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Putting a stop to anti-religious hate crimes a top priority for US Attorney Mark Totten

It’s been months since the Hamas terror attack in Israel, but the war in Gaza rages on. And even though ground zero is thousands of miles away the emotional impact of the conflict is being felt across the United States including in Northern Michigan.

U.S Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, Mark Totten, says that people are using that emotional reaction to the conflict to commit acts of hate and violence

“We’ve seen a pretty significant rise in hate incidents and hate crimes across the United States”


According to FBI data, hate crimes against Jewish people have increased by 37% over the last year reaching the highest number in three decades and the second-highest number ever recorded. Of the thousands of reported anti-religion hate crimes, anti-Semitism accounts for 50% of them.

″We’ve seen certainly nationally, some hate incidents against Muslims or Arabs as well. And so, you know, we are going to hold perpetrators accountable wherever we find them. Right now, we have two cases, both of which happened to involve anti-Semitism.”

Totten is referencing a pair of cases in Northern Michigan. The first is 23-year-old Nathan Weeden of Houghton Lake. Weeden will be facing a jury trial on Jan. 22f or allegedly defacing a Jewish temple in Hancock with Neo-Nazi symbols.

The second case is that of Seann Pietilla who was arrested for planning a mass shooting at a Synagogue in East Lansing.


“We caught that case early. That’s exactly what we want to do. We prevented the atrocity from happening. And, you know, that’s that’s that’s the ideal situation for us.”

Pietilla pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Totten says that Pietilla’s case shines a spotlight on the gun violence that is plaguing the nation

“We are living in a moment where we have an unprecedented number of guns. Many of them are illegal. Some, of course, are legal, but many of them are illegal. And they are on our streets. They are in the hands of adults. They are not safe and secure where they should be all the time. And sometimes they’re in the hands of juveniles as well. You know, we’ve seen many young people killed across Michigan just this year.”

For the first time in history, gun violence is the number one cause of death for kids in America, an epidemic Totten vows to fight every day,


He recently brought charges against Avis Coward out of East Lansing, alleging that his unsecured gun led to the death of a 2-year-old child.

Other cases are stopped before tragedy strikes like the case of Torez Burnett of Benton Harbor who was sentenced to 70 months for importing Machine gun devices from China and handing them out to members of his street gang.

Or the case of 29-year-old Casey Johnson of Muskegon who will serve 7 and a half years for stealing & illegally possessing firearms.

“We’re going to continue to find those cases. And if there is a case that involves the death of a child and it makes sense for us to charge and bring to the table the longer penalties that the federal government can do, then we’re ready to do that.”

Whether it’s hate crimes or gun violence Totten wants people to think twice before committing the crime because, he says, if they do commit the crime, he will work diligently to put them behind bars for a very long time.

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