An Indiana man who pleaded guilty to defacing a synagogue with Nazi symbolism detailed to federal agents his road to radicalization, including meeting with members of the far-right group Identity Evropa and being inspired by the writings of a former Breitbart editor and the Nazi propaganda site Stormfront.
Nolan Brewer, 21, of Eminence, pleaded guilty last week to conspiring to violate the civil rights of Congregation Shaarey Tefilla. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
In July 2018, Brewer and his then-17-year-old wife, Kiyomi Brewer, drove 50 miles from their home to the synagogue, spray-painted a Nazi flag and iron crosses on a dumpster enclosure, and lit a fire on the ground. Prosecutors said they originally planned to break into the synagogue and destroy it with homemade bombs and napalm they brought along, but they got scared.
In an interview with FBI agents, Brewer said they wanted to send a message to Jews as a race. He cited bogus statistics, aiming to back up the racist conspiracy theory that Jews have undue political influence.
“I guess it’s just ... back down or something like that,” Brewer told the FBI, describing the message of the vandalism. He also said he wanted to make news headlines, and was proud word of the attack reached Vice President Mike Pence, who condemned it.
Sickened and appalled by the cowardly act of vandalism at Congregation Shaarey Tefilla; a beautiful synagogue in Carmel, Indiana where I have many good friends. Those responsible must be held accountable. These vile acts of anti-Semitism must end. https://t.co/0h6rKPilda
Brewer told FBI agents he wanted to “scare the hell out of them,” prosecutors said, and send “a message of like, get out I guess.”
His defense attorneys acknowledged that Brewer had latched onto pseudo-intellectual arguments for white supremacy. Evidence submitted to the court included racist memes he had shared and selfies in which he wore the iron cross associated with Nazi Germany. His phone wallpaper was an image of a swastika.
“It is clear that he has adopted beliefs based on ‘alt-right’ or white nationalist propaganda,” the defense attorneys said.
The details were first reported by data scientist Emily Gorcenski, who does extensive research on the far right.
As his attorneys sought a lighter sentence, they outlined how a young man from a small town who’d recently graduated from community college, and had no history of criminal or behavioral issues, became radicalized.
They blamed his teenage wife, who they said had a troubled upbringing and would spend hours chatting on Discord, an app that had become popular among white supremacists. She then shared articles with her husband.
“According to Nolan, she began with rightwing yet mainstream views such as those presented on Fox News. She then moved on to writings by Ben Shapiro and articles on Breitbart News which bridged the gap to the notorious white supremacist and anti-Semitic propaganda site Stormfront.”
Shapiro didn’t return requests for comment.
Kiyomi was charged as an adult by the state of Indiana, her lawyer, Kevin Karimi, told BuzzFeed News. She pleaded guilty to arson, he said, getting no jail time, though she did get probation.
“Ms. Brewer was in fact a minor at the time of the incident,” Karimi said. “The fact that my client wasn’t charged federally speaks for itself.”
“That said, the gravity of her actions were not lost upon my client. The anti-Semitic crimes committed across our country are sickening,” Karimi said. “This case helped fuel legislation in Indiana to make ‘hate crimes’ further punishable by law.”
Brewer told FBI agents how Kiyomi had long chats with whom she thought was a Romanian “identitarian” white nationalist called “Asbestos Peter” on Discord and Telegram, who convinced them to attack a synagogue and told them which supplies to buy.
After the attack, Brewer told FBI agents he took photos of the graffiti to send to “Peter.” “Asbestos Peter has been, he was like trying to instigate radicalism,” he said.
FBI: What, what did Peter tell you the message was he was trying to send here?
Brewer: Uhhh he, he…said it was mainly trying to rile up — rally up people. See if there were any underlying groups that wanted to see if — were waiting to see if anybody was out there in Indiana. Just to see if something could come of it and people would become more active which…yeah.
Much of their communication with white supremacists took place online, but Brewer also described becoming a member of Identity Evropa, a neo-Nazi group that took part in the Unite the Right rally violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Brewer told the FBI he and his wife met for dinner at a local restaurant with a “lovely couple” and others from the group, but he glossed over its violent recent history. After the 2017 violence left a woman dead, Identity Evropa members were told not to participate in the 2018 Unite the Right rally, he acknowledged.
“It’s just be proud that you’re European, it’s, it’s an identitarian movement, it’s nothing political,” Brewer told the FBI, adding he and his wife gave $100 to the group.
The agents pressed Brewer whether Identity Evropa members had hostility toward any groups of people. The Discord handle of the woman he’d met was, after all, Volkmom, a reference to a Nazi slogan. He responded by referencing a meme used to disparage Syrian refugees and other groups of people.
“There’s always a couple poisoned Skittles to ruin the bowl,” Brewer told the FBI. He added that the Identity Evropa members didn’t know he would soon vandalize the synagogue.
Prosecutors acknowledged the role other people had in radicalizing Brewer, but they said that shouldn’t mean less responsibility for him.
“What is relevant is Brewer’s receptiveness to the Nazi ideology, the thinking of Adolf Hitler, and the racism and anti-Semitism that accompanies it,” prosecutors said. “And the evidence shows that Brewer was, for months, not only receptive but trying to spread the ideology to others.”
Coworkers told authorities that Brewer frequently talked about white supremacy and tried to recruit them to Nazism. The day after the attack on the synagogue, a coworker noticed that Brewer seemed unusually happy and asked why. Brewer then described the vandalism and even showed photos, prosecutors said.
“He was giddy,” prosecutors said, “and proud of what he had done.”