Federal prosecutors on Monday filed hate crime charges against a machete-wielding man who stabbed five Jews during a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s house in Monsey, New York, on Saturday evening.
Grafton E. Thomas was expected to appear in federal court in White Plains to face five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by attempting to kill with a dangerous weapon and causing injuries.
The attack on the seventh night of Hanukkah occurred amid a series of violent attacks targeting Jews in the region that have led to increased security, particularly around religious gatherings.
Thomas’ family said he was raised to embrace tolerance but has a history of mental illness.
“Grafton Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations. He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime,” his family said late Sunday in a statement issued by attorney Michael Sussman. “He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups.”
“We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness,” the statement said.
Thomas was arrested within two hours of the Saturday night attack in Monsey. When police pulled his car over in Manhattan, he had blood all over his clothing and smelled of bleach but said “almost nothing” to the arresting officers, officials said.
New York Democrat lawmakers have attempted to pin the attack on President Donald Trump, accusing him of fomenting “hate” and inciting violence across the country.
“For the last three years in this country the forces of hate have been unleashed, and we see more and more violence associated with those hateful impulses. Some of it organized and premeditated. The uptick in hate crimes in this city has led the NYPD to recognize we’ve got to get under the skin of these trends and see if they can disrupt them,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told MSNBC on Sunday. “It’s not a time for a partisan discussion, but it is a time to say some of the most hateful speech is emanating from Washington, D.C. What we need our president to do is be a unifier, a calming positive voice, reminding us of what we have in common as Americans.”
In a separate statement, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also tried blaming the president, calling the antisemitic attack part of a larger problem facing minorities.
“We tend to treat these situations as isolated episodes, but really if we just connect the dots, we have a pattern of hate in this nation that is only getting worse. We’ve seen almost weekly attacks on people based on race, color, creed. It’s hate-motivated. Apparently, there was another shooting in Texas today in a church,” the governor told MSNBC. “We’ve seen attacks against African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ community. And let’s call it what it is and let government act because this can destroy this nation. It is corrosive. It’s an American cancer.”
“It starts at the top, and then it goes on to a point where it becomes viral across this nation. And it is now viral. And you see it coming to the surface in different manifestations from coast to coast. And we’re comforted treated it as isolated episodes, but there’s a pattern to all of this, and it spells hate,” he added.
President Trump condemned the attack as “horrific” and urged Americans to “come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism.”
“Melania and I wish the victims a quick and full recovery,” he added in a tweet.
The anti-Semitic attack in Monsey, New York, on the 7th night of Hanukkah last night is horrific. We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism. Melania and I wish the victims a quick and full recovery.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2019
The Associated Press contributed to this report.