Posted: August 17, 2004
An unemployed man, the chief suspect in the desecration of dozens of graves at a Jewish cemetery in France, told authorities after his arrest that he was inspired by a documentary about American racist groups.
On August 9, 2004, tombstones in the cemetery in Lyon were spray-painted with swastikas, the Celtic Cross and other anti-Semitic symbols, as well as with the name "Phineas." French officials say the suspect was referring to the Phineas Priesthood, a white supremacist ideology in the United States that was depicted in the television documentary.
The suspect, identified only as a 24-year-old illustrator named Michael, has also confessed to attacking an Arab man with an ax. He is under investigation for attempted murder "of a racist character" and "degradation in a religious place."
The French crimes mark the first appearance of the Phineas Priesthood doctrine outside the United States.
Developed in the early 1990s by Richard Kelly Hoskins, a Christian Identity writer in Virginia, the Phineas Priesthood concept uses a story from the Bible to provide religious justification for acts of racist terror.
Inspired by Hoskins's teachings, some white supremacists have designated themselves "Phineas Priests" after committing crimes against those they consider God's enemies - including "race-mixers," Jews, gays and abortionists. Most notoriously, a group of Phineas Priests committed bombings and bank robberies in Washington and Oregon in the 1990s.
Because they had received a message after the August 5 ax attack in which the caller referred to himself as "Phineas," investigators were pursuing links between the two crimes when the suspect turned himself in to police in Paris the weekend of August 14. DNA testing has determined that the same person committed both crimes.
The suspect, who faces possible life imprisonment, said he was trying to "stir up" extremist French groups, though he does not appear to be affiliated with any group, authorities say.
He was a "very solitary" man motivated by "a visceral hatred of Arabs," Lyon prosecutor Xavier Richaud said. He added that the suspect "made no distinction between Jews and Arabs."