On Wednesday, federal agents arrested 36-year-old John Michael Rathbun for allegedly attempting to blow up a nursing home he thought was Jewish. Authorities claim they discovered his DNA on a failed explosive, NBC News reported. The attack came on April 3, as the coronavirus pandemic raged across America, acutely threatening the elderly and senior living homes.
Rathbun was charged with two counts of attempted arson after local police found a 5-gallon plastic gasoline container with a burned paper placed in the nozzle, left outside an assisted living home on April 2. The paper appears to have been a Christian pamphlet.
Investigators discovered a white supremacist organization on a social media platform in March attacking “the jew nursing home in longmeadow massachusetts,” according to the complaint written by Special Agent Ryan McGonigle, assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. The FBI did not identify Rathbun as the person who posted the threats.
The person who posted the threats also said April 3 would be “jew killing day.” The FBI claims Rathbun placed the incendiary device on the evening of April 2.
The incendiary device was discovered outside of Ruth’s House Assisted Living Residence on Converse Street in Longmeadow, Mass. Contrary to the white supremacists’ claims, it is not a “jew nursing home,” although it is operated by JGS Lifecare, which was founded by Jewish women in 1912.
As JGS Lifecare’s website explains, “We opened Ruth’s House Assisted Living Residence for seniors of all faiths in 1998, providing a homelike residence for people who need assistance with day-to-day activities. It also includes a secure neighborhood for residents with mild to moderate memory disorders.”
The Christian connection is also tenuous at best. While the pamphlet which Rathbun used to try to light the “fuse” appears to have been a Christian pamphlet, the suspect claimed he had no personal interest in religion, but said his mother distributed Christian proselytizing pamphlets. The suspect’s mother does print and distribute such pamphlets, but she did not recognize the pamphlet found in the incendiary device.
Police reportedly found blood matching Rathbun’s DNA on the pamphlet.
“When agents presented him with photographs of the bloodstained Christian pamphlet that had been used to light the incendiary device at Ruth’s House and informed him that his DNA matched the blood, Rathbun’s demeanor visibly changed, and a short while later, he stated that he did not know what he was going to do and that he wanted to cry,” the report states.
Federal agents said they discovered gas cans at Rathbun’s home and cuts on the suspect’s hands.
“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,” Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field office, said in a statement.
As an evangelical Christian with Belorussian-Jewish ancestry, I find any ties between anti-Semitic terrorism and Christianity extremely disturbing. Jesus Christ would never condone such hateful acts. He expressly told His disciples to love our neighbors, even our enemies.
Anti-Semitism in all its forms must always be condemned, and attacks on nursing homes during the coronavirus are particularly horrific.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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