Man with ‘strong anti-Islamic sentiment’ arrested in Florida prior to planned attack

Meanwhile, the White House is ignoring the rising threat to Muslim communities.

Tom Garing cleans up racist graffiti painted on the side of a mosque in what officials are calling an apparent hate crime, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, in Roseville, Calif. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Tom Garing cleans up racist graffiti painted on the side of a mosque in what officials are calling an apparent hate crime, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, in Roseville, Calif. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

A man in Jacksonville, Florida was arrested Friday for planning a mass-shooting at a local Islamic center, in the latest case of domestic extremism targeting Muslims.

Bernandino Bolatete, 69, allegedly planned to “shoot up” the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, authorities stated on Monday. Bolatete, who is currently being held by the FBI, reportedly expressed “strong anti-Islamic sentiment” according to a tip received in October by Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams’ office. Following the tip, an undercover detective reached out to Bolatete to earn his trust.

“I just want to give these freaking people a taste of their own medicine, you know,” Bolatete allegedly told the detective, referring to Muslims. He claimed he owned five guns, including at least one AR-15, and reportedly planned to attack the mosque in revenge for extremist attacks in the news. 

“So we’ll try… we will try a Christian doing, uh, terroristic act this time to the Muslims,” Bolatete told the officer. “They doing it all the time.”

Bolatete reportedly planned to open fire on worshippers and commit “suicide by cops,” indicating that he did not plan to survive the attack. According to court records, Bolatete was expecting a report of poor health at an upcoming doctor’s visit and intended to carry out the shooting soon after. 

“I have to bring my… my long guns there and uh, stay at that, uh, tower. Keep shooting those Muslims, you know, on Friday,” Bolatete said, referencing the day on which many Muslims go to mosque to pray. “Their Sunday for Christians is uh, Friday.”

He ultimately attempted to purchase a silencer for his unregistered AR-15, leading to his arrest. A civil rights investigation is now underway.

Bolatete’s case is somewhat unique. As a green-card carrying Philippine national, he does not fit the typical profile of a mass-shooter in the United States, the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens and disproportionately white and male.

Around 54 percent of mass shootings since 1982 have been carried out by white men, a statistic reinforced by recent tragedies in Texas and Nevada. During the former incident, 26 people were killed when a white gunman opened fire on a church in Sutherland Springs. In Nevada this past October, 58 people died and more than 500 were injured when a lone gunman, who was white, opened fire on a crowded concert across the street from his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The latter is considered the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

But while Bolatete’s profile may have been surprising in comparison, his intended target wasn’t. Hate crimes against Muslims, as well as a number of other minority communities, have been on the rise since 2015. Mosques have been a frequent target of bombings, and many have reported threats, graffiti, and other alarming incidents.

That reality is weighing on many Muslims in the United States. In a statement Monday, following Bolatete’s arrest, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) emphasized the ongoing nature of the problem.

“Violence and hate crimes against Muslims in Florida are real,” CAIR-Florida Communications Director Wilfredo A. Ruiz stated. “Two mosques were targeted with arson in less than six months. Bolatete is an anti-Muslim extremist who was allegedly preparing to massacre innocent Muslims at an American center of worship in what could be construed as an act of terrorism. This should concern not only Muslims, but all Florida residents regardless of faith.”

Numerous hate crime trackers and organizations have also linked the uptick in anti-Muslim violence to the election of President Trump, who has repeatedly targeted Muslims in his rants and has frequently linked Islam to extremism. By contrast, Trump has failed to speak out against anti-Muslim crimes across the United States. As of Tuesday afternoon, the president still has not commented on Bolatete’s arrest.

Instead, White House focus has been elsewhere. The Trump administration has introduced multiple versions of a travel ban to bar refugees and citizens from several predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States, vaguely citing threats from extremists. On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld the latest version of the ban, which the president claims is necessary for security purposes.