Man Charged With Federal Hate Crime In Rutgers Islamic Student Center Vandalism

A man was charged Monday with a federal hate crime following the vandalism and burglary of an Islamic student center at Rutgers University earlier this month.

Jacob Beacher has been arrested and is in federal custody, according to an email to the Rutgers community from Kenneth Cop, the chief of the Rutgers University Police Department. HuffPost obtained the email Monday, and Megan Schumann, a spokesperson for Rutgers, subsequently confirmed the arrest and shared additional information. Beacher’s initial appearance before a federal judge was scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.

The vandalism occurred in the early morning hours of April 10 on Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and included a break-in and smashed religious objects.

Beacher has been federally charged with two counts: damage to religious property and making fraudulent statements. Cop’s email said state charges were pending and that the investigation was active.

Beacher caused an estimated $40,000 of damage, including the destruction of Turbah prayer stones and items containing language from the Quran, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit, which was included in the federal complaint. The agent said surveillance footage showed Beacher walking toward the student center, which is known as CILRU, and alleged that he broke a window to unlock a deadbolt and get inside the building.

Two days after the vandalism incident, Beacher agreed to speak with law enforcement, according to the affidavit. After acknowledging that surveillance footage showed him near the student center, he allegedly lied about his involvement in the break-in.

Kaiser Aslam, the Muslim chaplain at Rutgers, welcomed the charges and applauded the university for its support.

“This crime didn’t occur in a vacuum. It occurred at a time in which Muslims and Palestinians in particular are being dehumanized,” Aslam said. “It’s good to see that when a crime is motivated by something like this, that it is tried to the full extent as it should be and taken as seriously as it should be.”

Aslam said the center did not have any previous interactions with Beacher.

“I’ve never had an incident on campus before on this scale, and we can’t help but equate that our pro-Palestinian advocacy that we have been doing made us a target of a crime like this.”

Aslam previously told HuffPost that a vandal smashed religious objects and electronics, and that a Palestinian flag hanging inside the building was stolen. According to the FBI agent’s affidavit, Beacher stole the flag as well as “at least one charity box belonging to the CILRU.” The box was later found at a nearby park — the same park where, according to cell-site data, Beacher’s cellphone pinged after the break-in, according to the affidavit.

The destruction solicited a strong response from public officials, including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who said he was “disgusted” by the incident.

Initial details on the defendant are sparse. Cop’s email said Beacher was from New Brunswick, where the vandalism occurred. Schumann said in an email, “The individual charged is not and has not been affiliated with Rutgers University.”

“Rutgers condemns this act of violence against the Rutgers–New Brunswick Muslim community and the desecration of a religious and community space,” Schumann added in an email. “Such acts of hatred and bigotry against anyone in our community have no place at Rutgers. We abhor all forms of intolerance based on religion, national origin, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or political views.”

In the aftermath of the attack, the center said it received immense support from the community, with some sending gifts to replace the damaged items, including the broken printer and one of the TV monitors. The center just resumed courses last week, according to its social media posts.

“We are humbled by the amazing and generous outpouring from the Rutgers community and the community at large,” read a news release Monday from CILRU that was obtained by HuffPost. “These acts of support from outright donations, donations in kind to replace stolen and damaged items, flowers, balloons, calls and emails have been overwhelming and heartening.”

There was no information available on a lawyer for Beacher.

The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomed the federal hate crime charge in a news release sent Monday morning.

“The CILRU has been a leading voice in advocating for Muslim students on campus and has expressed unequivocal support for Palestine actions and advocacy at Rutgers University,” said Dina Sayedahmed, a CAIR-NJ spokesperson.

“University administrators must act with urgency to protect Muslim, Palestinian, and allied students, and until they do so, they are putting these students in direct harm’s way.”