Lawyer: FBI erred in tying man to synagogue massacre suspect
WASHINGTON – Federal authorities misrepresented a social media connection between the suspect in last month’s Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and a man whose relatives reported concerns about his behavior after the shooting to the FBI, a defense attorney said Friday.
A public defender representing Jeffrey Clark Jr. asked a federal magistrate to free the 30-year-old man from custody while he awaits trial on gun-related charges in Washington, D.C. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey refused, ordering Clark held without bail.
Harvey expressed concern about Clark’s “menacing” and “threatening” posts on Gab, the same social media platform used by synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers.
“He has discussed openly killing Jews and blacks,” the magistrate said.
But public defender David Bos said the FBI was “dead wrong” when it said in an agent’s affidavit that Clark had referred to the massacre as “a dry run for things to come.” The Nov. 9 affidavit said the statement was posted in Clark’s Gab account, along with a photo of Bowers armed with a gun and splattered in what appeared to blood. The affidavit said, “This statement implies that Jeffery Clark did know more about the attack in the Tree-of-Life synagogue, and that there was more to come.”
But Bos said there was no connection at all between the two men.
During Friday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cummings acknowledged Clark posted that statement a day before the Oct. 27 synagogue shooting, but was likely referring to Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man accused of mailing pipe bombs to critics of President Donald Trump.
After Clark’s arrest, Pittsburgh-based U.S. Attorney Scott Brady’s office issued a statement that said there is no evidence that any other individuals besides Bowers “were involved in, or had prior knowledge of” the deadly attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue.
The FBI said Clark is a self-described white nationalist who followed Bowers on Gab and referred to him as a “hero” in a Gab post after the shootings. Bowers spewed anti-Semitic hatred on his Gab account before killing 11 people inside the synagogue, authorities said.
Clark was arrested last Friday after relatives told FBI agents that they feared he could be a danger to himself or others. Clark became “really riled up” after his younger brother, Edward, shot and killed himself within hours of the Pittsburgh attack, the relatives told agents.
The relatives believed 23-year-old Edward Clark may have been planning to carry out an “act of violence” that day before he went to Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington and killed himself, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit.
“According to (two relatives), Jeffrey and Edward Clark believed that there would be a race revolution, and they wanted to expedite it,” the affidavit says.
Cummings said a combination of factors – Clark’s access to guns, his alleged drug abuse, his “hatred of minority groups” and “glorification of violence” – make him a danger to the public.
“He is a threat,” Cummings added.
Bos, the public defender, said his client’s “distasteful comments” on the internet are constitutionally protected free speech and don’t make him dangerous.
Clark told FBI agents that he was a member of white nationalist groups “and followed their ideology,” a court filing says. He also said he and his brother became interested in guns after the 2016 presidential election “because they believed there was going to be a civil war,” the filing adds.
The brothers attended the “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that erupted in violence in August 2017. Their relatives believe the brothers were photographed standing next to James Alex Fields, the man charged with plowing his car into a crowd of Charlottesville counterprotesters and killing one of them, Heather Heyer.
Jeffrey Clark’s Gab username was “DC Bowl Gang,” an apparent reference to the haircut style of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who shot and killed nine black people in 2015 at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Clark pleaded not guilty to illegally possessed firearms and high-capacity magazines for rifle ammunition. The first charge is a felony punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison. However, Clark doesn’t have a criminal record and likely would face less than two years if convicted of that charge, according to the prosecutor and public defender.