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FBI Arrests Pueblo Man Who Planned to Blow Up Synagogue

The FBI arrested a 27-year-old man after he allegedly plotted to blow up Temple Emanuel in Pueblo.
The FBI arrested a 27-year-old man after he allegedly plotted to blow up Temple Emanuel in Pueblo.
Courtesy of Michael Atlas-Acuña

Update: On November 22, Holzer, who remains in federal custody, was indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple charges, including attempted arson and using fire and an explosive to commit the first charge. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of fifty years in prison.

A 27-year-old named Richard Holzer was arrested over the weekend on domestic terrorism charges after plotting to blow up a synagogue in Pueblo.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Holzer on the evening of Friday, November 1, after he procured fake pipe bombs that he thought were real to use at the Temple Emanuel synagogue in Pueblo, according to an FBI arrest affidavit. Holzer is in federal custody and faces a maximum of twenty years in prison if he's convicted.

"We want to thank the FBI and the Pueblo Police Department and the Anti-Defamation League, because they had this guy on their radar and they were able to arrest him and prevent this from happening," says Michael Atlas-Acuña, president of the Temple Emanuel congregation. "We take security very seriously. We'll defend ourselves, and we're not going to be intimidated."

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The FBI came into contact with Holzer on September 28, when an agent pretending to be a female white supremacist sent him a message on Facebook. In the months before this initial outreach, Holzer, a Pueblo resident, had been direct-messaging over Facebook and writing in groups about his violent intentions and hatred for Jews.

In his exchanges with the FBI agent, Holzer stated that he was a former member of the Klu Klux Klan and had become a skinhead, according to the affidavit. Holzer also sent the FBI agent photos of himself wearing clothing with white supremacy symbols and a video of himself "urinating on the front door of what appears to be a Jewish center." He also claimed that in 2018 he paid a Mexican cook to "hex and poison a local synagogue" by putting arsenic in its pipes.

In the beginning of October, Holzer sent the agent videos of Temple Emanuel and said that he was scoping out the synagogue. He told the agent that he planned to again poison the synagogue with arsenic, though the arrest affidavit notes that the bureau found no evidence to corroborate Holzer's claim that a cook had previously poisoned the synagogue's pipes.

On October 10, the FBI agent linked up Holzer with some "friends who would be in the area of Colorado Springs, Colorado, the following week." Holzer said he'd like to meet up with them. Those "friends" turned out to be three undercover FBI agents.

On October 17, the three agents met with Holzer and a friend named Skeeter at a restaurant in Colorado Springs. Holzer offered various white-supremacy paraphernalia as gifts to the three undercover agents, including a metal Thor's hammer. Holzer spoke about his hatred for Jewish people and his belief in racial holy war.

He then pitched his idea to repeat the arsenic poisoning plan. According to the agents, Holzer stated that his goal was to "make them know they're not wanted here" and to shut down the synagogue. Holzer then began brainstorming other ways to attack the synagogue and suggested using Molotov cocktails.

After the restaurant meeting concluded, the group of five drove to Pueblo to visit the synagogue. According to the affidavit, it was during this stop that Holzer concluded that Molotov cocktails wouldn't get the job done. That's when they began discussing pipe bombs. The undercover agents offered to procure the pipe bombs, then the group took a picture with a white-supremacy flag at a nearby park.

Holzer continued communicating with the undercover agents in a group chat, saying that he wanted to blow up the synagogue. He also sent numerous Nazi-themed messages, like "Sieg Heil brothers" and a picture of Mein Kampf.

On October 31, Holzer met with one of the undercover agents, and they discussed meeting at a motel the next night so that Holzer could inspect the pipe bombs before going to the synagogue. Then, "Holzer stated that he did not think anyone would be there but that if they were, Holzer would not care because they would be Jews," the affidavit reads.

On the evening of November 1, one of the undercover agents picked up Holzer and drove him to the motel. Holzer brought a knife, a mask, a Nazi armband and a copy of Mein Kampf with him. Once he arrived at the motel, the undercover agents showed him the pipe bombs, to which Holzer responded, "This is absolutely gorgeous." He added that the four of them should launch the attack at 2 or 3 a.m. to avoid the police.

After Holzer viewed the bombs, which were fake and had been mailed from FBI headquarters in Virginia, he was arrested for probable cause in attempting to "obstruct religious exercise by force using explosives and fire" and transported to an unnamed police station. The arrest affidavit notes that Holzer's actions rise to the level of domestic terrorism, "in that the defendant's actions involve criminal acts dangerous to human life and are intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population."

Following his arrest, Holzer waived his Miranda rights and admitted to FBI agents that he had been planning to blow up the synagogue, referring to the plan as his "mountain" and to Jews and the synagogue as a "cancer" to the community. Holzer also told the FBI that he hadn't planned to hurt anyone, but would have followed through with the plan even if there was someone inside the synagogue "because anyone inside would be Jewish."

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