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April 17, 2020 11:02 am

Massachusetts Judge Criticized for Releasing Man Charged With Attempted Arson Attack on Jewish Assisted-Living Home

avatar by Ben Cohen

Ruth’s House in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, was the target of an attempted arson attack. Photo: Screenshot.

A prominent US Jewish civil rights group criticized a judge’s decision on Friday to release a man accused of attempting to burn down a Jewish community-run assisted living facility into the custody of his mother.

John Michael Rathbun, 36, was charged on Wednesday in a criminal complaint in a federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts, with two counts of attempted arson. Rathbun is alleged to have ignited a five-gallon plastic gas canister outside Ruth’s House, an assisted-living home in Longmeadow, on the morning of April 2.

Federal prosecutors said that Rathbun’s DNA matched bloodstains that were found on the handle of the canister and on a partly-charred Christian religious pamphlet that had been stuffed in the nozzle as a fuse. Rathbun’s mother told federal agents that she prints and distributes Christian pamphlets, but did not recognize the one in the gas canister found outside Ruth’s House.

Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson’s decision to return Rathbun to his mother’s home was strongly criticized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which pointed out that she resided within a five-minute drive of Ruth’s Place, in addition to three synagogues and a Jewish community center.

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Calling Robertson’s decision “irresponsible,” the ADL said that the allegations against Rathbun meant that he remained  a “clear and present danger to the community.”

“Releasing this individual whose DNA-evidence was found at the scene, and who allegedly engaged in on-line platforms that included antisemitic and racial threats of violence, undermines the safety and security of the entire community,” the ADL’s New England office said in a statement.

An FBI affidavit submitted to the court in support of Rathbun’s conviction noted that Ruth’s House had been mentioned as a target for attack by on the online discussion platform of an unspecified white supremacist organization.

“On or about March 4, 2020, a user specified two choices for mass killings, including ‘that jew nursing home in longmeadow massachusetts,'” the affidavit stated.

The same organization had designated April 2 as “hating n___ day” and April 3 as “kill a jew day.”

Joseph R. Bonavolonta — special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division — said in a statement that Rathbun’s alleged actions were another manifestation of an ongoing threat to minorities in America.

“This case highlights the very real threat posed by racially motivated violent extremists and make no mistake, the FBI will use every investigative tool available, along with the expertise and skills of our partners on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, to identify, assess and disrupt threats like this one to keep our communities safe,” Bonavolonta pledged.

Ruth’s House is part of a 23-acre campus that includes a rehabilitation center and several other facilities run by JGS Lifecare — founded in 1912 by a group of Jewish women as the Daughters of Zion Home for the Aged in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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