‘Mental Illness Does Not Excuse Anti-Semitic Violence’


Photo Credit: courtesy, National Organization of Firefighters

Torah scroll torched in a building in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof.

by Dr. Simone Gordon, Psychotherapist

I am outraged, once again. Let us not use “mental illness” as the defense against blatant anti-Semitism. I am a mental health practitioner and a child of a Holocaust survivor father.


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I have real compassion for those who are diagnosed with mental illness. I know from the inside out what mental illness can do.

While there are claims that Grafton E. Thomas has a long history of mental illness and there is a question about whether he was medication compliant, his foray into the ideology of anti-Semitism, as noted in the FBI Criminal Complaint noted the following:

1. Hand-written journals were obtained during a search of Mr. Grafton’s home. These journals contained handwritten anti-Semitic sentiments and comments as noted below:

(a) comments stating that the “Hebrew Israelites” took from the powerful ppl. (Ebinoid Israelites).

(b) Questioning “why ppl mourned for antisemitism when there is a Semitic genocide.”

( c )Referring to “Adolf Hitler” and Nazi Culture on the same page as drawing of a Star of David and a Swastika.

2. And the Phone’s Internet browser was used to search the following:

(a) “Why did Hitler hate the Jews” on or about November, 9, 2019; and December 3, 7 and 16, 2019.

(b) “German Jewish Temples near me” on or about November 18, 2019.

( c ) “Zionist Temples in Elizabeth, N.J.” on or about December 18, 2019.

( d ) “Prominent companies founded by Jews in America” on or about December 27, 2019.

3. On or about December 28, 2019, the Phone’s Internet browser was also used to access an article titled, “New York City Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods After Possible Anti-Semitic Attacks. Here’s what to know.”

In addition, during the same search, Law enforcement agents recovered from the residence the packaging for an 18-inch Ozark trail machete.

While Mr. Grafton may indeed have a mental illness, and while he may have stopped taking his medication, I am questioning whether he stopped taking his medication on or around November 9, when he was clearly busy browsing the internet and looking up why Hitler hated the Jews. And just for the record, you don’t have to be mentally ill to espouse an ideology of hating Jews and wanting them all dead. Look at Hitler and his followers. And, just because you have a mental illness, it doesn’t mean that you can’t also espouse an ideology that lauds and rewards those who kill Jews and other “infidels.” One does not preclude the other.

We must not confuse mental illness with the espousing of virulent ideology that encourages the hatred and killing of the Jews. As the child of a Holocaust survivor, I know only too well about mass killings and what ideology can do; especially ideology that encouraged “Jewish Genocide.”

After the killings in Jersey City, I was outraged to see local residents blame the Jews for what happened, and immediately see the solution to the problem as having Jersey City “Juden-free.”

Now, less than a month after that incident, when national news barely gave the incident voice, as noted in The Atlantic article, “The Political Inconvenience of The Jersey City Shooting” we have “Monsey.”

Now, Jews in their Rabbi’s home were the targets of this “mentally ill” man. I am outraged. Mental Illness or not, he was still able to find the “Rabbi’s house.” Why this house out of all the houses that he could have selected? Coincidence? Hardly. There are no coincidences here. His journal was full of references that reflected a preoccupation with the Jews, and with Hitler and, and, and.

I have also noted that his pastor and family members note his history of mental illness. That notwithstanding, family members often have no idea when a loved one may have become “radicalized” or influenced by what they see on the internet. We do not know what our adult children are looking at or what pernicious influences they may have fallen prey to, until it is too late to intervene.

But consider: how come Hitler was never diagnosed with mental illness? In fact, to some he was viewed as a hero. In this generation, the same could be said for Jeremy Corbyn in England, but let’s not kid ourselves, let’s not excuse the espousing of political ideology that calls for the genocide of one group of people, and call it mental illness.

I have worked with many people who have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who do not commit murders and who are not taking their medication. Let’s not use mental illness as an excuse to explain bigotry and hate. It’s time to call it what it is.

No one wanted to call domestic violence, ‘domestic violence.’ Now it’s time to start calling hate crimes and violence, Domestic Terrorism. Monsey is an act of Domestic Terrorism, notwithstanding the fact that the suspect also has a history of mental illness. That does not excuse his actions. He selected a particular target – Jews – and mentally ill or mentally sane, his self-selected group is one that has been historically sought out for genocide.

If he were that mentally ill, he would not have been able to effectively arrange to escape, nor would he have been able to drive, let alone successfully drive from Monsey through New Jersey all the way to Harlem. And a family member said that he is a germaphobe, and that was the reason for bleach having been found in the car. How very convenient.

Only time will tell, but right now, there is no recognition of the trauma that this man’s actions have caused inter-generationally to those who once again had to be reminded of their family’s Holocaust traumas because of one man’s intermittent noncompliance with treatment protocols for his mental illness.

It doesn’t matter if the perpetrator is mentally ill. He was not that mentally ill that he didn’t know how to research, repeatedly, on the Internet Browser to seek out the information he wanted as noted in the criminal complaint . Now, two people are desperately fighting for their lives and thousands more are re-traumatized, having flashbacks to other incidents of hate and taunting and death. He has managed to evoke fear and anxiety in thousands more as this carnage is repeatedly broadcast nationally and internationally.

As a practicing therapist here in New York City, I have been inundated with phone calls from people who are not sleeping, and who are having flashbacks to previous incidents of being attacked for “just being Jewish.”

It is time to stop the madness that is being encouraged on the internet, in rooms up and down the country. It is time for us to say, “Enough.” Mental illness does not excuse anti-Semitic violence.

We cannot stand idly by, waiting for history to repeat itself.

Dr. Simone Gordon is a psychotherapist who specializes in treating intergenerational families with trauma and Holocaust issues in New York and Israel.


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