(JTA) — A Michigan man who praised mass shooters had outlined a plan to attack an East Lansing synagogue, according to FBI investigators who arrested the man on Friday.
Seann Pietila, 19, discussed his plans to stage a mass shooting in private messages on Instagram, according to documents filed last week when he was charged with communicating a threat across state lines.
Pietila was arrested on Friday after FBI officials were alerted to his communications earlier in the week and worked to confirm his real identity. When investigators went to his home, they found multiple unsecured guns as well as tactical gear and “a red and white Nazi flag,” according to charging documents filed on Friday. A search of his phone revealed a note with the name of Congregation Shaarey Zedek along with a date — March 15, 2024 — and a list of supplies, including guns and pipe bombs.
Pietila told investigators that he did not plan to carry out the attack, which he said he had originally set for this year, and that he planned to kill himself. He lived in East Lansing until recently.
The arrest came a day after a Pittsburgh jury returned a guilty verdict in the trial of the man who murdered 11 Jews in their synagogue there in 2018.
Shabbat services went on as planned at Shaarey Zedek, a Reform synagogue with about 220 families. “I think people are relieved to know that this person is in custody,” Rabbi Amy Bigman told the Lansing State Journal. “I’m sure that some people are nervous and might not come to the synagogue, which is understandable. … It’s stressful, there’s no doubt about that. And it’s scary to live in this world where antisemitism has been on the rise for so long.”
Pietila’s arrest is the latest in a string of arrests in Michigan of people engaged in extremist and antisemitic activity. In March, the FBI arrested a man it said had plotted to kill Jewish officials in the state. Last December, meanwhile, a man was arrested after harassing synagogue-goers in a suburb of Detroit.
It also adds to a string of arrests in cases where officials say they have apprehended potential synagogue attackers. Last November, the FBI arrested a New Jersey teenager who they said was responsible for a vague threat communicated online that resulted in Jewish institutions across the state briefly shutting down. Later that month, two men were arrested in New York City after a Jewish security agency flagged their posts online and alerted authorities.
The charging documents in Pietila’s case indicate an extensive and rapid effort to identify the source of the social media posts, which included chats with an online acquaintance musing about thwarted romantic interests and efforts to find a job. In the posts, Pietila expresses admiration for the shooter who killed 10 Black shoppers in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store in 2022, as well as for the man who massacred 51 Muslims in two mosques in New Zealand in 2019. He also makes extensive antisemitic comments and indicates that he has started to amass the supplies that would be needed to carry out an attack.
The text message exchanges also shed light on complicated role of technology companies seeking to address hate on their platforms. The FBI indicates that both Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and Discord, a secure messaging platform, cooperated with its requests for information about the accounts that shared the threatening content.
But at the same time, Pietila’s conversations show how the platforms allow for the spread of hateful material. At one point, the person he is messaging with says this to explain how he plans to stream his own planned attack: “probably going to use discord as we used a camera to share the mosque and we didn’t get banned for days.” It was a reference to the 2019 New Zealand shooting, which was streamed live online and has inspired multiple mass shooters, including the man who attacked a Poway, California, synagogue a month later.
Pietila responded: “I honestly didn’t know b.t [the shooter’s initials] attacked more than one. Seriously though, F—ing kikes ruin everything they touch. I’d probably do it on discord for people, so they could screen record and send it to others or post it online.”
The FBI’s charging documents show that Pietila was identified in part because of pictures of himself with a cat that were posted on multiple social media platforms.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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