Man Allegedly Tried Blowing Up Jewish Nursing Home Using Christian Pamphlet As Fuse

(Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
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April 16, 2020 12:21 p.m.

A Massachusetts man was arrested Wednesday for allegedly attempting to blow up a Jewish assisted living facility with a gas canister, using a Christian pamphlet as a fuse.

The canister was discovered at the entrance of Ruth’s House, a facility in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, on April 2, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said in a statement. That was the day before someone in an extremist social media group that promoted mass killings against minorities had scheduled “jew killing day,” at the location “Jew Nursery Home.”

A member of the group specified “that jew nursing home in longmeadow massachusetts” as a potential target.

John Michael Rathbun, 36, was charged with attempted arson for allegedly leaving the canister at the nursing home’s driveway. It did not ignite, but an FBI agent said in an affidavit that blood stains on the canister matched Rathbun’s DNA.

Police subsequently received a search warrant for his residence, where they spotted several more gas canisters. Rathbun’s mother, according to the affidavit, told authorities that she prints her own Christian proselytizing pamphlets but didn’t recognize the one discovered at the scene.

“I observed that Rathbun’s hands had numerous cuts or wounds in various states of freshness, including an open would on his right thumb,” FBI agent Ryan McConigle wrote in the affidavit.

Rathbun, according to the affidavit, denied knowing that the nursing home was on the street where the bomb was discovered, and said he was only familiar with the area for a methadone clinic he visited nearby. He told police he’d also recently used “Xanax, pot dope and alcohol,” according to the affidavit, but flatly denied involvement with the extremist social media group, saying he only used the internet for dating and porn.

“When agents presented him with photographs of the bloodstained Christian pamphlet that had been used to light the incendiary device at Ruth’s House and informed him that his DNA matched the blood, Rathbun’s demeanor visible changed,” the affidavit read, “and a short while later, he stated that he did not know what he was going to do and that he wanted to cry.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts shared the FBI agent’s affidavit with TPM Thursday morning. (Read it below.) It was unclear Thursday whether Rathbun had an attorney.

On Facebook Thursday morning, the Longmeadow Police Department said its officers and the city’s fire department were called to Ruth’s House on the morning of April 2 to investigate a suspicious item.

“The item was determined to be a crudely fashioned explosive device made from a small gasoline container,” the department wrote. “Fortunately, the item did not work as intended.”

“The Longmeadow Police Dept. has zero tolerance for crimes motivated by hate,” the statement added.

U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said in a statement Wednesday that “in times of national crisis, hatred based on religion often blossoms into violence.”

Read the FBI’s affidavit on Rathbun below:

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