At a Glance | July 9

Man Accused of Plotting Terror Attack on Fourth of July Fireworks in Downtown Cleveland

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Federal authorities arrested an Ohio man on July 1 after they said he discusssed plans for a terrorist attack on behalf of al-Qa’ida targeting a Fourth of July fireworks show taking place in downtown Cleveland. Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts (right), 48, has been charged with attempting to provide material support to al-Qa’ida. The FBI said Pitts made social media posts since 2015 under the name Adbur Raheem Rafeeq that demonstrated his desire to join al-Qa’ida and recruit individuals to kill Americans, including US military members. An undercover agent posing as a member of al-Qa’ida first met with Pitts on June 15, when Pitts discussed specific targets to attack. They met again a week later to talk about attacking Cleveland’s fireworks display, which takes place in a park near a US Coast Guard Station. Pitts discussed putting bombs in small remote-controlled cars and detonating explosives packed inside a van. Pitts took photos and videos of the targeted areas on a phone provided by an informant also posing as an al-Qa’ida member. Pitts pledged allegiance to al-Qa’ida in two of the videos. Possible attacks in Philadelphia and San Francisco were also disucssed with the FBI agent.


Anti-Semitic, Racist Graffiti Lands Pennsylvania Man 7 to 14 Years in State Prison

A 25-year-old man from Coatesville, Pennsylvania, received a sentence of seven to 14 years in state prison on June 27 for spray-painting anti-Semitic and racist messages throughout the city. Chester County Judge Patrick Carmody exceeded a term of five to 11 years recommended by prosecutors when he sentenced George Rissell on the charges of ethnic intimidation and criminal mischief. “The bottom line: being drunk, that doesn’t excuse being a racist. You’re both trying to scare [people] and you’re trying to incite violence,” Carmody said. The graffiti included swastikas and a profane phrase calling for the killing of all black people. Rissell committed the crimes while intoxicated on August 22, less than two weeks after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a woman was killed in a vehicle ramming. Rissell stated he is not a racist and only adopted those beliefs after members of the Aryan Brotherhood came to his defense when he was attacked during a previous prison stint. The judge disagreed, and prosecutors noted Rissell had a lengthy violent criminal history.


Man Accused of Driving Car Into Crowd at Charlottesville Rally Pleads Not Guilty to Hate Crimes

An Ohio man pleaded not guilty on July 5 to federal hate crime charges in connection with a vehicle ramming at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer that left one woman dead. An indictment returned by a grand jury on June 27 charged James Alex Fields Jr., 21, with one count of a hate crime act resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, 28 counts of hate crime acts causing bodily injury and involving an attempt to kill, and one count of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity. Amid violence at the rally on August 12, Fields is accused of driving his vehicle into a group of counter-protesters on a downtown street, killing Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 others. Prosecutors said Fields stopped only when he struck another car before going in reverse and leaving the scene. Fields was photographed earlier with members of a white supremacist group, Vanguard America, during the demonstration that protested the removal of a Confederate statue. Fields also faces state charges in Virginia, including one count of first-degree murder.


For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Analysis Bureau at analysis@njohsp.gov or 609-584-4000.