Guilty in Loop swastika incident, man wears neo-Nazi symbol to community service
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An accountant from Oak Brook who pleaded guilty last year to smashing a window at a downtown synagogue and putting swastika stickers on its doors is back in jail for violating his probation by showing up for community service with a neo-Nazi symbol written across his forehead.
Stuart Wright, 33, pleaded guilty to a hate crime in August 2017, admitting he was the man caught on video defacing the Chicago Loop Synagogue.
Wright avoided jail time but was ordered to seek counseling, perform 200 hours of community service and pay the synagogue restitution of more than $4,500.
But now Wright is back in the Cook County Jail, where he’s been held without bail and placed in protective custody since March.
Prosecutors say he violated the terms of his probation when he showed up at St. Sabina Church for community service with a neo-Nazi symbol written across his forehead.
“He’s not some true believer,” says Wright’s attorney Michael Byrne, who blames his client’s behavior on schizophrenia. “This thing is just mental illness-related.”
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor at the Catholic church where Wright was doing his community service, says Wright was “very standoffish” and left church members feeling uneasy.
Pfleger says Wright — who has one tattoo of a swastika and another that reads “Jesus Is Love” — was assigned to do maintenance work at the church in Auburn Gresham on the South Side to fulfill his community service, reporting to an African-American supervisor.
“It was obvious he did not want to be here,” Pfleger says. “He didn’t really enjoy taking directions from a black man.”
About two weeks into his community service, Wright showed up at the church on Nov. 13 with the number “88” written across his forehead, according to Pfleger and records from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
Wright said the number was a nod to the jersey number of his favorite Bears player. Last season, 88 was worn by Dion Sims, who is African-American.
The number carries significance for white supremacists: “H” is the eighth letter in the alphabet, so “88” is often used to signify “HH” — shorthand for “Heil Hitler.”
Pfleger reported Wright to his probation officer.
“When he came in with Nazi stuff on, that was the last straw,” the priest says.
According to the state’s attorney’s office, after Wright was dismissed from St. Sabina, he posted on a Facebook page for Hinsdale Central High School, which he attended: “What up. I committed the 88 hate crime against the jew synagogue in Chi and just got kicked out of the ghetto black community service today for writing 88 on my forehead, Haha!!”
Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist who now counsels people with hate-filled ideologies, says Wright attended four one-hour counseling sessions with him before going back to jail.
Wright “was very engaged,” Picciolini says. “He was always prompt [and] always answered my questions.
“I think he generally believed violence was wrong, but his sort of actions were justified,” Picciolini says. “He believed he was a warrior in some sort of battle.”
He wrote to prosecutors that he grew “increasingly concerned that Mr. Wright fits an active shooter profile” and that “Mr. Wright has expressed a fascination with guns, weaponry and notorious killers.”
Picciolini questions putting Wright in the role he had at St. Sabina.
“My experience tells me that we probably shouldn’t throw people — in their first experience with people they hate — in a subservient position,” the counselor says. “It probably reinforced his fear, his hatred, his prejudice.”
Still, Picciolini say that Wright’s writing “88” on his forehead “was less of a way for him to show his ideology and more of a way to scare people.”
Since Wright was taken back into custody, he hasn’t gotten counseling and is only receiving medication, according to his lawyer.
“It speaks to this country’s lack of resources, understanding or willingness to deal with mental health issues,” Byrne says.
According to court files, a psychiatrist who previously treated Wright said he suffered from schizophrenia and was prescribed medication. And, in a letter to the state’s attorney’s office, a psychologist who counseled him said Wright admitted smoking methamphetamine for eight months when he was living in Hawaii in 2012, which led to auditory hallucinations and paranoid thinking.
After a report on Wright’s background appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times last year following his arrest for a hate crime, his parents were the subject of harassment, according to Byrne.
“His parents are loving and supportive parents and are trying to cope with his mental illness,” Byrne says.
According to Picciolini, there’s little hope of altering Wright’s ideology until his mental health is addressed.
“The reality is, unless we can repair that foundation, that pavement, his life’s journey is going to be pretty full of potholes,” he says.