A 19-year-old Michigan man has been charged with threatening a mass killing at a synagogue on the fifth anniversary of the massacre at two New Zealand mosques by a white supremacist gunman, federal officials say. Seann Patrick Pietila of Pickford, a township in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was arrested Friday and charged with transmitting a communication containing a threat to injure another, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Prosecutors say he planned to target the Shaarey Zedek congregation in East Lansing, the Associated Press reports. He allegedly made threats on social media, including Instagram, that included comments about neo-Nazi ideology, antisemitism and glorifying mass shootings, most notably the 2019 shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Pietila was arrested the same day a truck driver was convicted of storming a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 and fatally shooting 11 congregants in an act of antisemitic terror. The attack at the Tree of Life synagogue was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history and came after the attacker had ranted on social media about his hatred of Jewish people.
Rabbi Amy Bigman of Shaarey Zedek said the synagogue had notified its congregation of 220 families after learning Friday afternoon about the investigation from FBI agents, and that an arrest had been made. “We wanted our congregation to know that federal, state and local authorities are aware of the situation that didn’t happen because our law enforcement was on top of things, which we are thankful for,” Bigman told The Detroit News. The investigation began with a tip that someone was making threats on Instagram to commit a mass killing, according to a criminal complaint in federal court. When FBI agents arrested Pietila at his home Friday, they found a cache of weapons, knives, tactical equipment, a red-and-white Nazi flag and makeshift plans for killing members of the Shaarey Zedek congregation on March 15, 2024. The Michigan case focuses on numerous antisemitic social media posts allegedly made by Pietila. Prosecutors say he made apparent references to the New Zealand shooter, who is serving life in prison for killing 51 people and injured 40 others in the Christchurch mosque attacks.