A 69-year-old Florida man with a “hatred for Muslims” is facing a federal gun charge after police say they uncovered his plot to “shoot up” a mosque by firing on congregants from the Islamic Center’s tower.
Bernandino Gawala Bolatete, of Jacksonville, was arrested December 1 and charged with possession of an unregistered silencer, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida said Monday in a press release.
“The investigation confirmed the suspect was planning on carrying out a mass shooting and he already had the weaponry necessary to carry out the attack,” Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told reporters. The intended target was the Islamic Center of North East Florida, police said. Williams said they set up a “proactive protection plan” that meant the mosque was never at risk.
Bolatete, who is originally from the Philippines, has shared anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and articles on his Facebook page, where he goes by the name Nandie Bolatete. He calls himself a “shooting sports enthusiast” and told investigators he used to be a “rangemaster” in his native country before he was shot by a drunken police officer.
He told police he wanted to carry out the attack on a Muslim holy day and then die through “suicide by cop,” according to court documents.
“So we’ll try … we will try a Christian doing uh terroristic act this time to the Muslims,” he told an undercover officer, according to court documents. “They doing it all the time.”
In another conversation he said, “I just want to give these freaking people a taste of their own medicine, you know? They are the ones who are always doing these shootings, the killings.”
Here’s what you need to know about Bolatete and the accusations against him:
1. Bolatete Planned to Use 5 Rifles & Wanted to ‘Go Up to the Tower & Start Shooting,’ Saying, ‘It Will Be Great, Right?’
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said the investigation began when a concerned citizen gave them a tip about Bernandino Bolatete. An undercover police officer then befriended Bolatete and learned about his alleged attack plot, authorities said Monday at a press conference.
“In late October of this year, JSO detectives received information from a confidential source that an individual named Bernandino Bolatete had expressed a strong anti-Islamic sentiment and was planning to conduct a mass shooting of individuals at the Islamic Center of North East Florida,” Sheriff Mike Williams said at the press conference. “We were able to introduce a JSO undercover detective who was able to interact with the suspect and confirm the information we had received from the confidential source.”
According to federal court documents, Bolatete met several times with the undercover officer to shoot weapons at various local shooting ranges.
“During these meetings, Bolatete repeatedly express his hatred of Muslims,” FBI Special Agent Christa Hocutt, wrote in the criminal complaint.
On November 10, the undercover officer and Bolatete went to the St. Johns County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 113 Range, in St. Augustine, Florida, to shoot guns. The officer said he saw Bolatete carry several weapons from his home on Eucalyptus Drive in Jacksonville into his vehicle. They drove past the Islamic Center of North East Florida in Jacksonville on the way to the range and the officer asked Bolatete if it was in fact a mosque. He said it was and then pointed out the tower, according to court documents.
He told the officer he had to “bring my long guns there and uh, stay at that, uh tower,” adding he would go on a Friday, which he said is for Muslims like Sundays are for Christians, “Keep shooting those Muslims, you know, on Friday.”
He told the officer, he would climb into the tower “and start shooting,” It will be…it will be great, right,” he said.
According to court documents, Bolatete told the officer he had been to the mosque and looked into how to get into the tower and studied the grounds. He said he would be bringing five rifles including “an AR-15 that can be converted to the AR-47.”
During a November 24 trip to the gun range, the officer showed Bolatete an AR-15 rifle with a suppressor, also known as a silencer, designed to be used with the rifle, according to court documents. He told Bolatete that his friend had several weapons and silencer and was trying to sell them, if Bolatete was interested.
On November 27, Bolatete asked the undercover officer if he had a silencer, saying he “might need it,” according to court documents.
“Bolatete told the UC that he did not want any paperwork associated with the silencer because filing such paperwork would give the government the right to search Bolatete’s property,” according to court documents.
On December 1, Bolatete met the undercover officer at a gun store and bought the silencer for $100, according to court documents, leading to the charge against him.
2. He Told the Undercover Agent That He Had Kidney Issues From When He Was Shot by a Police Officer During a Parking Spot Dispute in the Philippines
Bernardino Bolatete told the undercover police officer that he was concerned about his health, according to court documents. It is implied that he was planning on basing his attack plot on his health status. Bolatete told the officer that he had only one working kidney, and it has been failing, because he lost his other kidney when he was shot in the back during a dispute over a parking spot with a drunken police officer at a gun range in his native Philippines.
During a recorded December 1 conversation, Bolatete said that during the gun range argument in the Philippines, the police officer pulled out a gun and shot him in the back. Bolatete said he then shot and killed the officer.
“According to the (undercover officer), Bolatete told the UC that he had an upcoming doctor’s appointment and was concerned about his prognosis,” the FBI said in court documents.
Bolatete was already undergoing dialysis, according to court documents, and expected to be told that his remaining kidney is functioning less than anticipated, meaning there would be “limited time” to carry out an attack on Muslims.
“As of, uh, last examination that I had, uhh, three months ago, my kidney is only 31 percent functioning,” he told the undercover officer. His next checkup was scheduled for December 6.
Bolatete told the undercover office he planned to be killed by police after the mass shooting.
