In almost every horrid act of depravity up to and including terrorism, it’s almost predictable that someone innocently but naively says, ‘these things don’t happen here.’ But, as is confirmed following each incident that challenges our reason and sensibility, they do. Like water, bigotry and hatred seek their own level. And in 21st Century America, the current of these two seemingly infinite rivers flows fast, wide and, very nearly, right through Pueblo.
Had things gone the way he hoped, federal authorities would have been sifting through rubble at Pueblo’s historic Temple Emanuel, the planned target of accused bombing suspect Richard Holzer. Instead, undercover agents---alerted by Holzer’s reckless antisemitic and violent social media posts---tricked the 27-year-old grocery store worker into believing they, too, were soldiers in this war of hate. They supplied him with bogus explosives, including decoy pipe bombs and faux dynamite for his mission.
As Holzer sat in a federal jail cell in Denver last Friday night, members of Temple Emanuel and an overflow crowd of Puebloans---there to show support and solidarity---were filling the 119-year-old house of worship for Shabbat services. All 180 seats were filled, as was every other space in Colorado’s second oldest Jewish temple as people packed together for a special Friday night. There was no fire code enforcement this night. Outside, another 150 stood in darkness on Grand Avenue, some holding candles, others holding signs celebrating solidarity and the evening.
“I would not be anywhere else but here tonight,” said Pueblo Police Chief Troy Davenport. The comment drew an almost immediate standing ovation. Davenport’s officers worked with the FBI to avoid the kind of tragedy that hit Pittsburgh and San Diego Jewish houses of worship. This was, indeed, a night like no other for the spiritual epicenter of Pueblo’s small but historic Jewish population.
Davenport prefaced his comments with a proud declaration that he, like it, was a son of Pueblo and “East Eagle,” a local high school. He told the crowd that he first got word in September that Temple Emanuel was a target for a terrorist attack. Federal authorities who courted the suspect said in meetings with Holzer that he freely and openly spewed anti-Jewish hatred. “I wish the Holocaust really did happen,” was one of his Facebook posts, they said. His hatred, he said, carried “a passion.”
Authorities say Holzer had several plans to wreak havoc on the temple, including torching the building with Molotov cocktails or poisoning its water. In conversations with federal agents, Holzer proclaimed a desire to “vandalize the place beyond repair.”
They also say he shared videos of himself scouting the building and posting photographs dressed in the uniform of “white supremacy.” Agents say he carried with him a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” to one of their meetings.
District Attorney Jeff Chostner, also a Pueblo native and East High graduate, told the crowd, a mixture of young and old, men and women, white, Latino and African American, that it, unlike what people like Holzer would prefer, “was the face of America.” He peppered his comments with the words of President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address, pleading for everyone to listen to “their better angels,” as they make their everyday choices and to put the “full face of hatred back in the box it came from.”
The 27-year-old Holzer who moved to Pueblo from California faces up to twenty years in prison if convicted. He was arraigned last week on a charge of attempting to obstruct people from exercising their religion through force and attempted use of explosives and fire.
Friday night’s service came on the eve of the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. It was in 1938 when Nazis throughout Germany and Austria shattered windows of Jewish homes, schools and merchants and killed as many as 100 Jews. Authorities also arrested more than 30,000 Jewish men and sent them to concentration camps.
While Pueblo averted disaster, it easily could have been bad. It marks the 13th planned attack since Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life shooting, a mass killing in which eleven people died and another seven were wounded.