The Justice Department announced Thursday that 24-year-old Cody Crawford of Corvallis, Ore. has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Eugene, Ore. on hate crime charges for setting fire to the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center last fall.
On Nov. 28, 2010, Corvallis Police Department Sgt. Jef Van Arsdall saw smoke rising from the mosque. As he got closer he saw flames coming out of a first floor window along with broken glass on the ground. A flashlight was found nearby, along with a Fanta bottle that was partially melted and contained a liquid that “smelled strongly of gasoline but which had a thicker consistency,” according to an affidavit filed by the FBI. No one was injured in the incident.
Officials interviewed area residents, including Crawford, who could see the Islamic Center from his front porch. The DNA on the flashlight found at the site was a very close match to Crawford's, though he says it had been stolen from his porch that night.
Officials say that the evidence suggests that Crawford set fire to the house of worship, and that he may have done so in response to a foiled terror plot that nearly occurred two days prior during a Portland Christmas tree lighting event. Mohamed Mohamud, who was arrested in conjunction with the attempted terror plot, occasionally attended the mosque.
On his Facebook page, Crawford wrote, “that guy on the news used to go to the mosque that is right in frnt [sic] of my house!” along with another similar post. When police later seized his computer, they also found that he had executed a number of internet searches about both Mohamud and the mosque fire.
“Burning a house of worship because of hatred toward members of one religion is not just an attack on that religion; it is an attack on our core American values,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, in a statement. “The Civil Rights Division will aggressively protect the rights of all persons to worship without fear of violence or intimidation.”
Crawford could face a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, with up to 30 years possible if he is convicted.
Although Crawford denies that he had any part in the mosque burning, he is anything but bashful about his view of Muslims.
Once, when he was arrested for disorderly conduct at a gas station, Crawford called himself a “Christian warrior” who was being persecuted. “You look like Obama,” he said to an officer who assisted in the arrest. “You are a Muslim like him. Jihad goes both ways. Christians can jihad too.”
In Dec. 2010 he was also arrested for waving a knife in the air while on his front lawn. When he was checked into a mental hospital for evaluation, he spoke of “secret Muslims” and said, “Muslims are cool. Jihadists are not.”
Greg Fowler, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon, also spoke in a recent release.
“The ability to live, work, and worship freely, without fear or intimidation, is the very foundation of our society. We cannot allow any person to threaten the rights of those citizens we are sworn to protect,” he said.
The Los Angeles Times reports that both prosecutors and defense attorneys say that Crawford suffers from bipolar disorder and alcoholism. Nevertheless, the United States attorney for the district of Oregon, Dwight C. Holton, says that federal officials will work toward a criminal conviction.
Joel Spaude, pastor of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) and chairman for the church's Outreach to Muslims Committee, says that Crawford's behavior is not the way Christians are called to act.
"Christianity does not allow that...our thankful response back to God, in Christ, for his selfless love would be to love others, even our enemies,” he said. “That doesn't mean we can't protect ourselves in self-defense...but it does not give a Christian liberty to do something unloving."
The Outreach to Muslims committee started an evangelism ministry called “Truth in Love to Muslims” in October 2004 in order to “inform Christians about Islam and encourage outreach to Muslims,” according to the ministry's website.
“Witness to the power of the gospel because that's what's going to change their hearts,” Spaude said. “Muslims, in my experience, live in fear. 'Have I done enough to please Allah,' and I'm always wondering if I have. True Christianity says, 'You can't do enough, God did it all, your salvation's free.'”