FBI helps to educate public on line separating hate crimes from protected free speech

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Central Indiana is not immune to hate crimes. In fact, 21-year-old Nolan Brewer is in federal prison for the next three years for attacking a Carmel synagogue in July of 2018.

The line between a hate crime and protected free speech is one the Federal Bureau of Investigation is concerned with. Supervisory Special Agent Brian Monahan is in charge of the Indianapolis Division of Public Corruption and Civil Rights. He helped the FBI Citizens Academy understand the difference between a hate crime and free speech protected by our First Amendment.

“The violence or the threat of those violence is what removes these activities, these statements, from protective First Amendment,” Monahan said.

Brewer made hate crime personal to central Indiana when he and his wife, a minor, targeted the Congregation Shaarey Tefilla, a Jewish Synagogue in Carmel. The FBI said Brewer confessed he and his wife targeted the house of worship.

“That symbology at that location, to that community, we recognize as the FBI, and our Department of Justice understand, that that is a hate crime. That is a crime that is motivated by bias and that represents threatening behavior,” Monahan explained.

The aftermath of Brewers’ attack on the synagogue was clear for everyone to see, through spray-painted iron crosses and swastikas. Monahan said these symbols “bring back images and thoughts of the holocaust and the mass extermination that happened.”

The FBI said a hate crime can involve bias against a person of group based on race, religion or gender identity just to name a few. But under the First Amendment, people do have the right to say what they want so long as it is not followed by violence or threat of violence.

“We cannot investigate a case based purely on protected First Amendment speech,” Monahan explained. “It violates the constitution which we’ve sworn to uphold.”

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