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In the town of Cary, North Carolina, a court has been faced with the challenge of parsing out the difference between mental illness and anti-Semitism, in the most difficult circumstances possible: when the defendant is the child of a colleague.

William Josephus Warden, 21, is the son of North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman, who is also running to become a justice on the State Supreme Court.

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In 2018, Warden was arrested for threatening a synagogue in Cary. That same year, he had also burned a cross in a park, and distributed anti-Semitic flyers in several neighborhoods.

It was the threat to Congregation Shaare Shalom on November 3, 2018 that finally crossed the line, however, and placed Warden in custody.

On that day he went to the synagogue, rang the doorbell and threatened damage through the camera, according to a police account quoted by the News Observer. When the staff member at the synagogue asked him politely how she could help him, his answer was a laugh and the advice to “get out of the government, get out of Cary… Just remember November 5th, lady. Remember November 5th.”

That sounded pretty much like a threat.

Earlier Warden had burned a cross on Oct. 26, 2018, at Bond Park in Cary and was slapped with a misdemeanor charge, one that was later dismissed.

But Warden had already been on police radar, because less than two weeks earlier he had twice distributed anti-Semitic flyers in the town’s neighborhoods, according to a separate search warrant.

On October 16, 2018, flyers were found at homes in Cary containing a swastika, the words “Aryan Youth” and a link to a channel on the online music-sharing platform Soundcloud that contained neo-Nazi music – and Warden’s name and photo, according to the search warrant request quoted by WRAL.com.

Two days later, at least 60 flyers were found in Cary with a swastika and a statement, “White man, are you sick and tired of the Jews destroying your country through mass immigration and degeneracy? Join us in the struggle for global white supremacy at the Daily Stormer.” (a neo-Nazi site)

Two days before threatening the synagogue, Warden met (Nov. 1, 2018) with a Cary police officer and an FBI agent, according to The News&Observer.

According to 2018 court documents, he told them he did not like the Jewish faith and that “he belongs to a group of like-minded individuals who live in the area.” Warden told the FBI agents that he belonged to the “Traditionalist Youth Network” that communicates through Facebook and the “Gab” social media network used by some in far-right circles. “Further, he stated emphatically that he strongly subscribes to the anti-Semitic ideology and went on to say he believes Jews are running the country on the backs of the working class white male,” court records said.

After Warden’s arrest, his parents issued a statement explaining that he has suffered from mental illness all his life and has been exploited by white supremacists online to advance their agenda.

“Our observations and our communications with law enforcement lead us to believe that our son has been exploited by people whose agenda is completely opposed to the inclusive values we espouse and live,” said the statement provided by family attorney Elliot Abrams.

“As Will’s parents, we could not be more saddened by the alleged conduct of our son on November 3rd. Our family is inclusive and respectful of all people. Sadly, we, like many families, are dealing in this case with a mental illness, which we recognize and for which we have sought and continue to seek treatment. … As deeply concerned parents, we apologize profusely to the Jewish community and to all who have been impacted. And we are treating this situation with utmost seriousness.”

As of August 2019, officials confirmed that Warden was receiving inpatient psychiatric care in Florida, according to The News&Observer.

Nevertheless, District Court Judge William Lawton, who handed down Warden’s sentence, told the courtroom last week that mental illness is not an excuse, a sentiment echoed by many in attendance.

“It just makes someone more susceptible to the pernicious evil that pervades this broken world,” Lawton said.

Rabbi Seth Klayman of Congregation Shaare Shalom in Cary said last week, as well, that the congregation wishes Warden well on his recovery, despite his anti-Semitic threats.

“Our prayer is his destructive ideology will be converted to a constructive life of acts of loving kindness,” Klayman said, according to The News&Observer. “We stand ready and eager to forgive him. He can count us among those cheering for him to turn his life around.”

At the sentencing, Attorney Roger Smith Jr. read an apology allegedly written by Warden in which he said he had been isolated and afraid on the night he had made the threats. He said he had been “turning to the internet, especially its more toxic corners, for validation.”

At this point, Warden remains in 24-hour inpatient care at a mental health treatment facility in Florida. He did not attend last week’s hearing at which his guilty plea was entered. As part of the plea bargain agreement, he is to remain in treatment for another 12 months, thereby completing a total of two years’ treatment – far longer than the maximum 45-day jail sentence that could have been allowed.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.