An Indiana man who pleaded guilty yesterday to setting an Ohio mosque on fire told a judge he was motivated by media accounts – specifically those on Fox News – suggesting Muslims were threatening Americans and were in control of parts of the federal government.
Details made public at the plea hearing also revealed that the arsonist, Randolph Linn, was carrying a pistol when he entered the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo on September 30, only minutes after several worshippers had left, and that he had more guns in his car.
Linn, a 52-year-old truck driver from St. Joe, Ind., expressed no remorse when he admitted trying to burn down the third largest mosque in the United States. Under the terms of a plea agreement, prosecutors and Linn’s defense attorney will recommend a prison term of 20 years when he is sentenced early next year.
Accounts of the federal court hearing were provided to Hatewatch by Mahjabeen Islam, president of the mosque, who was present along with 10 other members of the mosque.
When U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary asked Linn about his motivation, he responded that he was spurred on by newspaper, radio and Fox News accounts suggesting Muslims were killing “us” and were in control of the Department of Homeland Security and the White House, Islam recounted.
“When asked if he knew any Muslims or about the Islamic faith, he said he did not; he knew only what he got from Fox News, and he did know that ‘they don’t believe in Jesus Christ as the savior,’” Islam said.
“Randy Linn’s statements clearly incriminate the media,” Islam said. “We call on print, Internet and broadcast media to educate the public about various cultures and religions and promote the strength of diversity, rather than whipping up hatred that leads to such destruction. Fox News, in particular, needs to reset its course and policies very quickly.”
The fire caused an estimated $1 million worth of damages.
“We are grateful that no one was injured or killed when Randy Linn came to the Islamic Center,” Islam said. That kind of tragedy, she said, “was a major possibility” because Linn entered the mosque carrying a gun in his hand and had three other firearms in his car.
“The prospect of Randy Linn finding anyone in the Islamic Center is spine-chilling, and we appeal for attention and action on the easy availability of these deadly weapons,” Islam said.
Court documents say Linn left his Indiana home on Sept. 30 in a red four-door Chevrolet Sonic, stopping at a gas station near Perrysburg, Ohio, to fill three gas cans he had in the vehicle, before driving on to the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. The mosque in Perrysburg is the third largest in the United States, a 70,000-square-foot landmark, visible for miles, with 3,000 members who celebrated the center’s 32nd anniversary in October.
Linn made numerous efforts to enter the Islamic Center before finally gaining entry, walking through several rooms with a pistol in his left hand before exiting and then returning with a gas can, the court documents disclosed. He entered the mosque’s prayer room on the second floor and poured gasoline on the prayer rug used by worshippers during prayer services. Linn then set fire to the rug and fled. His actions were caught on surveillance cameras, and he was arrested a few days later after the photos received media coverage.
Islam said attending the hearing and seeing Linn left her “numb and overcome.”
“At no point during the hearing did Randy Linn reveal any remorse for what he had done,” she said. “He pled guilty to all three counts but took no responsibility.”
Linn pleaded to intentionally defacing, damaging and destroying religious real property because of the religious character of that property; using fire to commit a felony; and using and carrying a firearm to commit a crime of violence.
“His guilty plea, acceptance of a binding plea agreement with no chance for appeal and a prison sentence of 20 years, sends out a clear message to future criminals that our society will not accept hate and violence,” she said.
Islam’s comments were echoed by U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio, who said, “Religious freedom is at the core of our country, and we will continue to aggressively prosecute such hate crimes whenever and wherever the evidence warrants. This was a true joint effort to seek justice for these victims.”
Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said the freedom to worship in the manner of one’s choosing is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans.
“The Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division will continue to aggressively prosecute hate-based attacks on houses of worship,” Perez said in a statement. “I commend the cooperative efforts of local and federal law enforcement officials to ensure justice in this case.”