Suspected Austin Arsonist Confessed to Crime in Journal: ‘I Set a Synagogue on Fire’
by Benjamin Kerstein
A man accused of setting fire to an Austin, Texas synagogue confessed to the crime in his journal and possessed antisemitic materials, according to a criminal complaint made public on Monday.
Franklin Barrett Sechriest, 18, a Texas State University student, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of using a liquid accelerant to start a fire at the entrance to Congregation Beth Israel on Oct. 31, which caused some $25,000 in damage.
Already facing state charges, Sechriest was hit with federal arson charges on Friday. He remained in federal custody Monday.
A federal criminal complaint and attached arrest affidavit, uploaded online by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, include journal entries by Sechriest that appear to confess to the arson — in particular, the phrases “scout out target” and “I set a synagogue on fire.”
In chilling fashion, these phrases are scattered among such banal entries as “wake up, log dream,” “return home for food,” and “meme on Telegram.”
The affidavit also details items found during searches of Sechriest’s home and vehicle. These include clothes identical to those worn by the suspect in surveillance videos of the crime, evidence of the purchase of a large gasoline can, materials used to produce Molotov cocktails, and far-right antisemitic stickers.
One sticker shows a stick figure behind a pulpit emblazoned with the Star of David beneath the words “would you kill them all to seize your rights?” Two swastikas appear at the bottom of the sticker along with the word “blood.”
The attempted arson came amid a spate of antisemitic incidents in the Austin area, which prompted the passage of a City Council resolution condemning “all hateful speech and violent action that casts blame, promotes racism or discrimination, or harms the Jewish community.”
Recent incidents include the vandalization of a local high school with Nazi symbols, a banner hung from an overpass that read “Vax the Jews,” the public display of antisemitic posters on a local street, and antisemitic letters sent to Jewish residents that blamed them for the coronavirus pandemic.