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Press Release

Synagogue attacker gets three years in federal prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Indiana
Morgan County man convicted on federal hate crime charges

INDIANAPOLIS - United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced that Nolan Brewer, 21, of Eminence, Indiana, was sentenced in federal court yesterday evening to three years in prison for conspiring to violate the civil rights of Congregation Shaarey Tefilla, a Jewish synagogue in Carmel, Indiana. Brewer pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime before U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, who imposed the prison sentence.

“Our nation was founded on the right of all people to practice their faith free of threats and violence,” said Minkler. “Sadly, over the past couple of years, our country has seen an increase in hate crimes targeting houses of worship, particularly against those of the Jewish faith. This case was one of them. The sentence handed down yesterday sends a clear message that society cannot, and will not, tolerate those who terrorize others for their religious beliefs.”

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Carmel Police Department. 

“Crimes such as this – fueled by hatred towards individuals based simply on their faith – will not be tolerated by the FBI and our law enforcement partners,” said Grant Mendenhall, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division. “This sentence demonstrates our continued commitment to the FBI’s core mission - to protect our communities and to protect the rights of all Americans.”

Over the course of a five-hour court hearing, the judge heard testimony and evidence about Brewer’s beliefs in Nazism and how he acted on those beliefs to plan and carry out the July 28, 2018 attack on the Carmel synagogue. The evidence showed that the attack was not a spur-of-the-moment childhood prank. As Brewer had told the FBI, he and his wife, a minor, with whom he conspired to carry out the attack, targeted the synagogue because it was “full of ethnic Jews.”  The synagogue was located over 50 miles from Brewer’s home. 

The day before, Brewer and his wife went to Walmart to purchase supplies for the attack.  Video surveillance showed them buying red and black spray paint, Gatorade bottles, aluminum foil, Drano cleaner, rubber gloves, Styrofoam plates, and bandanas. With the spray paint, they intended to, and did, paint large Nazi symbols on synagogue property. Brewer and his wife painted two red and black Nazi flags, each measuring several feet, which were flanked by two iron crosses, which were other symbols of Hitler’s Nazi regime.

With the Gatorade bottles, aluminum foil, and Drano, they planned to create and detonate “Drano bombs,” which were overpressure explosive devices. A mixture of Drano and aluminum foil can cause the release of gas, which in a sealed container such as a Gatorade bottle, can build until the point of an overpressure explosion.

In addition to the items at Walmart, the evidence, including text messages, showed that Brewer and his wife filled a can of gasoline in preparation for the attack. They then combined it with the Styrofoam plates to concoct what Brewer referred to as homemade “napalm.” The Styrofoam melted in the gasoline to create a viscous, flammable mixture.

They brought all of these supplies with them in the early morning hours of July 28, 2018.  They parked over one mile away from the synagogue to avoid detection. They then walked the rest of the way, carrying in a backpack and by hand the spray paint, Drano bombs, and homemade napalm. They also brought with them pieces of spark plug casing, which they believed could shatter windows.

They originally intended to break into the synagogue and set fire to it. Brewer said as much during an interview with the FBI when he was interviewed, explaining that their original plan was to break in, place the burning napalm on top of the Drano bombs, and let the explosion spread the fire throughout the synagogue. Additionally, at the sentencing hearing, multiple witnesses testified that Brewer talked to them about having planned to break in. One witness testified that Brewer told him they had planned to burn a symbol that Brewer had drawn, which contained two swastikas, into the floor of the synagogue.

Ultimately, Brewer and his wife did not break into the synagogue. A witness testified that Brewer told her they got spooked by the synagogue’s security cameras and lights after they arrived.  So instead they sent their message on the walls of an external enclosure on the property by spray painting Nazi symbols and burning the ground with the homemade napalm.

The FBI arrested Brewer just over two weeks after the attack. Brewer still had the supplies for the attack in the trunk of his car. The judge saw photos of the supplies in the trunk and heard testimony that Brewer’s co-conspirator wife had told a friend, with Brewer present, that they wanted to burn down the rabbi’s house and were looking for other targets. 

Throughout the sentencing hearing, the judge heard evidence of the motivation behind Brewer’s hate crime. In an interview with the FBI, Brewer stated that his motivation was to generate “news headlines” and “spark more radicalism,” by showing other extremist groups that “people are actually doing things” so “maybe we can have a voice.”

Multiple co-workers from Brewer’s two jobs testified that, in the months leading up to the attack, he openly identified with Nazism and white supremacy at work. He wore a swastika necklace, spoke of his admiration for Adolf Hitler, and made racist and anti-Semitic remarks.  One witness said that Brewer once told him that the Nazis were justified in doing what they did to the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Another witness, who was Brewer’s supervisor at one job, testified that Brewer attempted to recruit other workers to his “movement.” The witness testified that he heard complaints from over a dozen other workers who felt uncomfortable about Brewer espousing Nazism on the jobsite. 

After the synagogue attack, Brewer bragged to co-workers and a friend about what he had done. Multiple witnesses testified that Brewer was proud when he showed them photos on his cell phone that he took of the Nazi flags and napalm fire on the night of the attack. The judge also heard Brewer himself expressing satisfaction in the news coverage of the attack from text messages on Brewer’s cell phone, as well as in a covertly recorded conversation with an FBI cooperating witness. 

In addition to the prison sentence, the judge also imposed a $1,000 fine and ordered Brewer to repay the synagogue $700 for the physical damage he caused.     

In October 2017, United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced a Strategic Plan designed to shape and strengthen the District’s response to its most significant public safety challenges. This prosecution demonstrates the Office’s firm commitment to prosecuting criminal violations of civil rights laws and partnering with state and local law enforcement to do so. See United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Indiana Strategic Plan  7.1-7.2

Updated May 22, 2019