A man accused of bursting into a Rockland County rabbi's home and using a machete to stab five people at a Hanukkah celebration expressed anti-Semitic beliefs and searched online for Jewish houses of worship "near me," according to a federal complaint detailing the slew of charges he faces.
Grafton Thomas, 37, of Greenwood Lake, about 22 miles north of where the attacks took place Saturday night in the town of Monsey, was ordered held without bail Monday by a federal judge in White Plains District Court after his court-appointed attorney consented, said a spokesman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office.
Thomas, his ankles shackled, shuffled into the courtroom in a prison jumpsuit, telling a judge who asked him if his head was clear that he was “not clear at all” and needed sleep. But he added: “I am coherent.” He pleaded not guilty.
The six-page FBI complaint charges Thomas with five counts of obstructing the free exercise of a religious belief involving an attempt to kill through use of a dangerous weapon which resulted in bodily injury. The five victims were identified in the complaint by their initials. Thomas already faces attempted murder and other charges stemming from the attack, which occurred on the seventh night of Hanukkah. He was initially held on $5 million bail for the state charges.
Five people were wounded in the stabbings and two remained hospitalized over the weekend, one reportedly in critical condition.
Coming less than three weeks after the fatal shootings of three people inside a Jersey City kosher grocery store and a police detective, the latest attacks and numerous other anti-Semitic assaults in New York City have left the metropolitan area on edge and unnerved.
Thomas was charged with federal crimes on the same day Jewish groups announced a $4 million security initiative to beef up protection and preparedness for Jewish schools and organizations throughout the metropolitan area, including Long Island, New York City and Westchester.
In recent weeks New York City has seen nine assaults in Brooklyn that the NYPD suspects were attacks targeting Jewish victims. On Monday, Nassau police said anti-Semitic incidents — most involving swastikas but no assaults — spiked by 50 percent in 2019 over last year. In Suffolk, police said anti-Semitic incidents dropped by 21 percent in 2019.
In the Saturday attack, Thomas entered the rabbi’s home just before 10 p.m. with his face covered with what looked like a scarf and told those gathered, in part, “no one is leaving,” according to the FBI complaint. He then pulled out a machete and began stabbing and slashing celebrants, the complaint stated.
One of the victims lost a finger and another was left in critical condition with a skull fracture, according to the FBI complaint, which was signed by Special Agent Julie S. Brown.
Afterward, Thomas drove off but a quick-thinking witness followed him and took down his vehicle's license plate, officials said. License plate readers on the George Washington Bridge alerted the NYPD and two cops, Sgt. Russell Mattera and Officer David Radziwon, found the car and stopped it just before midnight, according to the complaint. Both cops are assigned to the 32 Precinct in Washington Heights, and Radziwon lives on Long Island, the NYPD said.
A search of Thomas’ residence recovered a shipping package for an 18-inch Ozark Trail machete, which, based on photographs, appears to be the same one used in the attack, according to the FBI.
Journals found in Thomas’ residence included several pages expressing “anti-Semitic sentiments,” the complaint said, with one entry asking: “why [people] mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide.” Investigators also found references to Adolf Hitler and Nazi culture in the journals.
A search of internet browsing done on a phone recovered from Thomas’ car included search terms dating back to Nov. 9 about “Why Hitler hate the Jews,” “German Jewish Temples near me" and “Prominent companies founded by Jews in America,” the complaint stated.
His court-appointed attorney, Susanne Brody, said Thomas has struggled with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Another attorney retained by his family, Michael Sussman, said Thomas had been hearing voices and may have stopped taking psychiatric medications recently.
Thomas served in the Marines, attended high school in Queens and played football as a walk-on running back at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, Sussman said.
In a statement, Thomas’ family said he was raised to embrace tolerance but has a long history of mental illness, including multiple hospitalizations.
“He has no history of … violent acts and no convictions for any crime,” the statement said of Thomas. “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.”
In response to the Monsey attack as well as recent incidents in New York City and elsewhere, the UJA Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York announced the $4 million security initiative to help local Jewish organizations secure their locations. The money would in part be used to hire seven new security professionals to help synagogues, community centers and schools train security people and conduct training, including active shooter drills, said Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of the Manhattan-based UJA- Federation. One of the security professionals will be based in Jericho, Goldstein said.
After the Monsey attack, ex-NYPD detective Pat Brosnan, who said he lives just eight miles away, announced that his security company Brosnan Risk Consultants was deploying two security vans in the area to help patrol Jewish locations. The units would work in cooperation with law enforcement.
“I am personally disgusted and sickened by what goes on here,” he said.