University of Connecticut student charged with hate crime for painting swastika near Jewish center
© UConn Police Department

A student at the University of Connecticut on Thursday was arrested and charged with a hate crime after he allegedly spray-painted a swastika near the UConn Hillel building during the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Kristopher Pieper, 21, was charged with third-degree intimidation based on bias and third-degree criminal mischief, according to UConn police.

The arrest allegedly stems from an incident reported on March 27, when a swastika was found graffitied on the side of the chemistry building directly facing the Jewish campus community center. The antisemitic vandalism occurred on the first day of Passover.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to an arrest warrant obtained by The Hartford Courant, Pieper was identified through campus security camera footage, wireless internet records and his use of his student access card to enter buildings the night of the incident.

Another swastika and a separate Nazi symbol were spray-painted in a similar paint just three days later. Police believe the incidents are related but Pieper has only been officially accused of the first instance.

Officers went to speak with Pieper earlier this week, and his roommate let them into the room. Investigators noticed a ring on Pieper’s middle finger bearing the same Iron Cross symbol used by the Nazi regime, according to the complaint.

He initially denied any involvement and told police he had been home in Enfield for the weekend. However, wireless records reportedly showed he had crossed campus and stood near the chemistry building — just 4 feet from where the swastika was painted — on the night of the incident.

Pieper ultimately confessed to drawing the swastika and said he was upset with "certain orthodox Jewish traditions," according to the affidavit.

The student agreed to write an apology letter to the UConn Hillel group, but the 10-page letter included antisemitic tropes and theories, investigators said.

University spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz told the newspaper that Pieper is a junior studying anthropology and geographic information science. In addition to his arrest, he also faces disciplinary sanctions from the school, but administrators declined to comment, citing privacy laws. 

“We are grateful to UConn Police for their efforts, which, along with our clearly articulated values as an institution, help to demonstrate that hateful acts such as these will never be tolerated at UConn,” University President Thomas Katsouleas wrote in a statement. “Every member of our community — students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests — deserves to feel safe and respected at UConn. Anyone who violates that principle goes against the values this university exists to uphold.”

At the time of the vandalism, UConn Hillel said it was the fifth antisemitic incident to have occurred on campus this school year. 

That number has since reportedly climbed to seven, including a Jewish student being accosted with antisemitic comments while wearing a Kippah. 

“We have seen time and time again that education is the solution to much of the hate present in our world and on our campus,” the group said at the time. “We hope that Jewish students and non-Jewish students alike feel emboldened to call out antisemitism when they witness it, educate on antisemitism, and support each other as we heal from these hurtful actions.”

Elsewhere across the nation, there has been a rise in hate incidents.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to a report released by the Anti-Defamation League last year, antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in 2019 occurred at their highest rate in at least four decades. A record 2,100 incidents of assault, vandalism and more were reported across the country.

In February of this year, a set of Holocaust memorial statues were destroyed at a Tulsa, Okla., Jewish art museum and swastikas were spray painted on a synagogue in Spokane, Wash.

A Jewish fraternity house at California Polytechnic State University was also vandalized with swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti.