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Man arrested in antisemitic vandalism of Tucson synagogue

A 30-year Tucson man was charged with aggravated criminal damage for allegedly vandalizing a Tucson synagogue earlier this month, authorities said. 

Nathan Beaver was arrested Thursday as part of investigation by Tucson police officers into antisemitic graffiti found at the Chabad on River synagogue in Midtown Tucson on June 7. Rabbi Ram Bigelman said that he found the graffiti on a side door of his synagogue, including a large Nazi swastika painted on the outside door, along with an ethnic slur for Jews.

The incident was one of two acts of vandalism at Tucson-area synagogues in less than a month, and the incident prompted the formation of a coalition of 50 religious, ethnic and race-based organizations from Tucson and Southern Arizona to push back against antisemitism, anti-Asian sentiment, Islamophobia, and racism.

The charge against Beaver can result in a class 5 or class 6 felony conviction under Arizona law, depending on the monetary value of the damage, with a potential sentence between six months and 2.5 years, and the possibility of a class 1 misdemeanor conviction instead. Under state law, the potential penalties for criminal damage are greater if the targeted property is a house of worship.

Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus and Mayor Regina Romero praised the work of detectives. 

"We have continually expressed we have no tolerance for crimes based on hate or targeted towards places of worship. This arrest confirms that commitment," Magnus said. 

"I know this incident was deeply troubling to our entire community," Romero said. "I appreciate the dedicated work of our police department’s officers and detectives to identify and apprehend the suspect." 

After the vandalism was reported, Tucson police officers with the Street Crimes Interdiction Unit responded, and began to patrol the area. After "exhaustive efforts" by detectives and officers, the department identified Beaver as the vandal, said Francisco Magos, a TPD spokesman. Beaver was located and taken into custody at North 1st Avenue and East Roger Road on Thursday, and following interviews, charged and booked into the Pima County Jail, Magos said. 

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Beaver, who has recently spent time living in Albuquerque as well as Tucson, has been a frequent defendant in courts in both locations.

He has been on probation here, sentenced to two years, after being convicted of felony credit card theft in January 2021, in a 2019 case. Prior to his arrest in the synagogue vandalism case, authorities had already moved last month to revoke his probation and have him serve his sentence in custody, for reasons not disclosed in court documents available online. Beaver appeared in Pima County courtroom on June 14 in that case, with a hearing set on July 1 to determine its outcome.

In Tucson and Pima County courtrooms, he's previously faced numerous drug-related charges — with convictions for possession of paraphernalia — as well as several convictions for improperly riding a bicycle, which prompted a judge to revoke his drivers license.

He's also pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing and theft charges here, and court records show he faces a warrant for failing to appear in a New Mexico court on credit card fraud charges in February 2021.

Beaver was booked into the Pima County Jail in the Chabad case, where he was being held on $250 bond Thursday night.

Vandalism discovered

The vandalism was first reported by COLLive, a Jewish Orthodox news service, and later shared on Twitter by state Rep. Alma Hernandez. "When it happens to one, it happens to all of us," she wrote. "The amount of Jewish hate isn't shocking. The silence is."

In widely shared photos, the side entrance to Chabad is marked by a red swastika spray-painted on the door, with the misspelled phrase "dirty k--s," an ethnic slur for Jews, painted below.

"This is terrible," Gov. Doug Ducey said on the incident. The governor tweeted that antisemitism "has NO place in Arizona and this behavior cannot be tolerated. We are ensuring the authorities are aware of this hateful act. Those responsible must be held accountable. Arizona stands with those of the Jewish faith."

Bigelman said he was "surprised, and thrilled" that people in the community immediately responded to help, including the Tucson Police Department. Bigelman said that his congregation would clean up the synagogue, and they would look to add security, but that such an attack wouldn't keep them from continuing their work.

"The main thing, the import thing, is to encourage all Jews not be afraid, or to show their faith," he said. "Come more for services, come more for education." 

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Previous incident

Just three weeks earlier, someone threw a rock through a glass door at Tucson's Congregation Chaverim near Speedway and North Wilmot Road. Hernandez, a member of that congregation, tweeted about that incident as well. 

"I'm a complete mess in tears as I write this," wrote Hernandez . "I just got off the phone with my Rabbi our synagogue was vandalized someone through a rock at our glass door. This was NOT and accident! I feel numb. This is in #tucson Send prayers our way. It's just the beginning." 

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords also wrote about the incident two weeks ago, writing that it was "heartbreaking to see."

"Yesterday, my synagogue in Tucson was vandalized," she wrote. "It's heartbreaking to see such a disgusting act in a place where so many are meant to feel safest. Despite these actions, we will not be shaken. Hate has no place in Arizona."

Magos said that police did not believe the incidents were connected, and that the previous incident at Chaverim was being looked at as a vandalism case.

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Nathan Beaver, 30, faces charges of criminal damage for allegedly vandalizing a Tucson synagogue earlier this month.

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