Jewish Journal

Brothers Sentenced

Benjamin and James Williams draw prison terms for firebombing three Sacramento-area synagogues.

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Dec. 6, 2001 at 7:00 pm

Two brothers, both self-proclaimed anti-Semites and white supremacists, have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for the June 1999 firebombings of three synagogues near Sacramento.

Following their guilty pleas, Benjamin Matthew Williams, 33, was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and James Tyler Williams, 31, to 21 years and 3 months. They were ordered to pay more than $1 million in restitution to the three synagogues.

The sentencing came at the end of an emotional two-and-a-half-hour hearing Nov. 30 in a Sacramento federal courtroom.

The brothers will go on trial next April in the slaying of a homosexual couple two weeks after the torching of the synagogues and of an abortion clinic. State prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty.

Hardest hit by the arson attacks was Congregation B'nai Israel, a Reform temple that sustained more than $1 million in damages. Last year, the temple celebrated its 150th anniversary.

Substantial damage also was suffered by Congregation Beth Shalom, also Reform, in suburban Carmichael, and Kenesset Israel Torah Center, an Orthodox synagogue.

At two of the synagogues, the perpetrators left leaflets proclaiming that the "International Jew World Order" and the "International Jewsmedia" started the war in Kosovo.

Rabbis and other Jewish leaders confronted the convicted arsonists before their sentencing.

After receiving permission from U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. to address the defendants, Rabbi Brad Bloom of Congregation B'nai Israel told them, "Your hatred and anti-Semitism will never prevail. Ironically, it strengthened the determination of the entire community to make no room for bigotry." A unity rally of all faiths and races in Sacramento after the synagogue attacks drew 5,000 people and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair the shuls.

Bloom said the Williams brothers represented "a continuum of anti-Semitic perpetrators" from Babylonian and Egyptian times through Russian pogroms and Nazi atrocities.

"Yes, we have known the Williams brothers for a long time," media reports quoted Bloom as saying.

Len Feldman, vice chairman of Sacramento's Jewish Community Relations Council, said the firebombing "forced me to explain to my two children a world I had hoped had been left behind."

Rabbi Yosef Etzhasadeh of the Kenesset Israel Torah Center lamented the trial's failure to explore all the evidence, which, he said, might have exposed the brothers' accomplices.

The elder Williams smirked though part of the admonitions. Both he and his brother declined the judge's invitation to talk about their crimes or express remorse.

While held in prison, the voluble elder Williams initiated a series of press interviews in which he declared his readiness to be executed as a "Christian martyr" whose death would spur increased attacks on Jews, homosexuals and various minority groups.

Matthew and Tyler Williams -- they are known by their middle names -- worked as landscapers in Northern California. In a search of their home, investigators found a hit list with 32 names, mostly of Sacramento Jewish leaders but including Marc Klein, editor and publisher of the San Francisco-based Jewish Bulletin of Northern California.

The Williams' arson attacks were the opening shots in what has been termed a "summer of hate," which included a shooting spree that wounded five at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.

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