A Basking Ridge man was arrested May 22 for threatening to shoot Israel supporters, attempting to provide material support to Hamas, and lying on his application to enlist in the U.S. Army. He also publicly stated his desire to burn down what he identified as the Israeli embassy in New York (there is only a consulate), as well as Trump Tower.
Jonathan Xie, 20, was charged in Newark Federal Court later that afternoon with two counts of attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, two counts of making false statements, and one count of transmitting a threat in interstate commerce, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of N.J.
It marked the first arrest of a U.S. citizen allegedly motivated by Hamas ties in almost 10 years.
“Obviously this comes as a surprise and a shock,” said Rabbi Mendy Herson, who runs the Chabad Jewish Center in Basking Ridge and has lived in the town for 27 years. “It’s a warm, welcoming, diverse, and tolerant community. You would not expect to see this coming from our ranks. But you never know.” In addition to Chabad Jewish Center, Basking Ridge is home to Conservative Congregation B’nai Israel.
The incident left him shaken. “This is concerning because even in a nice welcoming town, you can have someone who’s been radicalized.”
Xie appeared in an Instagram Live video in April 2019 wearing a black ski mask and stating he was against Zionism and the neo-liberal establishment, according to court documents. When asked if he would go to Gaza and join Hamas, he said, “Yes, if I could find a way.”
Later in the video, he held a handgun and said, “I’m gonna go to the [expletive] pro-Israel march and I’m going to shoot everybody.” He also said, “I want to shoot the pro-Israel demonstrators.” According to the Associated Press, authorities believe he was referring to Jewish protestors to the Al-Quds Day parade, an annual pro-Palestinian event marking the end of Ramadan, held in Times Square on May 31.
In December, Xie sent $100 to someone in Gaza he believed was a member of the terrorist group Al-Qassam Brigades, which falls under the Hamas umbrella, and posted on his Instagram feed, “Just donated $100 to Hamas. Pretty sure it was illegal but I don’t give a damn.”
In April 2019, he forwarded the link to an undercover FBI officer, described it as a Hamas website, and said that he’d already sent a donation to the group. He also sent screenshots to the undercover officer with instructions on how to send donations to the terrorist group via Bitcoin, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of N.J., which also said that Xie sent a $20 donation through the Hamas website in April.
The ADL praised law enforcement for the arrest, but warned, “This arrest serves as a clear reminder that foreign terror organizations’ violent and hateful ideologies truly have no borders,” said Evan R. Bernstein, ADL NY/NJ regional director. “This is once again indicative of the need for Jewish communal security … We must remain vigilant against extremism and hate from across the ideological spectrum.”
An unnamed official told NBC New York that Xie, who attended Ridge High School, has a history of mental illness, and that investigators found three guns in his mother’s home where he resides, according to the complaint. Heavy.com reported that Xie also made threats against the Coachella Music & Arts Festival, posting on Instagram that “Someone needs to get a truck filled with explosives and blow up the Coachella event Watch their blood and dead bodies litter the streets.” If convicted of all counts Xie could face more than 100 years in prison.
The Secure Community Network (SCN), the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America, welcomed the announcement of the arrest, and Michael Masters, SCN national director and CEO, underscored that Xie was an individual working alone, and that “[T]here is no known ongoing threat against the Jewish community related to the actions announced.” Masters added, “Today’s announcement is a reminder of the various threats confronting the Jewish community, as well as the critical role we all play in ensuring the safety and security of our community.”
FBI surveillance observed Xie outside Trump Tower in New York City on April 20, and shortly afterward Xie posted two photos to his Instagram account, one with the words “I want to bomb Trump Tower,” and the other a poll on whether he should go forward with it and a bomb emoji imposed over the building. Xie posted to his Instagram some comments about the day’s visit including, “[expletive] I forgot to visit the Israeli embassy in NYC … I want to burn this place along with trump tower.”
In February Xie said he wanted to join the U.S. Army “to learn how to kill … So I can use my knowledge,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He added “Idk if I pass the training … if I should do lone wolf. That is why I have to learn military techniques from the army.” He answered “NO” to the question “Have you EVER associated with anyone involved in activities to further terrorism?”
“Homegrown violent extremists like Xie are a serious threat to national security,” said U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito. “We will continue to do everything in our power to safeguard our country and its citizens from the threat of terrorism, whether that threat comes from abroad or — as here — from within.”
Said Michael McGarrity, FBI assistant director for counterterrorism, “The threat from homegrown violent extremists who self-radicalize remains persistent. While more Americans may be familiar with ISIS, we take seriously those who wish to help any designated terrorist organization. I commend the hard work of the Newark Joint Terrorism Task Force on this case.”
Herson, of the Chabad of Basking Ridge, credited the police with being “on their toes looking out for our security” since the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October and the shooting at the Chabad of Poway in April.