After a leader in the Trump administration came under fire for seemingly trying to turn the latest violent anti-Semitic attack in New York into an anti-immigrant parable, the target of his smear responded Tuesday, calling his comments “a disgrace.”
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, claimed in a Monday morning tweet that 38-year-old Grafton Thomas, a U.S. citizen who allegedly stabbed five people at a Hanukkah party over the weekend, was the “son of an illegal alien who got amnesty under the 1986 amnesty law for illegal immigrants.”
“Apparently, American values did not take hold among this entire family, at least this one violent, and apparently bigoted, son,” Cuccinelli wrote.
Thomas’ attorney, Michael Sussman, said Tuesday that Cuccinelli’s remarks “are a disgrace and akin to blaming the parents of a mentally ill child for conceiving him or her” and that “such comments have no place in a rational debate about national immigration policy, a debate which is long overdue and long delayed by those currently holding executive office in our nation.
“My client’s parents migrated to the United States and were granted legal status in 1986,” said Sussman. “My client was born in the United States and is an American citizen. His immigration status appears totally unrelated to his mental illness and the circumstances which caused the events of last Saturday evening.”
Cuccinelli has pushed for aggressive anti-immigrant policies since his time as a state lawmaker in Virginia. For the Trump White House, he has argued against birthright U.S. citizenship for children of undocumented parents and suggested the words on the Statue of Liberty were only aimed at European immigrants.
After several people called out Cuccinelli’s tweet and its apparent condemnation of a Reagan-era bipartisan immigration law, the post was either deleted or otherwise removed from his Twitter page.
Further on the right, white supremacists celebrated Thomas’ race on 4chan and Telegram, where they discussed pushing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that they hoped would inspire violence against Jews by black Americans, whom they described with racist slurs.
Thomas, who is black, allegedly burst into the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in the New York suburb of Monsey on Saturday night around 10 p.m., as dozens of guests were celebrating Hanukkah.
He allegedly stabbed and wounded five people with a machete, and he was charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary. All of the victims survived, but one is said to remain in critical condition with a skull fracture.
Federal prosecutors on Monday also filed federal hate crime charges against Thomas and said in court documents that he had expressed anti-Semitic sentiments in hand-written journals.
The patrol officers who arrested Thomas discovered him “covered with blood,” The New York Times reported. Thomas pleaded not guilty to all charges on Sunday morning at his arraignment in Ramapo, New York.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called the attack a “blatant act of domestic terrorism that sought to inflict violence, incite hate and generate fear” and ordered the State Police hate-crimes task force to investigate.
Thomas’ family told CNN he had no history of anti-Semitism, violent behavior, or prior convictions. They said he is “not a member of any hate groups” and have reportedly asked Sussman to request a mental-health evaluation for Thomas, who has “a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations” and “was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races.”
United Methodist Church Pastor Wendy Paige said that she has known Thomas for 10 years and that he is “not a violent person.”
“Grafton is not a terrorist, he is a man who has mental illness in America, and the systems that be have not served him well,” Paige told the New York Post. “I have been his pastor for a long time and I have seen him, he is not a violent person, he is a confused person.”
“We apologize to the families for him,” said Paige. “We apologize because we know this was not him, this was an action out of mental illness, please understand… Please let’s work on our systems for mental illness.”
After a deadly anti-Semitic shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City this month and an “alarming” surge in anti-Semitic violence in the New York area, police have said they stepped up patrols in at least three Brooklyn neighborhoods.
—Staff writer Kelly Weill contributed to this report.