CST Blog

Tristan Morgan: far right antisemitic terrorist

5 July 2019

On 21 July 2018, the historic building housing Exeter Synagogue was subjected to an arson attack.  A male used a pickaxe to smash a small hole in a toilet window, he poured fuel inside using a can, and then he used a lighter to set alight a piece of paper which he then placed inside the window. Seconds later, an explosion occurred blowing out the glass windows and the male walked away. Thankfully, no one was inside the building at the time and the fire was extinguished by neighbours before major damage was caused. Soon afterwards, a 51-year-old local man was arrested in connection with the attack. Tristan Morgan was subsequently charged with arson on the basis of recklessly endangered life.

The date of attack itself is important. The targeting of the synagogue took place on 21 July, and the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av began that evening, ending on the evening of 22 of July 2018. Tisha B’Av is an annual fast day in Judaism, on which a number of disasters in Jewish history occurred, primarily the destruction of both Solomon’s Temple and the Second Temple. Tisha B’Av is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and it is believed to be the day that is destined for tragedy. The day has become associated with the remembrance of other major tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people. The Holocaust is of particular relevance on Tisha B’Av. In 1942, Deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camp begin. This is why the attack on Exeter on the date it occurred was of particular significance.

Despite the severity and possible ramifications of the attack, as well as the grave significance of the date of the incident, the incident shows the importance of local community and working together; whatever your faith or identity. Following the attack, the local community in Exeter overwhelmingly supported the synagogue, offering a place to store valuables, hold services and offered to assist with repairs.

The Far-Right connection

When the police searched through Tristan Morgan, the attacker’s, belongings, they found evidence of extreme right-wing motivation. Morgan had published a song on Soundcloud called ‘White Man’ and he owned a document called ‘White Resistance Manual’. The CPS added two terrorism-related charges to Morgan’s charge sheet.

The White Resistance Manual is an anonymously written, likely US-originated document. According to a US prosecutor in California: “It’s basically a guerrilla warfare manual instructing people on different types of weapons, on creating weapons, on police investigations, basically how to conduct covert urban operations”. According to the manual, its aim is to provide information on: “How to select or fabricate weapons useful in an armed struggle, how to manufacture, handle and employ explosives as part of an armed struggle, how to conduct a guerrilla campaign and how to select targets according to their value to our movement”. It is explicitly clear on its views about Jews: “No longer will we allow the Jews to live like parasites upon the body of our race. No longer will we tolerate any Jewish influence in our political system, our legal system or our mass-media.” It has sections on firearms, improvised explosive devices, poisons, assassination and, importantly in the context of Tristan Morgan, arson.

Tristan Morgan is not the only convicted UK far right extremist caught in possession of the White Resistance Manual. Three other cases since 2017 have included possession of the same document, including Michael SzewczukSean Creighton and Mikko Vehvilainen. The same document was also circulated on the social media network Gab, which is frequented by far-right extremists. It is the same network where Robert Bowers posted his last message before he launched his firearms attack on Pittsburgh Synagogue in October 2018, killing eleven congregants.

Morgan’s arson attack took place against a background of a rising threat of extreme right-wing terrorism in the UK. The number of extreme-right terrorist plotsarrestsattacks and referrals to counter-terrorism programmes are all rising. According to CST research, at least eight far right extremists were jailed in 2018 in possession of explosives and/or weapons. The UK authorities have recognised the rising threat and MI5 has now taken the lead in monitoring the extreme right-wing terrorist threat.

The attack and aftermath

On the night of the 21 July 2018, Police were called to Exeter Synagogue, following reports that an individual had attempted to ignite an accelerant which had been emptied into the Synagogue. At the time of the attack, two workers from the Mecca bingo club opposite the synagogue, Simon Hampson and Jane Densham, helped to stop the blaze and called the authorities. The road was closed off following the incident, and luckily no one was hurt during the attack.

At the time of the incident, CST called the attack “an appalling attack by somebody who had engaged with far right extremism” which made it “a very disturbing incident…the damage to the synagogue would have been much worse had it not been for the quick thinking and actions of local residents, and we are grateful to the wider community for the support they offered to Exeter Synagogue in the days following this attack.”

After the attack, there was an outpouring of support for the synagogue from the local community. Both the Fire and Police services gave the synagogue every help and consideration. The synagogue also received a myriad of phone calls, e-mails and letters from members of the public from Exeter once the news broke via the local media. Help and support was offered to the synagogue on so many fronts, including somewhere to store the Torah scrolls, the Rimmonim (coverings of the Torah) and other items. The Cathedral kindly offered to store the valuables of the synagogue, including the Torah scrolls and a large Chanukiah. The members of the synagogue were also offered venues to hold services, physical help with repairs if needed, and so much more.

Responding to the attack, the security officer of Exeter synagogue mentioned, in his witness statement, he was grateful to have seen “the strong outpouring of love and brotherhood and support from the Cathedral, Mosque, City Council, many churches in Exeter as well as numerous individuals who have contacted us to express their horror at this attack.”

The case

Initially the case was heard at Exeter Crown Court in July. Following the revelation of Tristan Morgan’s far-right connections, a further hearing took place at Westminster Magistrate’s Court in January 2019 where he was charged with two counts of terrorism; for publishing a statement which was a direct or indirect attempt to instigate an act of terrorism and for possession of a document which contained information that could be useful to a person preparing or instigating an act of terrorism. Morgan was also charged with the arson attempt; an attempt to endanger life.

At a later hearing at the Old Bailey, Morgan admitted carrying out the arson attack on Exeter Synagogue and pleaded guilty to encouraging terrorism and collecting information for terrorist purposes. 

During sentencing this afternoon, the judge commented on Morgan’s “obsession” with antisemitic material and stated that Morgan considers himself a white separatist, rather than a white supremacist. The judge also noted that Morgan made a concerted effort to burn down the third oldest synagogue in the United Kingdom on a holy day, namely Tisha B’Av. However, Morgan had researched the opening times of the synagogue, suggesting he did not want to harm people, which is why he targeted it when it was closed. When arrested, Morgan was found to be in possession of white supremacist and neo-Nazi material as well as 24 knives. Taking into account Morgan’s mental health issues, as well as the fact he pled guilty, the judge sentenced him Morgan to an indeterminate hospital order before his potential release can be considered by court. Police have confirmed that before Morgan can be considered for release, a further review will take place by the courts and medical experts. He also sentenced Morgan to a ten year terrorist notification order.

Responding to the sentence, Supt Matt Lawler, the Local Policing Commander for Exeter, East & Mid Devon said:

“Morgan is clearly very unwell and following multiple detailed medical assessments it is clear that a hospital order is appropriate. He will be subject of further assessments and close monitoring for many years to come”.

CST would like to thank all those involved in bringing this case to justice, including CST volunteer from Exeter, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Devon and Cornwall Police service. CST would also like to thank those working at the Mecca bingo club, opposite the synagogue, for their brave actions when they noticed the fire.

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