Who Is John Earnest? New Details About The Gunman Who Opened Fire At San Diego Synagogue

A young man killed one and injured three in a synagogue in CA. How was he radicalized?

Who Is John Earnest? New Details About The Gunman Who Opened Fire At San Diego Synagogue Instagram

Last weekend Americans added another religiously-based hate crime to the tally of murders in 2019. John Earnest, a 19-year-old college student who had been radicalized in online forums, burst into a synagogue with an assault-style weapon and killed one person. Three others were injured in the shooting. The incident happened during a service on the last day of Passover. Now Earnest’s family is distancing themselves from their son, saying his views do not reflect their own nor was he raised to be racist and anti-Semitic. Who is John Earnest? Read on for all the details.


1. Nursing student

John Earnest is 19-years-old and enrolled in a  nursing program at California State University San Marcos near San Diego. He graduated from Mt. Carmel High School, where he was the son of a popular physics teacher at the same school. CBS quoted a friend from high school who expressed surprise over Earnest’s transformation from varsity athlete and musician to an admitted murderer who committed a hate crime, saying: “He always seemed like a nice guy ... He didn't seem like the type of person who would go off the deep end."


One of the victims died protecting the rabbi of the congregation.

2. Attack

It was the last day of Passover, one of the most sacred holidays in the Jewish calendar when Earnest burst into the Chabad of Poway synagogue and opened fire with an assault-style rifle. Such weapons are legal to acquire and own in California, though there are questions about how Earnest got one, as the minimum age for purchasing the weapon is 21. During his short but deadly shooting spree, he killed one woman, who threw herself in front of the congregation’s rabbi in order to protect him. Three others including the rabbi were injured. When the rifle jammed, probably because Earnest was able to acquire it without the training to use it, the teen fled on foot. He was eventually apprehended and is currently being held without bond.


Earnest was inspired by other hate crimes.


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3. Online radicalization

In a story that has become all too common, it appears that Earnest’s indoctrination into far right white supremacist views came about online. His family insists that they do not share his positions of extreme hate. CBS news reports that he was a frequent user of a site called 8chan, which is known as a gathering place for those with hateful and extremist views. He used 8chan to disseminate his so-called manifesto that explained his anti-Semitic positions before he engaged in the shooting. The  LA Times reports that the 9 page rant is said to have been full of racist ideas and violent threats, specifically stating his hate for Jewish and Muslim people. He also expressed deep admiration for two men who committed hate crimes in New Zealand and at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The Southern Poverty Law Center says that such an attitude: “follows a growing trend in far-right extremist propaganda of lionizing murderers, terrorists or people accused of committing those crimes who promote white supremacist beliefs.”


Users of 8chan praise shooters like Earnest.

4. Other potential attacks

According to his online posting, Earnest may have also committed arson against a mosque in northern San Diego County. The Southern Poverty Law Center writes that Earnest took credit for the fire, saying: “The Islamic Center of Escondido, which is close to San Diego, was set on fire on March 24, according to police, who are investigating the incident as a potential hate crime. ‘[Police] didn’t report the message spray-painted on the parking lot.' Earnest wrote. ‘I wrote ‘For [the accused New Zealand terrorist] -t. /pol/’).’ The abbreviation “/pol/” refers to subsections of both 8chan and 4chan where white supremacists often congregate and share memes linked to the internet radicalization of white supremacists.’


Earnest has been charged with a mousque fire as well.

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5. Earnest’s family stunned

Earnest’s family issued a statement in response to their son’s horrific acts. The statement, issued through the family’s attorney, indicated that they do not share the radical extremist views of their son, saying, “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the terrible attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue. But our sadness pales in comparison to the grief and anguish our son has caused for so many innocent people. He has killed and injured the faithful who were gathered in a sacred place on a sacred day. To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries. Our son’s actions were informed by people we do not know, and ideas we do not hold. Like our other five children, he was raised in a family, a faith and a community that all rejected hate and taught that love must be the motive for everything we do. How our son was attracted to such darkness is a terrifying mystery to us, though we are confident that law enforcement will uncover many details of the path that he took to this evil and despicable act. To that end, our family is cooperating with investigators. We ask only that the media and the public respect our privacy and allow the criminal justice system to work. Our heavy hearts will forever go out to the victims and survivors. Our thanks go to the first responders who prevented even greater loss of life and the well-wishers who have supported us. And we pray for peace.”


The family is distancing themselves from Earnest.

Earnest’s family is cooperating with law enforcement and is not planning to pay for his legal costs.


Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.