The Rabbi of an Indiana synagogue which was vandalized with Nazi symbols last summer has responded to a defense lawyer’s claim that the offender was radicalized in part by reading Ben Shapiro. Rabbi Ben Sendrow told radio host Tony Katz it made no sense to accuse an observant Jew like Ben Shapiro of helping to radicalize someone toward Nazi ideology.
“Linking Ben Shapiro to an act of anti-Semitism is laughable,” Sendrow said. He continued, “The only way that you can connect Ben Shapiro to anti-Semitism is if you decide that you hate Ben Shapiro and Ben Shapiro is a Jew and then you extrapolate—therefore I hate Jews.”
The story broke over the weekend when Buzzfeed published documents in the case and pointed out the reference to Shapiro that appeared in a sentencing document prepared by a lawyer for Nolan Brewer, the 21-year-old convicted of the vandalism. That document blamed Nolan’s radicalization on his 17-year-old wife:
Nolan’s co-conspirator was his then 17 year old wife, Kiyomi, who had recently moved in with Nolan and his parents. Kiyomi had a troubled upbringing. She told Nolan that she was conceived at a Las Vegas truck stop when her mother was only 15 years old. When Kiyomi was two or three years old, her great-grandfather took custody of her because her mother and her grandmother were unfit to raise a child. Despite being rescued from an even worse childhood, Kiyomi was still raised in an unhealthy environment and was taught to consider other races as inferior. Kiyomi became an avid participant in white supremacist and radical right wing communication on a server called “Discord.”1 After moving in with Nolan and his parents, Kiyomi spent several hours per day on Discord while Nolan was at work. Kiyomi found pseudo-academic propaganda that purported to prove her white supremacist beliefs. Every evening, Kiyomi would share her views with Nolan and ask him to read articles she had found. According to Nolan, she began with rightwing yet mainstream views such as those presented on Fox News. She then moved on to writings by Ben Shapiro and articles on Breitbart News which bridged the gap to the notorious white supremacist and anti-Semitic propaganda site Stormfront. Nolan Brewer, for his part, bought into the propaganda. He wanted to please his new wife and the material seemed to make sense to him.
And that’s all there is to this story. No quotes. No explanation of when or where Brewer made this claim. And no explanation of how it fits with the idea that Brewer’s wife Kiyomi was raised to believe in the inferiority of other races from an early age.
In fact, this story doesn’t fit well with the other document Buzzfeed published, a sentencing memo produced by prosecutors in the case. That document includes a 99-page FBI interview transcript in which several agents arrest Brewer and question him at length about the vandalism and what led up to it. Brewer was informed during the interview that lying to the FBI was an additional crime and that he should tell them the whole truth. During that interview, Brewer mentioned his wife Kiyomi spending time on two apps, Discord and Telegram, where she chatted frequently with other white supremacists including someone called “Asbestos Peter.” He was the person who allegedly convinced them to carry out the synagogue attack. In fact, he wanted them to burn the place down but they were afraid and wound up spray painting a concrete wall behind a dumpster instead. Nowhere in the 99-page transcript does Brewer say anything about Fox News, Breitbart or Ben Shapiro being part of Kiyomi’s radicalization.
Similarly, Rabbi Sendrow was present for Brewer’s sentencing hearing and says Brewer’s attorney never once mentioned any of these things as helping radicalize him. “We sat through a five-hour sentencing hearing. Ben Shapiro’s name was never mentioned,” Sendrow said. He continued, “In fact the attempt was, by the defense attorney for Mr. Brewer, to paint him as a totally decent person who had been radicalized by his wife. By his wife. Only by his wife. The rest of this stuff, I guess he came up with it too late after the sentencing hearing.”
Here’s the interview with Rabbi Sendrow. I’ve got this cued up to the portion where they start discussing the allegation against Ben Shapiro.
Update: Mediaite notes that Buzzfeed has had some factual problems with their tweets promoting this story. Their first tweet read, “A man who vandalized a synagogue with Nazi symbols told federal agents his road to radicalization included meeting with the far-right group Identity Evropa and reading Ben Shapiro, Breitbart News, and the Nazi propaganda site Stormfront.” That was false on two counts. First, as noted above, Brewer’s attorney claimed it was his wife Kiyomi reading those site. Second, Brewer didn’t make the claim to prosecutors but (apparently) to his attorney.
Buzzfeed deleted the tweet and published a substitute: “We have deleted this tweet because it was inaccurate: the man told prosecutors his road to radicalization included his wife reading Ben Shapiro, Breitbart News, and the Nazi propaganda site Stormfront.” That fixes the problem of who was radicalized but is still in error because it doesn’t appear that Brewer ever told prosecutors (or the FBI) about this, he told his own defense attorney. At least, his attorney is the only person to mention it.