White supremacist arrested in alleged plot to blow up Pueblo synagogue; arrest affidavit attached

Published: Nov. 4, 2019 at 12:45 PM MST
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A terror plot against Colorado's second-oldest synagogue was thwarted by the FBI just hours before it was set to happen.

The Colorado synagogue that was the target of an alleged bombing plot plans to add surveillance cameras to enhance its already tight security.

The president of Temple Emanuel's board of directors, Michael Atlas-Acuña, said Tuesday that the cameras will help keep watch on activity outside the synagogue in Pueblo.

Authorities say they arrested the man behind the alleged plot on Friday, a day before the planned bombing.

"We thwarted an imminent threat to our community," said Special Agent Dean Phillips with the FBI during a news conference Monday to announce the arrest and allegations against 27-year-old Richard Holzer.

The FBI started investigating Holzer in late September after receiving a tip from the public -- a tip they say was a crucial part of the investigation.

"FBI agents became aware of racist, anti-Semitic and threatening statements made by Mr. Holzer on social media," said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.

Authorities say Holzer repeatedly expressed hatred of Jewish people and his support for holy war and appeared ready to take his hate beyond just words.

"After reviewing multiple social media posts and utilizing a number of investigative techniques, we determined that Mr. Holzer did pose a threat to our Jewish community; specifically, we learned that he appeared to be planning to destroy the Temple Emanuel synagogue in Pueblo," Phillips said.

An agent initiated contact with Holzer on Facebook on Sept. 28, posing as a white supremacist.

The FBI says he went to the temple property several times to check it out before he obtained two fake pipe bombs and 14 sticks of phony dynamite from undercover agents. Agents arrested the 27-year-old on Nov. 1 when they say he met with undercover officers to gather the "explosives."

A 13-page complaint against Holzer outlined that final meeting:

"The evening of Nov. 1, 2019, [undercover agent one] picked Holzer up and drove him to the motel, where UC-2 and UC-3 [undercover agents two and three] were waiting. During the drive, Holzer was animated and displayed a Nazi armband. When they arrived at the motel, Holzer addressed the UCs. 'I wanted to thank each and every one of you for your time here tonight. I want to thank you for your utmost effort. Like, this is a move for our race. One of these days, we're probably gonna do something where one of us, couple of us even, probably won't come back.' Holzer removed several items from a backpack he was carrying, including a knife, a mask, and a copy of 'Mein Kampf.' UC-2 showed Holzer two pipe bombs and two bundles each containing seven sticks of dynamite. Holzer examined the explosives and declared, 'This is absolutely gorgeous.' Holzer then explained that they should carry out the attack at 2:30 or 3 in the morning to avoid police."

After he was arrested, authorities said Holzer was untroubled that people could have died.

"Mr. Holzer stated that he was not concerned about any loss of life from the attack because such victims would be Jews," Dunn said.

Worshipers at Temple Emanuel say they never imagined a scenario like this playing out in Pueblo but are grateful to law enforcement for stopping it.

"They caught this before it became a deadly situation. It's devastating, which is another 'D' word, but it's not deadly. I'll take devastating any day," said Ellyn Anne Geisel with Temple Emanuel.

Temple Emanuel Board President Michael Atlas-Acuna concurred.

"Actually kinda see this as a good day because he got caught. He wasn't able to do what he wanted to do or intended to do, and so it's really not a bad day, it's a good day."

Both said Holzer was not representative of Pueblo as a whole.

"My feeling is that I don't feel like our synagogue is in any more danger because we live in a community who knows were here and respects us and we've been here for 119 years. That's how long the synagogue has been in place and so we're doing well," Atlas-Acuna said.

"Our little temple has been extremely supportive of all the other, not just tiny temples, but the church in Charleston. This is the same thing. Somebody gets it in their head that you should die and they're going to make it happen," Geisel said.

Roommate Gilbert Sintas told 11 News he met Holzer at a store in Pueblo a few months ago and figured he'd help him out with a place to stay. Sintas says he had no idea the FBI would be showing up at his doorstep because of it.

"Friday about 10 o’clock at night the FBI showed up in front of my house with the big truck and probably about 10 or 12 FBI agents. ... When they said FBI I thought someone was playing a practical joke," Sintas said.

Agents went straight to the room Holzer shared with Sintas' preteen son, clearing it of all of Holzer's belongings including Nazi emblems, patches and flags.

Sintas said he had no idea what Holzer allegedly had planned.

"No, I really didn't. I didn't. It grieves my heart because this happened in my house. My own castle where I feel I'm safe. Now I don't feel like I'm safe in my own house," Sintas said.

He said Holzer did not use his real name, going by "Phillip" in front of Sintas' family. Sintas says they did notice some warning signs.

"He bought all his stuff online. All his Satanic stuff, swastikas and flags online because they came mailed here."

Sintas told 11 News he never believed his roommate would act on anything.

"Had I known that this guy meant that he was for real, I would have turned him in."

And said he's grieved that he unwittingly put his family in danger.

"I feel hurt for the pain it could have inflicted on my family because of my generosity. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Holzer now faces up to 20 years in prison.