DOJ secures guilty plea in attempted hate crime attack on Florida synagogue

Story highlights

  • The FBI launched an investigation into James Gonzalo Medina in 2016
  • Court documents say he discussed attacking a Jewish center in southern Florida

(CNN)A Florida man who federal authorities say planned to bomb a Jewish synagogue pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal hate crime and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

The timing of Justice Department's announcement of James Gonzalo Medina's guilty plea struck a chord during a week plagued by the aftermath of deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
The FBI launched an investigation into Medina in 2016 after authorities learned he had expressed anti-Semitic views with associates and discussed plans to attack the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in southern Florida, according to court filings.
    Authorities say Medina scoped out the synagogue for potential vulnerabilities, told a confidential source that a Jewish holiday would be a "good day" to carry out the bomb attack, and then later procured what he believed to be an explosive device from an undercover agent.
    "When asked whether he knew that if the attack succeeded, that people may have died, (Medina) responded, 'whatever happens,'" prosecutors said in the complaint.
    Attorney General Jeff Sessions' handling of hate crime investigations has come into sharp focus this week, as the Justice Department opened a high-profile civil rights investigation after authorities say an Ohio man drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people in Charlottesville, killing one woman and injuring others.
    Sessions told NBC's Pete Williams that no decision has been made yet on whether to charge the driver, James Fields, with a federal hate crime or some other charge.
    "Acts of bigotry and hatred are evil and have no place in our society," Sessions said in a statement Wednesday announcing the guilty plea in Medina's case. "One of the top priorities of this Department of Justice is reducing violent crime, and you can be sure that this includes hate crime. We will not tolerate this repugnant lawlessness, and we will be vigilant in prosecuting hate crime offenders to the fullest extent of the law."
    While Sessions' critics point to his previous opposition to the federal Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as a senator, he has vowed as attorney general to prosecute bias-motivated crime with vigor.
    The department has secured at least 15 indictments in federal hate crime cases since President Donald Trump took office in January.
    Federal prosecutors also charged at least one Israeli-American suspect in April for his alleged involvement in a series of bomb threats against Jewish community centers, and Sessions said that the Justice Department's "investigation into these acts as possible hate crimes continues."
    "No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship," Sessions said at a hate crimes summit hosted by DOJ in June. "Hate crimes are not only violent attacks on our fellow citizens; they are an attack on our country's most fundamental principles. We have a duty to make sure that all Americans can live their lives without fear."