White Supremacist Admitted to Mental Hospital After Trying to Burn Down British Synagogue

A far-right extremist who set fire to a British synagogue on a day meant to commemorate the Holocaust is being held indefinitely at a mental hospital.

While setting fire to the Exeter synagogue last year, on July 21, 2018, 52-year-old Tristan Morgan accidentally caught on fire. Morgan burned his hands and forehead, and singed his hair during the blast, according to The Daily Beast. A witness told a court that Morgan laughed as he walked away from the 18th-century building.

Prosecutor Alistair Richardson said that Morgan had a “deep-rooted anti-Semitic belief, embodied in a desire to do harm to the Jewish community and an obsession with abhorrent anti-Semitic material.” Morgan previously pleaded guilty to arson and two terrorism-related charges, the BBC reported. He had been charged for encouraging terrorism when he published a song called “White Man” to the live-streaming website Soundcloud. He also owned a copy of the White Resistance Manual. Richardson said Morgan owned material that “reveled in the degenerate views of Nazi Germany and white supremacists.” The arson attack was caught on CCTV surveillance footage. Morgan is seen using an axe to break a window at the synagogue and pouring fuel inside. He was sent flying backwards and was engulfed in flames following the explosion. Morgan had “no thought for any lives he might put at risk,” Richardson said. Richardson said that two witnesses, Zoe Baker and her partner Samual O’Brien, were walking in Exeter’s city center when they heard a “loud bang” and saw an “orange glow and smoke” coming from the synagogue, The Independent reported. The couple stopped and saw Morgan walking away with a green petrol can.

“He appeared to be laughing, while trying to flatten his hair, which she [Baker] described as looking like it had been ‘whooshed up,’” Richardson told the court.

Police Superintendent Matt Lawler said that footage of the attack revealed “the level of planning, determination and intent by Morgan, whom the wider evidence clearly showed held abhorrent extreme right-wing, anti-Semitic, and white supremacist views,” according to The Daily Beast. The CCTV footage was given to London police as evidence. Firefighters found a “severe” fire in one of the synagogue’s rooms that contained a gas boiler, which could have exploded, ITV reported. Authorities were able to identify Morgan’s van from the footage, the BBC reported. Police arrested Morgan at his Alexander Terrace, Exeter home. When he opened the door, Morgan, who smelled like petrol, allegedly said: “That didn’t take long.” He was found with burns to his body, two lock knives, and two lighters. As he was placed in a police van, Morgan reportedly told officers: “Please tell me that synagogue is burning to the ground, if not, it’s poor preparation.” He later told hospital staff that the fire “was like a bomb going off.” The court was told that Morgan, a hospital X-ray technician, was psychotic at the time of the arson attack, The Independent reported. Judge Anthony Leonard QC ordered Morgan held in a mental hospital indefinitely. The judge said that most people would feel “anger and revulsion” for Morgan’s actions. The Exeter Synagogue was built in 1763 and is the third oldest synagogue in Britain, according to ITV. A £100,000 ($125,210.00) restoration project was finished in 2013. The cost of repairs from the arson reached more than £23,000 ($28,793.47). Richard Halsey, the synagogue’s president, thanked authorities for their “brilliant response” and “support.” The “whole Jewish community sincerely appreciates the support we have had from all faiths here in Exeter,” said Halsey, according to the BBC. Back in the US, a Louisiana man accused of setting fire to three predominantly Black churches faces federal and local hate crimes. Holden Matthews, who was arrested in April, allegedly set the three fires over a 10 day period beginning on March 26, The New York Times reported. Matthews was indicted with federal hate crimes in June for the intentional damage to religious property and using fire to commit a felony. Federal prosecutors used the six-count indictment to suggest “the religious character” of the properties was the reason behind the arsons. “Churches are vital places of worship and fellowship for our citizens and bind us together as a community,” US Attorney David C. Joseph said in a statement. “Our freedom to safely congregate in these churches and exercise our religious beliefs must be jealously guarded.” Reverend Gerald Toussaint, the pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, told The New York Times that he believed race played a role in the attacks on his church and others.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.