BEVERLY HILLS— On Thursday, July 9, a preliminary hearing was held for the alleged vandal of Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. Anton Nathaniel Redding, 25, pleaded not guilty to charges of vandalism of a religious property and commercial burglary. He faces an additional penalty enhancement for a hate crime.
On the morning of December 14, 2019, Nessah Synagogue was found vandalised. The doors were wide open and trash cans turned over. Within the temple, the furniture was toppled over, prayer shawls and yarmulkes thrown, and Torah scrolls were ripped and left on the floor. There were two hearts drawn on the wall.
Nessah Synagogue serves as an important landmark for Iranian Jews, many of whom settled in Los Angeles after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. It has operated as a synagogue since 2002.
“This cowardly attack hits at the heart of who we are as a community. It’s not just an attack on the Jewish community of Beverly Hills; it’s an attack on all of us,” said then-Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch.
A five-day interstate manhunt led two detectives and two sergeants of the Beverly Hills Police Department to Kona, Hawaii. On December 18, Anton Redding of Millersville, Pennsylvania was arrested by Hawaii County Police Department officers.
Beverly Hills Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli announced that the suspect had been arrested in the middle of a town hall that had been organized by the Israeli-American Civil Action Network. Video footage recorded by security cameras in the synagogue captured Redding breaking in around 2 a.m. Fingerprints and other forensic evidence also placed him at the scene.
“Now that we know this person responsible for this crime is in police custody, we really can begin the first steps in the healing process together as a community,” Chief Spagnoli said as the attendees of the town hall clapped.
Anton Redding was born in Russia and adopted by an American family in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Friends of Redding say that he had become estranged from his parents because of his sexuality and had a substance abuse problem. He worked as a photographer along with various other service jobs over the years.
“The guy is a bit of a jackass, but he’s never pegged me as a Nazi,” said a former boyfriend of Redding.
“Anton doing this was a cry for help. He isn’t a Nazi by any means, I think this was a poor attempt at some artsy rebellion on religion gone terribly wrong, and him being so ignorant to the perception of his actions,” said Jorge Negron, who described himself as one of Redding’s best friends.
“[I]t is no small thing for a Jew, for a rabbi, to witness a synagogue and a Torah scroll so blatantly desecrated… These are times to avoid snap-judgments and promulgations. For sober thinking to win out over hysteria… We should withhold judgment until more is known,” wrote Rabbi Adam Kligfeld.
Redding is scheduled to appear at his next hearing in Los Angeles on August 7.