This article originally appeared on VICE US.
A 21-year-old man from Indiana said that his road to radicalization began when his wife fed him articles by Fox News, Breitbart, and right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro — and ended when he drove 50 miles across the state to paint huge swastikas on a synagogue and scorch its grounds.
Nolan Brewer, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the civil rights of the Shaarey Tefilla Congregation in Carmel, Indiana, was sentenced to three years in federal prison earlier this month. But documents filed by his lawyers offer some clues as to how Brewer went from a “fastidious rule follower” and “kind-hearted” young man to someone who admired Hitler and wore Nazi paraphernalia.
In the early hours of June 28, 2018, Brewer and his wife, Kiyomi (who was 17 at the time), drove from their home in Eminence to the Shaarey Tefilla congregation with explosive devices, napalm, and spray paint. Prosecutors said the couple had originally plotted to firebomb the synagogue but couldn’t break in. Instead, they painted two huge swastikas and two iron crosses on the property and burned the grounds with napalm.
Prosecutors called the crimes “yet another reminder of the genocide the Jewish people suffered during the Holocaust.”
Brewer’s lawyer, Samuel Ansell, conceded that he bought into the propaganda “to please his new wife” but that Kiyomi was the instigator of the crime. She had a troubled upbringing, Ansell said, and was raised “in an unhealthy environment and was taught to consider other races as inferior.”
After Kiyomi moved in with Brewer and his parents, she started spending several hours a day hanging out in white supremacist and radical right-wing forums on Discord, a server popular with gamers and the far right.
“Kiyomi found pseudo-academic propaganda that purported to prove her white supremacist beliefs,” Ansell wrote. “Every evening, Kiyomi would share her views with Nolan and ask him to read articles she had found.”
But Kiyomi didn’t start with the hardcore stuff right away.
“She began with right-wing yet mainstream views such as those presented on Fox,” Ansell said. “She then moved on to writings by Ben Shapiro and articles on Breitbart which bridged the gap to the notorious white supremacist and anti-Semitic propaganda site Stormfront.”
Shapiro did not respond to a request for comment, but his name has come up in conjunction with acts of far-right extremism in the past. Prosecutors in Canada said a man who killed six people at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017 regularly checked the Twitter feeds of mainstream conservative figures including President Donald Trump, Shapiro, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Ansell, who unsuccessfully sought a lighter sentence for his client, said that Nolan’s interview with the FBI suggested that his belief in Nazism was “intellectually-based rather than emotionally-based” and “born of pseudo-academic misinformation.”
“It is clear that he has adopted beliefs based on “alt-right” or white nationalist propaganda,” Ansell wrote.
Brewer told the FBI that he and Kiyomi were communicating online with a Romanian “Identitarian” — a sanitized term for white nationalist — who called himself “Asbestos Peter.” Brewer said he sent Peter photos of the vandalism, at his request. He said he wanted to publish them online to inspire similar acts.
“It was mainly trying to rile up — rally up people,” Brewer told the FBI. “Just to see if something could come of it and people would become more active.”
Brewer also told the FBI that the attack on the synagogue was Peter's idea — but prosecutors said they found text messages between Brewer and Kiyomi suggesting the plan was in the works before they started chatting online to Peter.
Brewer’s sentencing comes alongside a series of acts of vandalism targeting houses of worship, including synagogues. Last week, Chicago police found molotov cocktails outside a synagogue, and police in Massachusetts said three fires at Jewish centers were “intentionally set.”
Just last month, a shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, also left one dead, seven months after a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh left 11 dead.
Cover image: Screenshot via court documents