Michigan teen indicted for making online threats towards synagogue

A 19-year-old Michigan man has been indicted for making threats on social media and planning to target a synagogue near Lansing, the state capital. Seann Pietila, from Pickford in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, has been in custody since June 16.

The indictment, filed on Tuesday in federal court in Grand Rapids, charges him with making threats, including a specific threat to kill by fire. U.S. Attorney Mark Totten emphasized the importance of protecting individuals from violent threats based on their race, ethnicity, religion, or any other status.

Seann Pietila was arrested on June 16, and during the arrest, investigators found the name of the Shaarey Zedek congregation in East Lansing on his phone, along with a date in 2024. Pietila also sent a message to another Instagram user expressing his desire to “inspire others to take arms against the Jewish controlled state.”

Upon searching Pietila’s home, law enforcement agents discovered a cache of weapons, knives, tactical equipment, and a red-and-white Nazi flag. They also noted that Pietila made references to the New Zealand shooter, who is currently serving a life sentence for the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks. These findings raise concerns about the potential for violence and the influence of extremist ideologies.

Pietila’s arrest coincided with the conviction of a truck driver who stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, killing 11 congregants in an act of antisemitic terror. These incidents highlight the ongoing threat of violence against religious institutions and the need for continued vigilance in combating hate crimes.