Judge sentences Congregation Beth Israel arsonist to 10 years in prison
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.
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."
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."