombs and dynamite,” federal investigators said.

MORE: Read the arrest documents.

“Although Holzer states that he had not planned to hurt anyone, when asked what he would have done if there had been someone inside the synagogue when he arrived that night, he admitted that he would have gone through with the attack because anyone inside would be Jewish,” the warrant said.

Holzer also allegedly said that the attack on the synagogue would be “phase two” and that there would be a “phase three” outside of Pueblo that would be larger, according to the warrant.

Holzer also boasted that he had paid off a cook at the synagogue to put arsenic in its pipes last year, his arrest warrant says. Federal authorities said they could find no proof that had actually happened.

Richard Holzer. (Provided by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office)

He is in federal custody and made his first court appearance in the case on Tuesday.

“White supremacists continue to pose a serious threat to Jews and other communities in the United States and in our own backyard as this arrest indicates,” said Scott Levin, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s mountain states region. “We commend law enforcement for acting quickly to prevent this individual from engaging in life-threatening violence. No one should have to live in fear of white supremacy, simply because of who they are or where they pray.”

Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s center on extremism, said the organization has been keeping tabs on Holzer for several years. Segal said the information they gathered was shared with law enforcement — unrelated to the Pueblo case — and that they had “concerns he might be dangerous.”

Temple Emanuel sent an email out to the Jewish community vowing to increase their security measures, including by installing security cameras around the perimeter of its buildings.

“Please know that we were not in danger,” the congregation wrote. “The FBI and Pueblo police had the bombing suspect contained at all times, and were just collecting enough evidence to make an arrest.  They did an amazing job, and we are truly grateful. … This incident does not reflect one bit on the climate of our city.”

Holzer’s arrest is the second recent high-profile arrest of someone allegedly planning to do harm to a religious institution in Colorado. 

Wesley Gilreath, 29, was arrested in May on child pornography charges, but authorities later found he had been searching for mosque and synagogue locations in the Denver metro area and elsewhere in Colorado. They also said he had tried to purchase a gun and had researched mass killings.

Wesley Gilreath. Authorities said he had been searching for mosque and synagogue locations and had posted a “hunting guide” online containing their addresses. (Photo from Boulder County, via CBS4)

Gilreath also posted a “hunting guide” online containing mosque and synagogue addresses, court documents said.

A group of men handed out anti-semitic fliers on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall on Saturday night, The Daily Camera reports.

Jews have a deep, rich history in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.

They played an important role in the Santa Fe trail and had robust communities in towns like Trinidad and Raton, N.M. In recent years, however, the Jewish population in the area has fallen dramatically and there are only a few small congregations still active.

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