Alleged murderer admits to synagogue arsons

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 9 (JTA) — A man charged with killing a gay couple in California has admitted to planning the arson attacks on three northern California synagogues last summer and to personally torching the largest one.

Benjamin Matthew Williams told reporters during a jailhouse interview that as many as eight other white supremacists joined in the June 18 arson spree in the Sacramento area.

Williams, 31, and his brother, James Tyler Williams, 29, are being held in a Northern California jail on first-degree murder charges in the slaying of a gay couple.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for the two men and stated earlier that they will buttress their case for capital punishment by citing the brothers’ role in the arson attacks.

As if to strengthen the case against him, the older brother told two Sacramento Bee reporters Jan. 6 that the “success” of the firebombings emboldened him to slay the gay couple two weeks later in what he termed “homocides.”

Williams said that four months before the synagogue attacks he attended a “Preparedness Expo” in Sacramento. To attract the attention of other racists, he said, he carried a flier, published by the anti-Semitic National Alliance, pinned to his backpack, which declared, “The White Race, The Earth’s Most Endangered Species.”

The ploy worked when a man approached him and invited Williams to join his organization, which Williams declined to identify.

“To get into the organization, you had to get involved in a group activity to do something of significance for the movement,” Williams said, adding that this is how the plan for the synagogue attacks evolved.

Williams said he personally assembled the gasoline and oil firebombs, which he earlier described as “Jewish cocktails,” for all three attacks, and then broke into Congregation B’nai Israel where he set the library ablaze.

“I was real nervous,” Williams admitted, explaining that he was also exhilarated.

“I knew I was crossing the Rubicon,” he said. “It was the cusp of my life where I was putting faith in my beliefs.”

At the same time, according to Williams, two other teams went to work setting fire to Congregation Beth Shalom and the Kenesset Israel Torah Center.

Federal charges are expected to be filed shortly against the Williams brothers in the arson attacks.

But federal investigators, who are heading the probe into the synagogue fires as likely hate crimes, expressed skepticism about Williams’ claim.

“The statements of a potential criminal defendant should always be viewed cautiously and in light of the personal and political views of the speaker,” said Jim Maddock, the special agent in charge of the Sacramento FBI office.

Authorities believe the two brothers were also involved in setting fire to a Sacramento building housing an abortion clinic. Williams refused to discuss this charge.

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