Colorado Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Hate Crime and Explosives Charges for Plotting to Blow up Synagogue

The Justice Department announced that Richard Holzer, 28, pleaded guilty today to federal hate crime and explosives charges for plotting to blow up the Temple Emanuel Synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado.

Holzer pleaded guilty to intentionally attempting to obstruct persons in the enjoyment of their free exercise of religious beliefs, through force and the attempted use of explosives and fire, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 247, and with attempting to maliciously damage and destroy, by means of fire and explosives, a building used in interstate commerce, in violation of Title 18 U.S. Code, Section 844(i).

“The defendant attempted to bomb the Temple Emanuel Synagogue to drive people of Jewish faith out of his community,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “Violence motivated by religious intolerance strikes at the heart of a free society, and the Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute these violent acts of hate.”

“This is the most important work that we can do – protecting our communities by stopping an attack before it occurred,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn for the District of Colorado. “The people of Pueblo and the State of Colorado are safer as a result of today’s guilty plea and the outstanding work of prosecutors and the FBI.”

“Today Richard Holzer pled guilty for plotting to harm members of a religious organization in Pueblo, Colorado,” said FBI Denver Special Agent Charge Michael Schneider. “We remain committed to working with our partners to protect Colorado’s citizens from those who plan to commit acts of violence, including that which constitutes a hate crime or domestic terrorism, and hold those individuals accountable. We would like to thank the Southern Colorado Joint Terrorism Task Force, Pueblo Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their dedication and perseverance in this investigation.”

In the plea agreement, Holzer admitted that he planned to destroy Temple Emanuel, a synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado, that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Holzer, who self-identifies as a Neo-Nazi and a white supremacist, used social media accounts to promote white supremacy ideology and acts of violence and visited Temple Emanuel to observe Jewish congregants. After one such visit, Holzer told undercover FBI agents that he wanted to do something that would tell Jewish people in the community that they are not welcome in Pueblo, and they should leave or they will die. Holzer sent an undercover FBI agent pictures of himself holding automatic weapons and said he was “getting ready for RAHOWA,” shorthand for a racial holy war.    

During a meeting with undercover agents to discuss his plans, Holzer repeatedly expressed his hatred of Jewish people and suggested using explosive devices to destroy the Synagogue. Holzer told the undercover agents that he wanted to “get that place off the map.” Holzer further admitted that he coordinated with the undercover agents to obtain explosives, including pipe bombs.

On the evening of Nov. 1, 2019, Holzer met with undercover agents, who provided Holzer with inert explosive devices that had been fabricated by the FBI, including two pipe bombs and 14 sticks of dynamite. Before taking custody of the explosives, Holzer removed a copy of “Mein Kampf” from his bag and told the undercover agents that “this is a move for our race.” Holzer admitted that he planned to detonate the explosives several hours later, in the early hours of Saturday morning, Nov. 2, 2019. The actions Holzer admitted in the plea agreement meet the federal definition of domestic terrorism, as they involved criminal acts dangerous to human life that were intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.

Sentencing is set for Jan. 20, 2021 before U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore. Holzer faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the hate crime charge and 20 years for the explosives charge, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release.   

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Martinez and Trial Attorney Michael J. Songer of the Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case on behalf of the government. The FBI conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Pueblo Police Department and Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office.

