A man charged with hate crimes for a machete attack on Hasidic Jews at a Hanukkah party in New York is not a terrorist but rather a victim of mental illness and America’s failures, according to family friends.
Grafton Thomas, 38, was charged Sunday morning with five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary for allegedly breaking into a rabbi’s home in Monsey and going on a stabbing spree the previous night. On Monday, federal prosecutors announced hate crime charges against him.
According to the federal complaint, investigators recovered journals from Thomas’ home in Greenwood Lake, New York, that contained anti-Semitic sentiments, including references to Hitler and “Nazi Culture” “on the same page as drawings of a Star of David and a Swastika.”
The day of the machete attack, Thomas’ phone was allegedly used to access an article headlined: “New York City Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods After Possible Anti-Semitic Attacks. Here’s What To Know.” He earlier in the month searched “Why did Hitler hate the Jews” and for Jewish synagogues and companies, the complaint said.
However, Thomas’ pastor of 10 years, Reverend Wendy Paige of Hudson Highlands Cooperative Parish told reporters that he is “not a violent person.” Rather, she said, he had simply been let down by “U.S. systems.”
“Grafton is not a terrorist, he is a man who has mental illness in America and the systems that be have not served him well,” Paige said, according to the New York Post. “I have been his pastor for a long time and I have seen him, he is not a violent person, he is a confused person.”
Paige, who spoke down the block from Thomas’ home, where he lives with his mother, seemed to be responding to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling the attack an “act of domestic terrorism” during a visit to Monsey on Sunday morning.
The pastor said Thomas has suffered from mental illness for more than 20 years and has been in and out of hospitals for treatment. She did not say whether he had been diagnosed with any condition or prescribed medication.
Taleea Collins, a friend of Thomas’ mother, said outside the home that Thomas is “a lovely person.”
“Grafton has always been a loving, loving man towards me. He calls me ‘auntie’ sometimes,” she said. “He’s just a lovely person. I’ve never seen him be violent, and I know that he suffers from mental illnesses.”
“He’s not a terrorist he’s a loving loving man, with a lot of creativity and just a wonderful spirit,” Collins added.
The mayor of Greenwood Lake, Jesse Dwyer, told The Post that Thomas went largely unnoticed in the community.
“He almost seems to have been isolated in his home for the last couple of years,” said Dwyer, who said he grew up with the suspect. “It’s a tight-knit community and when things stand out you tend to notice them, and nothing stood out about him.”
“I did not speak out, because the attacker wasn’t pro Trump”
Conservative-leaning American Jews and their supporters have accused Democrats and other liberals of downplaying the Monsey attack, as well as a string of recent attacks by black Americans against Jews in New York, because of political correctness. Bigotry among minorities does not fit neatly into a narrative of rising white supremacy under President Donald Trump, the critics have noted.
First they came for the Jews… but I did not speak out, for I wasn't Jewish.
Then they came for the Jews again… but I did not speak out, because the attacker wasn't White.
And they came for the Jews yet again… but I did not speak out, because the attacker wasn't pro Trump.
— Jake Turx (@JakeTurx) December 29, 2019
Still, some Trump critics have insisted he is to blame for the attack.
I’m being personally attacked and insulted in what appears to be a coordinated fashion – for holding a president who has empowered white nationalists and normalIzed antisemitism. I feel threatened and scared as a Jew for the first time in my life https://t.co/QA3a8IRwUw
— Mairav Zonszein מרב זונשיין (@MairavZ) December 29, 2019
For his part, Trump called the Monsey attack “horrific” on Twitter Sunday, saying, “We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism.”
The anti-Semitic attack in Monsey, New York, on the 7th night of Hanukkah last night is horrific. We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism. Melania and I wish the victims a quick and full recovery.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2019
The New York Police Department said Thomas fled the scene of the crime and doused himself in bleach in an attempt to destroy the evidence. Officers found him on Saturday night covered in blood in Harlem, about 30 miles south of Monsey. They arrested him and booked him in the Rockland County Jail, where he is being held on $5 million bail.
Paige, the pastor, apologized to the families of the victims on behalf of Thomas and his mother.
“We apologize to the families for him,” said Paige. “We apologize because we know this was not him, this was an action out of mental illness, please understand… Please Let’s work on our systems for mental illness.”
“Grafton has mental illness and that is the sound of his confusion and these actions,” Paige added.