April 16 (UPI) -- Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation have arrested and charged a Massachusetts man for attempting to blow up a Jewish nursing home that had been targeted on social media accounts linked to a white supremacist group, authorities said.
John Michael Rathbun, 36, was arrested and charged Wednesday on two counts of attempted arson after he was connected through DNA to a gas canister that was discovered earlier this month outside the entrance to Ruth's House, a Jewish-sponsored assisted living facility for seniors located in Longmeadow near Springfield, prosecutors said in the criminal complaint.
The five-gallon gas canister was discovered filled with what was believed to be gasoline on April 2 feet from a busy pedestrian walkway and 50 yards from the entrance of Ruth's House, which describes itself on its website as "guided by Jewish values" but open to all faiths. Inside the nozzle of the canister was the charred remains of a Christian pamphlet that "appeared to have been lit on fire in an attempt to ignite the gas," the complaint said.
Authorities said blood discovered on the pamphlet and the canister's handle were tested by the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory, which on April 9 linked the samples to Rathbun's DNA profile that was in the Consolidated DNA Index System of convicted offenders due to his previous arrests.
FBI agents executed an arrest warrant for Rathbun's residence on Wednesday, and when questioned about the crime, he initially denied any involvement but after agents said his blood was found at the scene "Rathbun's demeanor visibly changed, and a short while later, he stated that he did not know what he was going to do and that he wanted to cry," according to the complaint.
In connection to the investigation, FBI agents in March discovered a white supremacist organization that operated two social media platforms where users promote and discuss plans to carry out mass killings directed against religious, racial and ethnic minorities.
On one of those platforms, a user specified "that Jew nursing home in Longmeadow, Massachusetts," as a target for a mass killing, and on the other social media platform, a user authorities believe to be the same person listed April 3 in a calendar as "Jew killing day" and pinned the location as "Jew Nursery Home," which authorities said they believe to be Ruth's House.
The FBI said the investigation is ongoing into whether Rathbun has been involved with the white supremacist group or any of its activities.
Rathbun faces up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 for each attempted arson charge.
"The charges in this case allege that the defendant tried to blow up a Jewish assisted living residence with a five-gallon gas canister, at the same time that the facility was being discussed on white supremacist online platforms," U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said in a statement. "We will find, investigate and aggressively prosecute anyone engaged in this kind of mayhem."
Lelling added that in times of national crisis, such as the current coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 31,000 people in the United States, "hatred based on religion often blossoms into violence."