The man accused of barging into a rabbi's home with a machete and stabbing five people during a Hanukkah celebration in New York is now facing federal hate crime charges after police recovered journals with anti-Semitic sentiments from his home.
Grafton E. Thomas, 37, was charged Monday with five counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, and resulting in bodily injury in connection with the Saturday night attack in Monsey, an area of Rockland County where thousands of Orthodox Jews live.
While executing a search warrant at Thomas's home in Greenwood Lake, law enforcement officials found handwritten journals that say the "Hebrew Israelites" took from "powerful ppl (ebinoid Israelites)" and question "why ppl mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide," according to court documents.
The term "ebinoid Israelites" refers to the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group known to espouse anti-Semitic beliefs.
The journals refer to Adolf Hitler and "Nazi culture" along with drawings of a Star of David and a swastika, according to the documents.
Officials also found recent searches like "Why did Hitler hate the Jews," "German Jewish Temples near me," and "Prominent companies founded by Jews in America" on the internet browser of a phone recovered from Thomas's car, the documents said.
The stabbing occurred just before 10 p.m. as the rabbi and his congregation members were lighting candles to mark the seventh night of Hanukkah. Thomas allegedly entered the home with his face covered in a scarf and said "no one is leaving" before taking out a machete and stabbing and slashing people with it, according to court documents.
Five people were wounded in the attack and hospitalized for their injuries. At least one victim remained in critical condition with a skull fracture Monday, the documents said.
Thomas was arrested later that night during a traffic stop in New York City after a license plate reader captured his car crossing the George Washington Bridge.
A bloody machete and a knife were recovered from his car. Prosecutors said Sunday that Thomas's clothing was soaked in blood when he was taken into custody.
On the day of the attack, the phone's browser was also used to access an article titled "New York City Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods After Possible Anti-Semitic Attacks. Here's What To Know."
“As alleged, Grafton Thomas targeted his victims in the midst of a religious ceremony, transforming a joyous Hanukkah celebration into a scene of carnage and pain," Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. "Today is the eighth day of Hanukkah, the festival of lights that commemorates Jews’ struggle to practice their faith more than two millennia ago, and we are about to welcome in a new year. Even in the face of tragedy, both milestones are an occasion for renewed hope and resolve: To combat bigotry in all its forms — and to bring to justice the perpetrators of hate-fueled attacks.”
Thomas pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary and was ordered to be held on a $5 million bond during an arraignment Sunday.
In a statement issued by his attorney Monday, Thomas's family said he doesn't have a history of anti-Semitism and does not belong to any hate groups, blaming the attack he is accused of carrying out on his mental illness.
"He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races," the statement read. "We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness for which ... Grafton has received episodic treatment before being released."
The family added that they "express [their] deepest concern and prayers for those injured physically and otherwise deeply affected by the events of Saturday night."
During a press conference Monday, Thomas's attorney Michael Sussman said he has asked for a mental health evaluation for his client, telling reporters that after talking with Thomas it was clear to him that "there are severe psychiatric issues."
Sussman, who said at that time that he had not yet reviewed the federal charging documents, denied that his client was a domestic terrorist, responding to statements made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the weekend.
"I heard nothing in that conversation that confirmed in any way shape or manner that he is a domestic terrorist, that he intentionally targeted — even though it seems somewhat strange to say given the circumstances, I was certainly celebrating Hanukkah that night myself — that he targeted this," Sussman said, referring to his conversation with Thomas.
Thomas lived in Greenwood Lake with his mother, a nurse, and briefly served in the US Marine Corps, according to Sussman. A spokesperson for the Marines confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Thomas joined in November 2002 but was separated a month later for "fraudulent enlistment."
Sussman said Thomas later went to William Paterson University in New Jersey and held a series of odd jobs over the years.
He added that Thomas was on various anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medications for his mental illness and suggested that he may not have been taking those medications as prescribed in recent weeks.
Sussman also said that Thomas heard voices and indicated to him that "there was a direction that he was following" the night of the attack.
"As I got it from him [it] did not involve violence toward other persons, it involved destruction of some property that obviously got out of hand," Sussman said. "How that got out of hand, I can’t tell you."
The attack in Monsey was the latest of several possible anti-Semitic attacks that have struck the region in recent weeks.
On Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the NYPD would increase its presence in neighborhoods with large Jewish communities after several reports of anti-Semitic harassment and assaults in the city. Earlier this month, a shootout at a Jewish convenience store in Jersey City left six people dead, including a police officer and the two perpetrators.
Local officials described that incident as a hate crime against the Jewish community. One of the suspects in the attack may have also had connections to the Black Hebrew Israelites.
Law enforcement officials told the New York Times the Jersey City shooting suspect was a follower of the movement. A YouTube channel that appeared to be connected to the suspect had created a playlist of videos with titles like "Will the Real Hebrews Please Stand Up!"