SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Federal officials charged John T. Earnest with 109 total hate crime-related violations Thursday in connection with the April shooting at a Poway synagogue that killed one person and injured three others.
Additionally, the 19-year-old Earnest faces a charge over a fire believed to have been deliberately set at an Escondido mosque in late March.
Under the federal charges, Earnest faces a possible death sentence.
In the federal complaint filed on Thursday, Earnest was charged with the following:
-- 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs using a dangerous weapon, resulting in death, bodily injury and attempts to kill
-- 54 counts of hate crimes stemming from the synagogue shooting in violation of the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
-- one count of damage to religious property by use of fire
According to the complaint, Earnest allegedly called 911 after the April 27 shooting and told a dispatcher, “I just shot up a synagogue. I’m just trying to defend my nation from the Jewish people … They’re destroying our people … I opened fire at a synagogue. I think I killed some people.”
The federal complaint also stated: “Earnest added that he shot people in the synagogue ‘because the Jewish people are destroying the white race.’”
Earnest was allegedly inspired to carry out the shooting by the shootings at two mosques in New Zealand and the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Federal officials said Earnest obtained his rifle one day before the attack from a Federal Firearm Licensed dealer in San Diego, by way of Fort Worth, Texas.
According to federal officials, Earnest "was armed with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle that was fully loaded with a 10-round magazine."
Earnest also "wore a chest rig which contained five additional magazines, each loaded with ten rounds of ammunition."
Last week, Earnest was charged in California Superior Court with murder and attempted murder in connection with the shooting on April 27 at the Chabad of Poway.
Lori Kaye-Gilbert, 60, died in the shooting, and three others -- Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Almog Peretz, and Peretz’s 8-year-old niece -- were injured.
Authorities said when Earnest tried to reload and was unable to do so, several people in the synagogue -- including an off-duty Border Patrol agent -- chased him out of the building.
Earnest's car was spotted less than two miles from the synagogue, and after being pulled over, he was taken into custody.
In the "open letter" that authorities allege Earnest posted online shortly before the shooting, the author espouses flagrant anti-Semitic sentiments and a need to protect the "European race." He wrote that he spent four weeks planning the attack, citing his "disgust" for Jews and a desire to kill them, and expressed admiration for the Australian white nationalist who attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month, killing 50 people.
The writer also claims responsibility for the March 24 fire set at the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque, also known as Islamic Center of Escondido. The 3:15 a.m. fire was quickly extinguished by people inside the mosque. Graffiti left on the building made reference to the mosques attacks in Christchurch.
While initial charges against Earnest make him eligible for the state’s death penalty, that is not likely to happen in light of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on capital punishment.
U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer Jr. said, “We will not allow our community members to be hunted in their houses of worship, where they should feel free and safe to exercise their right to practice their religion. Our actions today are inspired by our desire to achieve justice for all of the victims and their families."
Tammy Gillies, ADL San Diego Regional Director, issued the following statement Thursday:
We are very pleased that the Justice Department has filed federal hate crime charges against the alleged perpetrator of the deadly shooting attack at the Poway Chabad Synagogue and the arson at the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque in Escondido. Our collective sacred spaces were shattered by these acts of violence and vandalism. We welcome these Justice Department charges – and the strong statement from Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband: “No one in this country should be subjected to violence, injury, or death for who they are or for their religious beliefs.
Jason Kurosu of City News Service contributed to this report.