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Judge sentences Congregation Beth Israel arsonist to 10 years in prison

Two years after the attempted 2021 arson, the doors at Congregation Beth Israel are charred and black with caution tape tied to the door handles.
Renee Dominguez
Two years later, doors at Congregation Beth Israel still bear the scars from the attempted 2021 arson. Franklin Sechriest was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Wednesday.

Franklin Sechriest, the San Marcos man who admittedly tried to burn down an Austin synagogue in 2021, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison Wednesday.

Sechriest, 20, pleaded guilty to hate crime and arson charges in April. The Halloween 2021 fire caused more than $100,000 in initial damages to Congregation Beth Israel.

Federal prosecutors argued the then-18-year-old planned the antisemitic attack and even tested out firebombs ahead of the fire that scorched the synagogue's doors and nearly spread to the sanctuary.

The FBI found he embraced neo-Nazi ideology and that he’d staked out the sanctuary before the incident.

After the sentencing, federal prosecutors called the incident “depraved” and said Sechriest is being held accountable for the attempted arson.

"This hate-filled act of violence against a house of worship was an attempt to sow fear in the Jewish community and was intended to intimidate its congregants," Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general with the DOJ's Civil Rights Unit, said. "Attacks targeting Jewish people and arsons aimed at desecrating synagogues have no place in our society today, and the Justice Department will continue to aggressively prosecute antisemitic violence.”

Jake Cohen, executive director of Congregation Beth Israel, told KUT the charred doors serve as a reminder that antisemitism is ever-present. But he said people like Sechriest are dwarfed by the majority of Austinites who welcome and support the Jewish community.
“He attempted to harm us and to deter us from being open anymore, and that's not who we are," Cohen said. "We will continue to welcome community into our space. We will continue to be a space that is central to the city of Austin that is joyful, diverse, inclusive and always open because that's who we are."

The attack occurred in a year that saw a record number of antisemitic incidents in Austin. Hateful demonstrations and attacks against Jewish Texans continue to rise.

Cohen said the community is still facing threats and harassment from hate groups, including targeted robocalls by the Ku Klux Klan within the last few weeks.

"I've had parents who are afraid to send their kids ... to school," he said. "So the fear and the hate, it reverberates today. The fear that we have at CBI — that every Jewish community has — we feel it doubly. We know what that fear and that hate looks like. We know what that pain is, and ... we have not let it stop us — and we will not let it stop us."

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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