The last thing Jewish people want to see is a swastika, ever. The Nazi symbol is especially unsettling on the front door of a synagogue, but that’s exactly what was found this week at Oakland’s Temple Sinai.
According to an Oakland police statement, a 57-year-old Berkeley man was arrested Tuesday as a suspect in the case — officers found spray paint inside his backpack. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that they’d filed charges with hate crime enhancements against Freddie Lee Smith of Berkeley for that vandalism incident and two others at the same temple in August and earlier in October.
In the latest antisemitic assault, it was a black swastika spray-painted Saturday across a Star of David carved into one of the two front doors. Since the temple is not currently holding in-person services due to COVID-19, the swastika was not discovered until Monday. More antisemitic graffiti was found scrawled there on Oct. 5, which spelled out, "Bye bye evil evil evil Jews."
Police identified and located Smith with the assistance of temple surveillance footage that helped officers match Smith’s shirt and backpack. The police statement said that “images matching some of the graffiti patterns” were discovered inside the backpack alongside the spray paint.
It’s not clear to Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin why Smith would repeatedly target the sanctuary, as she told SFist in an email, "We have not had any other encounters with the suspect to my knowledge."
However, the suspect is no stranger to law enforcement.
Also known as Zachary RunningWolf, a self-described "Indigenous Elder," Smith has a pretty wild history in Berkeley where he’s unsuccessfully run for mayor several times. The city filed for a restraining order against the longtime activist in April 2019, based on allegations that he made "credible death threats" against current Mayor Jesse Arreguín, as reported by Berkeleyside.
A post on Smith’s Twitter account the day after his arrest calls the charges “bogus” and suggests police are covering up some “sex trafficking & child molestation” scandal. (QAnon, anyone?)
A trip through his prior posts sheds light onto the inner workings of Smith’s mind, and it’s a slightly disturbing place full of conspiracies about 5G networks, election fraud and the Klan. Though his posts often take aim at "colonizers" in general, there’s no obvious link to antisemitic rage.
Temple Sinai at 28th Street and Webster Avenue is an Oakland historic landmark dating back to 1914. Rabbi Mates-Muchin told The Jewish News of Northern California she believes the front doors are original to the 106-year-old building. According to the temple’s website, the synagogue serves about 1,000 households in the Reform tradition and welcomes "all cultural backgrounds, ethnic heritages and sexual orientations."
In response to the hate crimes, the rabbi told SFist, "The community support has been very meaningful for us."