PILSEN — A man charged with a hate crime for allegedly defacing a Downtown synagogue also visited a Pilsen church in recent months — alarming its members with his behavior to the point that they hired guards out of fear for their safety, church officials said.
Stuart Wright, 31, is being held on $150,000 bail. He is accused of driving up to the Chicago Loop Synagogue at 16 S. Clark St. about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, smashing a window and defacing the building's front door with swastika stickers.
Wright, who lives in Pilsen, is a white supremacist who has a swastika tattoo on his back, police said.
When news of his arrest broke, members of Lincoln United Methodist Church at 2242 S. Damen Ave., realized that he had visited their church last year. The church is attended by many Latinos and recent immigrants, and was itself the target of a racist attack last year.
Sara Walker, a church member and assistant to Pastor Emma Lozano, said Wright visited Lincoln United out of the blue the Sunday before Election Day.
He came to 10:30 a.m. Bible study, which was mostly attended by women that day, gave his name and a similar address to what police have, the 2000 block of South Loomis Street, Walker said.
"We felt extremely uneasy with him right off the bat. He was visually agitated, and upset, and he would get upset when someone would speak Spanish," Walker said.
A member took his photo they were so concerned. After Bible study, he came to the church service, where he appeared to be "writing down information," Walker said.
"He was asking for parishioners' names, which the pastor thought was extremely odd, and we just felt very, very scared, very fearful."
The church felt so uneasy that the next week they hired security, and only let members into the church, locking the door behind them. Wright did show up the next Sunday, and he tried to open the door, but when no one let him in, he quickly left.
Stuart didn't return, Walker said, but church officials alerted detectives who had worked on the racist graffiti case. The detectives told them there was nothing they could do, Walker said.
The church hired a private investigator, but no one answered at Wright's address, and the investigation "never led to anything substantial." she said.
Walker can't say whether the earlier attack on her church was related to the more recent incident at Chicago Loop Synagogue.
In the church's case, Robert Samar, also a Pilsen resident, was arrested and charged with defacing a place of worship.
About 4:45 a.m. Oct. 2, a camera caught Samar, 60, using a black marker to draw a swastika and the words "burn" and "kill" on the church's front door, prosecutors said.
"We believe that there is something larger going on in Pilsen, and even nationwide ... that there are groups of white supremacists infiltrating Pilsen, and we want that investigated," Walker said. "We have no direct evidence they are related, but they both lived in Pilsen, and both targeted our church."
Walker said she wants to make sure this is investigated before "something horrible happens."
"We are all very fearful of violence. Immediately what came to mind was the shooting in South Carolina" — when nine church members in a Bible study were murdered by white supremacist Dylan Roof in 2015, Walker said.
"We are a church of Latinos, of immigrants, and we're just worried and scared, and this guy walks in and he's alone and asking weird questions. It was just an instinctual thing. We don't want to turn anybody away, but we felt that something was wrong," she said.
"He was not there to pray; he was not there to worship God. He was definitely there scouting who we are and what we are about," she said.
Lozano also posted about the incident on Facebook.
Lozano has said the church became a target for "racist white supremacists" because of the work it does to fight deportations and because of the Mexican immigrant and South American refugee populations it serves.
Lincoln United Methodist is the sister church of Adalberto United Methodist in Humboldt Park, where Elvira Arellano, an undocumented Mexican woman, made headlines as she fought deportation and sought asylum with her child in 2006.
Lozano, sister of labor activist and community organizer Rudy Lozano, is also founder of Centro Sin Fronteras, a Chicago-based organization that has fought for adequate schools and housing and against deportations.
Pilsen's library and a bilingual alternative school are named for Rudy Lozano, who was murdered in 1983.