“If I ever decided to do that I’m not thinking of getting caught,” he said, according to court documents. “I’ll die in that area (laughs). They’ll be some sort of suicide thing that…that uh, it’s whats the term? Suicide by police? … Yeah, suicide by cops. It’s one thing for sure…everybody will be there for you. SWAT, all those stuff, uh special forces, whatever.”
3. Bolatete, Whose Facebook Page Is Filled With Photos of Guns & Him at Gun Ranges, Shared Stories About ‘Evil Muslims’ From Dubious Right Wing Sites
Bernardino Bolatete uses the name Nandie Bolatete on Facebook. In the intro section, he wrote, “Shooting Sport Enthusiast, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 113, Lives in Jacksonville, Florida.”
The page is filled with photos of him at gun ranges, along with weapons, including three rifles and three handguns spread out on a bed. In other photos, Bolatete is pictured holding the rifles.
In December 2015 he commented on a photo of him holding a rifle, “Time to be serious buddy. Let’s help keep America safe, free and peaceful! Don’t just be a part of the helpless victims and statistics of these crazy ‘jihadists,’ at the same time protecting our 2nd Ammendment (sic) rights. Long live America!!!”
He shared anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and articles on his Facebook page, including one in 2015 from the right wing website Conservative Tribune, titled “Evil: Radical Muslims Rape, Make Woman Quote Quran, But How They ‘Finish Her Off’ Is the Worst,” with the caption adding, “This is sheer evil.”
On another photo, a friend asked him in Tagalog, “ready to meet with the terrorists? lol.” He replied, “the only one to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
4. His Sister-in-Law Says Guns Are a ‘Big Hobby’ for Bolatete & She Doesn’t Believe He Actually Planned to Attack the Mosque, Calling It ‘Man-Talk’
Bolatete’s sister-in-law told ActionNewsJax that guns are a “big hobby” for him. She told the news station that she does not believe he actually planned on carrying out the attack, telling a reporter she thinks any talk of a plot was just “man-talk.”
According to his Facebook page, Bolatete graduated from Rafael Palma College in 1965 and also studied at the Divine Word College of Tagbilaran in Tagbilaran City. He has recently been working at a Jacksonville liquor store, according to court documents.
Bolatete has a green card and is a Philippines national, the FBI said at a press conference. It is not clear how long he has been in the United States. During his conversations with the undercover agent, Bolatete said his native country has had “issues” with Muslims, likely referencing the clashes the government has had with ISIS factions in Marawi.
He said “(in) the Philippines, we’ve got quite a lot of problems and uh, Muslims there. There are quite a lot of Muslims there.”
Bolatete also told the undercover officer that he had once shot a man during a dispute in the Philippines, after the officer told him that his friend was having issues with a Muslim who had not paid for his contractor services. The officer told Bolatete that his friend had left expensive tools on the Muslim man’s property, but wasn’t allowed to go get them.
Bolatete texted the officer, “That’s commonly how they are, that’s why I want to shoot those freaking idiots,” according to court documents.
He told the officer, “You know, I had one asshole like that in the … in the Philippines? Shot him with a 22 with a silencer. … But I..I did not intentionally uh..kill him, you know? Just hit him in the stomach…just hit him in the stomach so that there will be a..an operation..hospitalized. My God ever since that happened to him…he lived…he lived man. But ever since that happened to him, you know what? He was really going straight, you know?”
Bolatete told the undercover officer that that his friend should “study his movements” and “hit him somewhere” away from his house, while robbing him so the investigation wouldn’t focus on the shooting instead of the friend being mad at him.
5. Bolatete, Who Faces Up to 10 Years in Prison on the Gun Charge, Is Set to Appear in Federal Court on Tuesday
Bernardino Bolatete remains in custody after his December 1 arrest. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the charge against him, “knowingly receiving and possessing a silencer not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.”
Bolatete has not been charged in connection to the plot, but the investigation is ongoing and he could face additional charges. He is scheduled to appear before a judge for a bond hearing on Tuesday, December 5 at the U.S. District Courthouse in Jacksonville.
You can read the full criminal complaint below or here:
Authorities said the Islamic Center of North East Florida was never at risk, but extra security precautions were taken.
“Due to many safeguards we had in place during this investigation, at no time were he or of the members of his congregation at risk,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Spencer said at a press conference Monday.
Ashraf Shaikh, the chairman of the Islami Center’s board, told News4Jax, “It’s very sad that something like this was being planned or threatened in Jacksonville. Thank God that out law enforcement (agencies) were vigilant, that they got wind of it and handled it very professionally.”
Wilfredo A. Ruiz, the communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida, said in a statement, “Violence and hate crimes against Muslims in Florida are real. Two mosques were targeted with arson in less than six months. Bolatete is an anti-Muslim extremist who was allegedly preparing to massacre innocent Muslims at an American center of worship in what could be construed as an act of terrorism. This should concern not only Muslims, but all Florida residents regardless of faith. CAIR-Florida continues to work closely with our community to keep them safe by providing security training sessions in mosques and other locations throughout the state.”
According to the DOJ, “This case was investigated by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Substantial assistance was provided by the Office of the State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Coolican and Trial Attorney Maura White of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.”