The suspect in the deadly shooting at a southern California synagogue is also being investigated for links to an arson attack on a nearby mosque last month.
On Saturday morning, a gunman entered the Chabad of Poway with an assault rifle and opened fire — killing one and injuring three others, including the rabbi. Saturday was the last day of Passover, a major holiday celebrating Jewish freedom.
The suspect was later identified as John Earnest, a 19-year-old man from San Diego. Earnest fled the scene after the shooting but later called 911 to say he was involved and give his location, according to San Diego Chief of Police David Nisleit.
In an apparent manifesto posted online, someone identifying as Earnest refers to planning an attack on Jewish people — without directly mentioning Poway or the Chabad — and also refers to other attacks on places of worship. The writer mentions the October attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which an armed shooter killed 11 people and injured six others in what is said to be the deadliest attack on Jews on U.S. soil. The gunman entered Tree of Life yelling, “All Jews must die.”
The writer also claims to have set the Escondido mosque on fire after being inspired by the gunman who killed nearly 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month. The Christchurch suspect’s manifesto recites the 14 words, a white supremacist slogan that states, “We must secure an existence for our people and a future for white children.”
The Islamic Center of Escondido, which is less than nine miles away from Poway’s Chabad, was lit on fire before dawn on March 24, but no one was injured.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore would not comment on the motive behind the Saturday shooting, but did confirm that detectives are looking into whether the suspect is linked to the attack at the Escondido mosque as well.
There have been an uptick in attacks on places of worship — and religious minorities — in recent weeks. On Easter Sunday, suicide bombings at several churches in Sri Lanka killed more than 250 people. A few weeks earlier, four black churches in Louisiana were burned in less than two weeks. And in mid-March, the Christchurch mosque shootings took place.
Anti-Semitism, too, has been on the rise in the United States. The FBI reported that along with black Americans, there was a surge in hate crimes against Jewish Americans in 2017. Hate crimes in general increased for the third straight year, according to the FBI, and crimes against Jewish Americans increased by 37%.
Jewish and Muslim activists have long pointed out that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are linked — and that any solution to fighting such hatred must be intersectional.
Jewish and Muslim communities have also assisted each other in the face of increasing attacks. After the Christchurch mosque shootings, Jewish groups in Pittsburgh raised money to “help people in need.” After the Tree of Life shooting, Muslim groups raised money to help injured victims and families who lost loved ones. The two groups have offered each aid in other instances as well — like when a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, was desecrated shortly after Trump came into office and when a mosque in Tampa, Florida, was set on fire a few days later. Also in 2017, Jewish leaders in Victoria, Texas, handed over the keys to their synagogue after a nearby mosque was burned down.