(JTA) — The chief suspect in a New York City bomb hoax is a 22-year-old far-right activist who once served as a leader of a Jewish youth group.
Louis Shenker, who surrendered to police on Tuesday, according to NBC News, was a BBYO regional vice president five years ago while in high school.
Campus provocations in recent years have made Shenker a cause celebre of right-wing media sites. Now he stands accused of committing arson and causing a fake bomb scare that cleared a mall on Monday.
He allegedly placed wiring, a can and a roll of duct tape on a stolen Tesla in the Queens Place Mall in an attempt to mimic a bomb. Police discovered the car, which had no actual explosives but did have a dog inside.
Their investigation led them to Shenker, who had been arrested previously for burning a sign affixed to a New York Police Department barricade last week.
Shenker is a fervent supporter of President Donald Trump who, like the president, believes that the November election was stolen on behalf of Joe Biden. He has posted a series of conspiracy theories on Facebook falsely claiming that the incumbent prevailed and calling on Trump supporters to take action.
He has written that FBI agents are “oathbreakers” who “are engaged in an attempt to destroy our great republic.” On Nov. 14, Shenker wrote that “It is literally life or death for all of us! And its about time the American people face up to that fact and to act accordingly!”
Shenker also appears to have cultivated ties to the extremist right. He has appeared on InfoWars, Alex Jones’ right-wing conspiracy theorist show, and shown admiration for Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist ideologue who has sought to make conservative events more open to white nationalist policies.
In a video posted last year Shenker, wearing a yarmulke, praises Israel as an “ethno-state” and says America should adopt its restrictive immigration policies.
“Why can America not restrict its immigration?” he asked. “Why can it not have a right to return law for anyone who’s a third- or fourth-generation descendant of someone who was in America for the 200 years of primarily white Christian European [population]?”
He added, “That’s primarily what American-first patriots like Nick Fuentes actually believe in.”
On his own podcast, called “The Minuteman,” Shenker had threatened to make a citizen’s arrest of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Shenker was known to the NYPD for antagonizing officers at anti-racism protests last year, according to The New York Times.
Last year, his activism briefly drew attention in some corners of the right-wing media after he was expelled by the University of Massachusetts Amherst when he was accused of harassing a graduate student.
He had also made waves on campus for counterprotesting at an anti-racism demonstration in 2018 wearing a MAGA hat and a T-shirt that called Bill Clinton a rapist. Shenker carried a large sign reading “Now that Russia collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?” Over the course of the event he was surrounded by protesters; one grabbed the hat off his head.
Karen Hurvitz, an attorney for Shenker, said the graduate student’s accusations were false and claimed in a news release that he had been “expelled for having the wrong beliefs about religion and politics.”
Hurvitz sent a letter to UMass Amherst last year protesting Shenker’s expulsion and threatening to sue the university. She wrote that due to the expulsion, Shenker has “suffered economic damages in the amount of approximately twenty-seven million dollars.”
Shenker was also supported in that legal effort by a Boston-based organization, Americans for Peace and Tolerance, which calls for Jews to “build alliances with other victims of the Progressive-Islamist alliance.” The organization had published a photo of a flyer calling Shenker a white supremacist and said 200 to 300 copies had been posted on campus.
Reached by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Hurvitz said in a brief interview Tuesday that she was just “catching up” on the latest charges against Shenker in New York City. She did not answer two follow-up calls later in the day.
Shenker’s activism did not begin in college. In high school, he served as his BBYO region’s vice president of recruitment, according to his LinkedIn profile. But he no longer supports the Jewish youth group: On Nov. 17, he posted on Facebook that he believes BBYO is working “in furtherance of an AntiZionist Agenda.”