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The Department of Homeland Security has helped secure the nation's critical infrastructure through developing security policy and coordinating security initiatives, among other efforts. Other agencies have established initiatives to gather intelligence and share actual or possible cyberattack information. Multiple agencies have mechanisms in place to assist in responding to cyberattacks, and law enforcement components, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are responsible for investigating them. The White House's September 2018 National Cyber Strategy and the NSC's accompanying June 2019 Implementation Plan detail the executive branch's approach to managing the nation's cybersecurity. When evaluated together, these documents addressed several of the desirable characteristics of national strategies, but lacked certain key elements for addressing others. National Cyber Strategy and Implementation Plan are Missing Desirable Characteristics of a National Strategy Characteristic Cyber Strategy and Plan Coverage of Issue Purpose, scope, and methodology Addressed Organizational roles, responsibilities, and coordination Addressed Integration and implementation Addressed Problem definition and risk assessment Did not fully address Goals, subordinate objectives, activities, and performance measures Did not fully address Resources, investments, and risk management Did not fully address Source: GAO analysis of 2018 National Cyber Strategy and 2019 Implementation Plan . | GAO-20-629 For example, the Implementation Plan details 191 activities that federal entities are to undertake to execute the priority actions outlined in the National Cyber Strategy. These activities are assigned a level, or tier, based on the coordination efforts required to execute the activity and the extent to which NSC staff is expected to be involved. Thirty-five of these activities are designated as the highest level (tier 1), and are coordinated by a functional entity within the NSC . Ten entities are assigned to lead or co-lead these critical activities while also tasked to lead or co-lead lower tier activities. Leadership Roles for Federal Entities Assigned as Leads or Co-Leads for National Cyber Strategy Implementation Plan Activities Entity Tier 1 Activities Tier 2 Activities Tier 3 Activities National Security Council 15 7 3 Department of Homeland Security 14 19 15 Office of Management and Budget 7 6 5 Department of Commerce 5 9 35 Department of State 2 5 11 Department of Defense 1 6 17 Department of Justice 1 10 5 Department of Transportation 1 0 5 Executive Office of the President 1 0 0 General Services Administration 1 2 1 Source: GAO analysis of 2018 National Cyber Strategy and 2019 Implementation Plan . | GAO-20-629 Although the Implementation Plan defined the entities responsible for leading each of the activities; it did not include goals and timelines for 46 of the activities or identify the resources needed to execute 160 activities. Additionally, discussion of risk in the National Cyber Strategy and Implementation Plan was not based on an analysis of threats and vulnerabilities. Further, the documents did not specify a process for monitoring agency progress in executing Implementation Plan activities. Instead, NSC staff stated that they performed periodic check-ins with responsible entities, but did not provide an explanation or definition of specific level of NSC staff involvement for each of the three tier designations. Without a consistent approach to engaging with responsible entities and a comprehensive understanding of what is needed to implement all 191 activities, the NSC will face challenges in ensuring that the National Cyber Strategy is efficiently executed. GAO and others have reported on the urgency and necessity of clearly defining a central leadership role in order to coordinate the government's efforts to overcome the nation's cyber-related threats and challenges. The White House identified the NSC staff as responsible for coordinating the implementation of the National Cyber Strategy . However, in light of the elimination of the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator position in May 2018, it remains unclear which official ultimately maintains responsibility for not only coordinating execution of the Implementation Plan , but also holding federal agencies accountable once activities are implemented. NSC staff stated responsibility for duties previously attributed to the White House Cyber Coordinator were passed to the senior director of NSC's Cyber directorate; however, the staff did not provide a description of what those responsibilities include. NSC staff also stated that federal entities are ultimately responsible for determining the status of the activities that they lead or support and for communicating implementation status to relevant NSC staff. However, without a clear central leader to coordinate activities, as well as a process for monitoring performance of the Implementation Plan activities, the White House cannot ensure that entities are effectively executing their assigned activities intended to support the nation's cybersecurity strategy and ultimately overcome this urgent challenge. Increasingly sophisticated cyber threats have underscored the need to manage and bolster the cybersecurity of key government systems and the nation's cybersecurity. The risks to these systems are increasing as security threats evolve and become more sophisticated. GAO first designated information security as a government-wide high-risk area in 1997. This was expanded to include protecting cyber critical infrastructure in 2003 and protecting the privacy of personally identifiable information in 2015. In 2018, GAO noted that the need to establish a national cybersecurity strategy with effective oversight was a major challenge facing the federal government. GAO was requested to review efforts to protect the nation's cyber critical infrastructure. The objectives of this report were to (1) describe roles and responsibilities of federal entities tasked with supporting national cybersecurity, and (2) determine the extent to which the executive branch has developed a national strategy and a plan to manage its implementation. To do so, GAO identified 23 federal entities responsible for enhancing the nation's cybersecurity. Specifically, GAO selected 13 federal agencies based on their specialized or support functions regarding critical infrastructure security and resilience, and 10 additional entities based on analysis of its prior reviews of national cybersecurity, relevant executive policy, and national strategy documents. GAO also analyzed the National Cyber Strategy and Implementation Plan to determine if they aligned with the desirable characteristics of a national strategy. GAO is making one matter for congressional consideration, that Congress should consider legislation to designate a leadership position in the White House with the commensurate authority to implement and encourage action in support of the nation's cybersecurity. GAO is also making one recommendation to the National Security Council to work with relevant federal entities to update cybersecurity strategy documents to include goals, performance measures, and resource information, among other things. The National Security Council neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or marinosn@gao.gov.
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