A man who allegedly fired blanks from a pistol at a Russian-speaking synagogue in San Francisco has been linked to social media accounts featuring antisemitic propaganda and pictures of him dressed in a World War II-era German military uniform bearing a swastika.
Dmitri Mishin, 51, appears to be the suspect who allegedly entered the Schneerson Center in the Richmond on Wednesday, fired blanks in the sanctuary and then walked off, according to a review of jail records and surveillance footage from the incident.
In the wake of the incident, the synagogue’s rabbi and president told media that they suspected the assailant might have been motivated by mental illness, not antisemitism. They said he “looked like a Russian Jew” and claimed to be from the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.
But The Standard has since reviewed social media postings in the days leading up to and after the attack that may suggest antisemitism played a role.
“At the beginning, we weren't sure. I wasn’t so upset,” synagogue president Mattie Pil told The Standard. “But now I’m getting to the point that I’m disturbed a little. It’s not a simple case like I thought.”
On Jan. 29, a Twitter account that appears to belong to Mishin posted a video of something burning on the sidewalk in front of the Schneerson Center. The account’s profile image shows a man who resembles the shooter captured in the surveillance footage wearing the historic military uniform.
Two days later, the account published an image of a German World War II-era antisemitic propaganda poster reading “Achtung – Jude” (“Attention, Jew”).
On Feb. 2, the day after the shooting at the Schneerson Center, the same account posted a photo that appears to show a younger Mishin wearing a World War II-era German uniform featuring a swastika and holding a hand grenade.
The images and videos were part of a slew of posts on Twitter and Facebook around the time of the attack, some of which were disturbing.
On Feb. 3, a Facebook page bearing Mishin’s name posted a gruesome video of the dying convulsions of a cow with its throat cut.
His accounts weren’t solely focused on German military imagery. They also published a series of videos of marching armies and a number of Soviet, Chinese and Ukrainian songs with military or propaganda themes.
Mishin could not be reached for comment.
The bizarre incident has rattled a close-knit religious community in the Richmond.
The Schneerson Center is a small synagogue that largely caters to Russian-speaking, Jewish elders.
“When they go to regular synagogues, they don’t know what’s going on,” Bentzion Pil, the center’s rabbi said. “They don’t speak English well.”
But as a small organization, the center lacks the kind of security measures common at larger synagogues.
Security footage from the incident appears to show a man who resembles Mishin casually walk through the door and say something to a group of older people seated around a table.
The gunman then pulls out a pistol and begins shooting blanks into the air. Hardly anyone in the room flinches, except for one man who stands up and approaches the shooter, ducking as the gunman fires.
Rabbi Pil told The Standard they were initially hesitant to report the incident, fearing it would provoke other attacks.
“In the beginning, I was afraid there would be a chain reaction,” he said.
Pil said the police are now watching the synagogue, although it is unclear how long that will last.
“I still have trauma,” he told The Standard. “It’s hard to sleep because I’m worried a lot about the community.”
The shooting was one of two startling events in the neighborhood that police appear to have connected to Mishin.
A day before he fired blanks at the synagogue, authorities say the same gunman went into the nearby Balboa Theatre on Tuesday night and brandished a handgun. The FBI posted a photo of the suspect standing in the theater, holding a pistol in his hand pointed toward the ceiling.
By Friday evening the suspected gunman was taken into custody in the same neighborhood after investigators searched his home and found evidence that connected him to both incidents, police said.
Mishin was booked into county jail shortly after midnight Saturday on suspicion of various charges including disturbing a religious assembly and brandishing an imitation firearm. He was not booked on suspicion of a hate crime.
SFPD has not released the name of the suspect they arrested and declined to confirm on Sunday that Mishin was the alleged gunman.
However, jail records show Mishin was booked on the same charges as the suspect. The photos posted to online accounts linked to his name also appear to resemble images of the suspect shared by the FBI.
Mishin remains in county jail as of Sunday morning.
Michael Barba can be reached at email@example.com