Michigan teen pleads guilty to threatening antisemitic mass shooting

The 19-year-old referenced other mass shooters in Instagram messages, according to prosecutors

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 16 November 2023 19:25 EST
Antisemitic messages projected onto University of Pennsylvania buildings

A Michigan teen has pleaded guilty to threatening to carry out a mass shooting against an area synagogue.

Seann Pietila, 19, spent months on Instagram exchanging messages about an alleged plot while quoting Nazi slogans and telling a fellow social media user he hoped the shooting would inspire people to “take arms against the Jewish controlled state” and “be the tipping point for others like us,” according to court documents.

The messages also captured Pietila, who pleaded guilty to transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce, speaking admiringly about the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, where 51 people were killed.

Later, an FBI search of his home revealed weapons, a tactical vest, and a Nazi flag.

The teen’s iPhone notes app also featured the name of an East Lansing synagogue, a date and a list of weapons.

“When free speech crosses a line and becomes a threat of violence against another, the full investigative resources of the FBI will be deployed,” Cheyvoryea Gibson, special agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan wrote in a statement. “Thanks to the coordinated efforts of our state and local law enforcement partners, we were able to disrupt the defendant before he could put his plans into action.

Seann Pietila, 19, of Pickford, Michigan, pleaded guilty to a federal charge for violent threats he made online. This is information found on his phone, say prosecutors

Pietila, who will be sentenced in March, faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.

As The Independent has reported, federal officials are warning of a rise in antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“This is a threat that is reaching, in some way, sort of historic levels,” FBI director Christopher Wray testified before Congress in October. “In fact, our statistics would indicate that for a group that represents only about 2.4 per cent of the American public, they account for something like 60 per cent of all religious-based hate crimes.”

The Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights group that tracks antisemitism and other forms of extremism, says it has seen a 400-per cent increase in antisemitic incidents across the US since the war started, from vandalism and assault to “anti-Israel rallies” and events with “implicit support for Hamas”.

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