Synagogue arson suspects kept ‘hit list’ of Sacramento-area Jews

LOS ANGELES, July 12 — Two men linked to last month’s arson attacks on three Sacramento synagogues kept a possible “hit list” of 32 Sacramento-area residents, most of them Jewish, an investigator said. The list was found during a search of the home of two brothers arrested as suspects in the killing of a gay couple. The list includes officials of the Sacramento synagogues and congregation members who were quoted in the media after the attacks. Those listed were briefed Friday by James Maddock, the FBI special agent in charge of the arson investigation. They were told not to divulge their names to the media and were promised added security. In addition to the murders and arsons, the men may have connections to the white supremacist World Church of the Creator, a member of whom went on a shooting rampage in the Midwest during the July 4 weekend, killing two people and wounding six others. According to reports in the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times, Maddock said during the briefing that “we are virtually certain” that the two arrested brothers are connected with the arson attacks. The brothers, Benjamin Matthew Williams, 31, and James Tyler Williams, 29, were apprehended last week in connection with the shooting deaths of Gary Matson, 50, and Winfield Mowder, 40. The victims, who were longtime companions, and the Williams brothers lived near Redding, a town in rural northern California. The names of several prominent Redding Jews were included on the “hit list” and law enforcement officials have advised the town’s only synagogue, Temple Beth Israel, to beef up security. Murder charges against the Williams brothers are expected to be filed shortly, investigators said. At this point, they have been charged with possession of stolen property, based on a purchase they made with the credit card belonging to one of the slain men. They are being held in jail on $150,000 bail each. Neighbors described former high school honor students Matthew and Tyler Williams, who go by their middle names, as fervently religious “Bible- thumpers.” During the search of the brothers’ home, investigators found a torn piece of paper that matched the tear on a piece discovered after the Sacramento arson at Congregation B’nai Israel, one of the three targeted synagogues. Also discovered at the home were a large cache of semi-automatic weapons and hate literature, including pamphlets from the World Church of the Creator. The Illinois-based racist group, which has several chapters in northern California, has been under close scrutiny since the arson attacks, during which the perpetrators left fliers blaming the “International Jew World Order” and the “International Jewsmedia” for the war in Kosovo. The scrutiny has intensified since the shooting rampage by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a former member of the white supremacist group. The FBI’s Maddock said in Sacramento that the California investigations are being coordinated with other federal agents across the country. The probe may extend to a possible “widespread hate-crime conspiracy,” the Sacramento Bee reported. In an extensive report, the Anti-Defamation League has described the World Church of the Creator as one of the country’s fastest-growing and most dangerous hate groups. ADL officials have petitioned U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for a full field investigation of the church. Meanwhile in Sacramento, moral and financial help continues to arrive from across the country to the three arson-struck synagogues, Congregation B’nai Israel and Congregation Beth Shalom, both Reform, and the Orthodox Kenesset Israel Torah Center.

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