Man gets five years for vandalizing Norfolk synagogues

| May 14, 2010

After apologizing for putting anti-Semitic stickers on two Norfolk synagogues, a white supremacist was sentenced on Friday to five years in prison.

John Edward Grogan, 30, of Waynesboro, had pleaded guilty to two counts each of injury to a church or cemetery and conspiracy to commit a felony.

Grogan and another man, Christopher John Brooks, 25, were accused of putting more than 60 stickers on the doors and windows of Temple Israel and Beth Messiah Synagogue, both on Granby Street, on April 18, 2009.

Some of the stickers had an image of a yellow smiley face configured to look like Adolph Hitler, some had an image of Jesus Christ holding up a middle finger to Jews and others said “White Pride World Wide,” according to court records and Rabbi Michael Panitz of Temple Israel, who testified at Grogan’s sentencing.

Panitz said he and his congregation were shocked when they discovered the stickers as they arrived for service. Some members of the temple are Holocaust survivors, and almost all Jews feel some sense of connection with Holocaust survivors, Panitz said, so the stickers created a sense of psychological trauma.

Neo-Nazi activity “impacts on us as not only a hateful but also a hurtful act,” he said. “Even though a sticker itself is removable … the message conveyed is, there are people who have quite literally invaded and defaced your sanctuary.”

Grogan testified that he put the stickers on the synagogues to “cause intimidation” and “just to let people know that there were neo-Nazis in the area.”

He said he joined the group Volksfront in November 2008 after becoming a white supremacist while he was incarcerated, but would never follow the group again.

“I do offer a sincere apology to the people of Temple Israel and Beth Messiah and the others who were affected by the outburst of ignorance,” he said. “I’m guilty of being a follower and truly I’m just sorry for what I did.”

Stickers also were placed on the synagogues of Congregation Beth El and B'Nai Israel Congregation in the Ghent section of Norfolk. Video cameras at Congregation Beth El captured several men putting the stickers on the building.

Grogan was arrested July 9 in Waynesboro and has been incarcerated since then. He said he lived in Hampton Roads between February and April 2009.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary A. Richardson asked Judge Charles E. Poston to send a message to Volksfront “that they are not welcome in the city of Norfolk, and if their activities continue they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Poston sentenced Grogan to 20 years total on the four charges, with all but five years suspended. After his release, Grogan will be required to spend 25 years on supervised probation and is to have no contact with members of Volksfront.

Brooks, the co-defendant, was sentenced May 6 to five years in prison with all but time served suspended.

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security