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East Longmeadow man charged in attempted arson at Jewish nursing home

An East Longmeadow man was arrested Wednesday for allegedly trying to blow up a Jewish-sponsored assisted living facility in Longmeadow in an act that investigators believe was motivated by anti-Semitism, according to the US attorney’s office for Massachusetts.

John Michael Rathbun, 36, faces two counts of attempted arson and will appear in federal court in Springfield by video conference, according to a statement from the office of Andrew E. Lelling.

“In times of national crisis, hatred based on religion often blossoms into violence,” Lelling said in the statement. “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.”

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On April 2, Rathbun allegedly left a canister filled with what appeared to be gasoline near the entrance to Ruth’s House, owned by JGS Lifecare Inc., according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Ruth’s House is “located within a short distance of three Jewish temples, a Jewish private school, and a Jewish Community Center,” Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Division, said in the US attorney’s statement.

A partly burned Christian religious pamphlet was found in the canister’s nozzle — apparently charred in an attempt to light the fuel, the court filing said. Bloodstains on the pamphlet and the canister were linked to Rathbun’s DNA one week after the device was found, according to the document.

“I am both saddened and very angry at the horrific act of anti-Semitism and attempted arson targeting Ruth’s House in Longmeadow,” said state Senator Eric P. Lesser in a statement. " I want to thank the FBI along with the East Longmeadow and Longmeadow Police Departments for their swift work. This news is even more troubling as the JGS Lifecare campus faces unprecedented challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, and as residents and their families mark the Passover holiday."

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About a month before the alleged arson attempt, a person connected with a white supremacist organization posted a social media message suggesting two locations for mass killings, including “that jew nursing home in longmeadow massachusetts,” [SIC] according to the document.

An online calendar used by the white supremacist group indicated that April 2 was a day devoted to hatred of Black Americans, referring to them by a racial slur, and that April 3 was “jew killing day,” according to Lelling’s office. That calendar entry gave the location “Jew Nursery Home” but no specific address.

The profile for the user who created the calendar entry contains the message, “I hate jews. We should make a real holocaust sometimes. Only mistake Hitler made,” according to the document.

Investigators believe the same person was responsible for both anti-Semitic posts.

When Rathbun was arrested at his home Wednesday, there was a gas canister on his front porch and several more in a nearby shed, according to the court document. Rathbun said the canisters were used to power a leaf blower and a lawnmower, the filing said.

He denied any involvement with the attempted arson and told authorities he does not have anti-Semitic beliefs and is not involved with any white supremacist groups, the document said.

But Rathbun allegedly reacted strongly when told of the DNA match.

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“When agents presented him with photographs of the bloodstained Christian pamphlet . . . and informed him that his DNA matched the blood, Rathbun’s demeanor visibly changed,” the document said, ”and a short while later, he stated that he did not know what he was going to do and that he wanted to cry.”



Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.