The alleged vandal of Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills came one day closer to his day in court following a July 9 preliminary hearing at the Los Angeles Superior Court. Anton Redding, a 25-year-old from Philadelphia, has pleaded not guilty to charges of vandalism of a religious property and commercial burglary, with a penalty enhancement for a hate crime. Redding, who appeared through his attorney, faces up to six years in prison.
On December 14, 2019, congregants of the Iranian Jewish temple found their house of worship in disarray. Trash cans were upended; chairs and furniture were toppled over; prayer rugs and yarmulkes lay scattered about and Torah scrolls were thrown to the ground. Two hearts appeared on the wall, drawn in the chalky white residue of a fire extinguisher.
“This cowardly attack hits at the heart of who we are as a community,” then-Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch said in a press release. “It’s not just an attack on the Jewish community of Beverly Hills; it’s an attack on all of us.”
News of the defilement followed on the heels of a string of anti-Semitic violence. Three days earlier, four people had been killed in a mass shooting at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey. That same week, graffiti appeared at three schools in Los Angeles that included anti-Semitic themes, including the phrase “Time to pay.” A report by L.A. County’s Commission on Human Relations found that 72 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes in L.A. targeted the Jewish community.
Days after the break in, the Israeli-American Civic Action Network (ICAN) organized a town hall to discuss anti-Semitism in the community. There, in the presence of nearly 400 city officials, community members, and law enforcement officers, then-Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) Chief Sandra Spagnoli unexpectedly announced that a suspect had been arrested. The news was greeted with a standing ovation.
“Now that we know this person responsible for this crime is in police custody, we really can begin the first steps in the healing process together as a community,” Chief Spagnoli said to the ICAN audience.
Spagnoli described a five-day, interstate manhunt that led four BHPD officers from Los Angeles to a pier in Kona, Hawaii, to take Redding into custody. Redding was allegedly captured on videotape forcing his way into Nessah pulling a rolling suitcase behind him. He left the scene via taxi, which drove him directly to Los Angeles International Airport.
In many ways, the strange details of Redding’s arrest seemed to raise even more questions than they answered. The incident also raised questions for Redding’s close friends, who all learned of his arrest through media reports. How did Redding, an aspiring photographer and model who had never been to California (let alone Los Angeles), end up in Hawaii?
Redding grew up in rural Pennsylvania after his parents adopted him from Russia as an infant, according to interviews the Courier conducted with multiple friends of Redding. He eventually became estranged from his mom and dad.
“He had a difficult relationship with them. They didn’t really speak well. They’re very conservative, so him being gay was an issue,” said Jorge Negron, who described himself as one of Redding’s best friends.
Friends of Redding also describe his struggles with substance abuse, and treatment in a rehabilitation facility in 2017. In the month leading up to the Nessah break-in, those friends describe Redding’s behavior as erratic and “manic.”
“I just think he’s broken a little bit and lost,” said Negron. “He’s a really good person. I’ve known him from 16-years-old to 25-years-old and he’s just always searching for love and acceptance,” Negron told the Courier.
When asked by the Courier if she thought her friend was motivated by hate, Nabila Bee responded, “Not at all! He is the most loving, accepting person.” Another friend, Pittsburg-based photographer Alyssa Maurer, echoed Bee, saying, “He is openly gay and would never commit a crime that devalues the beliefs of others.”
While he worked a series of service jobs around Pennsylvania, Redding’s passion was photography. Multiple friends wondered if Redding saw Nessah simply as another photo-op. “I used to go with Anton when he would go break into abandoned places to take pictures,” Negron says. “In my mind, he was probably going in there to take pictures and he’s unfortunately not smart enough to realize how disrespectful he is by doing what he’s doing.”
“I’ll say this,” said a friend who requested anonymity, “Anton doing this was a cry for help. He isn’t a Nazi by any means, I think this was a poor attempt at some artsy rebellion on religion gone terribly wrong, and him being so ignorant to the perception of his actions.”
Redding is next scheduled to appear at a hearing in Los Angeles on August 7.