Russian-speaking San Francisco lawyer stands against Jews and the US justice system
With the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the confrontation between Jews and the Arab world reached a new level. As the Israeli army takes strike after strike against the Gaza Strip, calls for a settlement of the conflict in the Middle East have been heard around the world. At the same time, amid threats against Jewish citizens, some European countries have tightened public safety regulations and increased security at Jewish places of worship.
In the US state of Illinois, a six-year-old Muslim child was murdered a week after the attack on Israel. Law enforcement authorities believe the boy was killed because of his Muslim family, with the killing motivated by the ongoing Middle East conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis. Near and far, there are calls to hold one side or the other accountable.
But what about hate crimes against Jewish communities in California?
Anatoly Smolkin convicted of threatening to blow up a synagogue in San Francisco
In early August, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins announced that her office had secured a guilty verdict against former attorney Anatoly Smolkin for making criminal threats against attendees of a Russian synagogue in the Inner Richmond neighborhood.
“The jury’s verdict in this case emphasizes that criminal threats of any kind are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Jenkins stated. “Criminal threats to blow up places of worship that have historically been under attack must be taken seriously and prosecuted vigorously. Violent threats often precede violence, and it is important that we take steps to proactively protect the public.”
According to a police report in the possession of Slavic Sacramento, on April 7, 2022, Smolkin entered Temple Emanu-El Synagogue in San Francisco and threatened to kill those in attendance and blow up the place of worship. Security personnel at the religious institution immediately notified authorities. Police officers who arrived on the scene immediately arrested Smolkin.
“Mr. Smolkin’s behavior directly endangered not only the victim, but Temple Emanu-El Synagogue congregants as a whole,” said Assistant City Attorney Samantha Adhikari. “I am grateful to the jury for their quick but thoughtful deliberations despite the complex legal issues and for returning a verdict that promotes public safety.”
Mr. Smolkin faces up to six years in prison. He has been in custody since his arrest by San Francisco police on April 7, 2022.
Synagogue reacts to Smolkin’s conviction
Slavic Sacramento contacted the synagogue’s administration and received the following response from Executive Director David Goldman:
“Our Jewish community is a little safer today. In April 2022, an individual [Smolkin] made antisemitic threats at Temple Emanu-El Synagogue and other Jewish organizations in the Bay Area. Through the efforts of San Francisco police officers and the DA’s office, this individual was found guilty of making criminal threats; he is allegedly facing a sentence of six years in prison. The above individual has been in custody since his arrest.
I would like to express my gratitude to our Temple Emanu-El security team. Having attended the court hearing, I can confirm that our security team did everything possible to ensure our safety and followed all established protocols.”
“Russians spit on America’s power”
In addition to the synagogue incident in neighboring Solano County, Anatoly Smolkin was on trial in another criminal case involving 30 felonies and 17 misdemeanor counts of harassment, threats, battery on a police officer, and contempt of court.
Court documents show Smolkin received a seven-year prison sentence for threatening employees of a San Francisco firm where he once worked as a lawyer. After violating a ban on approaching the firm’s employees, the former lawyer faced stiffer terms of his prison sentence.
In 2017, angered by the Solano County District Attorney’s Office for its handling of his parole violation case, appellant Anatoly Smolkin sent a two-page handwritten letter to that office, intended for Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Horvath, that can only be described as highly erratic. The message stated that Smolkin was a member of Russian military intelligence and that Horvath had been “sentenced to death in Moscow for kidnapping a soldier of the Russian armed forces.”
“Your entire office will be arrested by Russian military police, tried for kidnapping, and sentenced to death by firing squad… My only role in the execution, as a psychological officer, will be to live stream [the execution] on Facebook.”
In his messages, Smolkin calls the American justice system corrupt. He believes that religion has usurped all public spaces in the United States, writing that “Russians spit on the power of America” and threatening to blow up the prosecutor’s office building. He further vows his intention to destroy the United States in conjunction with the Russian Army. It is worth recalling that the events described above took place at the dawn of the public campaign to demonize Russia: the bombing of a US military base in Syria occurred at that time, as well as the ongoing investigation of US Presidential National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was accused of working for Russian intelligence. Around the same time, the expulsion of the Russian consulate in San Francisco took placе.
In November 2018, a trial court sentenced Smolkin to seven years in prison for his previous crimes. However, an appeals court overturned the decision, based in part on the fact that the defendant made “non-existent threats.” In other words, the Russian-speaking compatriot “had no ties to the Kremlin but tried to brag about his supposed affiliation with Russian intelligence.”
In addition, the forensic psychiatric report indicated that the “appellant has a persistent delusion that he is a Russian military operative fighting the US government.” According to court documents, the former attorney was prescribed a psychotropic medication.
In the Solano County Court of Appeals, Smolkin was supported by a number of human rights organizations, one of which happened to be the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Smolkin’s acquittal is also supported by ordinary citizens:
“Why has someone so obviously dealing with mental challenges — that apparently are treatable — been thrust into the criminal justice system for over 12 years, when what he clearly needs is mandatory mental health support?” writes Lafayette resident Michael Marcus in the pages of The Jewish News.
In the end, Judge J. Simons overturned a previous decision to incarcerate the defendant, and Smolkin, who represented himself in court, walked free.
Other charges against Smolkin
The Slavic Sacramento editorial board has obtained other court documents that show Anatoly Smolkin was previously tried on similar charges. Specifically, he was charged with assaulting law enforcement officers, fighting in public places, inappropriate behavior, pushing, etc. Smolkin committed some of these crimes against Jewish communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.
As a result of his violent behavior, Smolkin was disbarred in the state of California.
On Facebook, Slavic Sacramento managed to find a profile for Anatoly Smolkin, where he praises Russian President Vladimir Putin and calls the US government “Nazis” and “global capitalism criminals.”
Statistics on the harassment of Jews in California
According to a May 2023 report by the Anti-Defamation League, there were more than 500 antisemitic acts against Jews in California the previous year, including assaults, vandalism, and harassment. This number represents a 40% increase from 2021, underscoring the rise in hate crimes and extremism in the state.
According to the US Department of Justice, the number of anti-Jewish incidents rose from 115 in 2020 to 152 in 2021, an increase of 32.2%.
This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.