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Coatesville man sentenced to state prison for racist, anti-Semitic graffiti

A Chester County Court of Common Pleas judge on Wednesday sentenced Rissell to a 7 to 14 years in state prison, exceeding the 5-11-year sentence recommended by prosecutors. "You're not a follower," Judge Patrick Carmody said. "You took the baton of hatred and you came out and you spread it in Coatesville."

Anti-Semitic and racist graffiti that George Rissell spray-painted on property in Coatesville's West End last August.
Anti-Semitic and racist graffiti that George Rissell spray-painted on property in Coatesville's West End last August.Read moreALPHONSO NEWSUAN

On the night of August 22, 2017, George Rissell downed a 750 ml bottle of Everclear grain alcohol. Inside his Coatesville home, he chased shots with a bottle of coconut rum, he said, and snorted six high-dosage "bars" of the anti-anxiety medication Xanax. His last memory, he said, was blasting heavy metal in his kitchen.

Before the night was over, the 25-year-old would commit what on Wednesday he called "a horribly ignorant crime:" spray-painting anti-Semitic and racist messages – including the phrase "Kill all n——" – on several locations in the Chester County city.

On Wednesday, a Chester County judge sentenced Rissell to seven- to 14 years in state prison, exceeding the five- to 11 years recommended by prosecutors, on charges of ethnic intimidation and criminal mischief.

"The bottom line: being drunk, that doesn't excuse being racist," Judge Patrick Carmody said."You're both trying to scare [people] and you're trying to incite violence."

Rissell committed these crimes less than two weeks after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

More than 47 percent of Coatesville's population is African-American, and the crime shook the community, said E. Lauraine Acey, an assistant secretary of the Coatesville Area NAACP who lived a couple blocks from Rissell until last year.

"For me personally, it was very upsetting," said Acey, a descendant of Zachariah Walker, who was lynched in Coatesville in 1911. "Situations like this literally divide people."

Before his sentencing, a somber Rissell apologized for his actions, insisting that he is not a racist but only espoused those beliefs after indoctrination by the Aryan Brotherhood during past prison sentences. Several family members and friends cried quietly as he spoke.

"I absolutely hate this crime I've committed. It's the dumbest thing I've ever done," Rissell said. "I deserve this punishment."

Prosecutors, however, argued that Rissell is a violent criminal incapable of rehabilitation, noting his lengthy criminal history, which began at age 15. All of his past crimes involved weapons. He once threatened to shoot his ex-girlfriend's father in the face and later used a screwdriver to puncture someone's lung. Of his seven years as an adult, he has spent five in prison. He was released from his last stay just a month before spray-painting the graffiti.

Assistant District Attorney John McCaul projected on a large screen images of Rissell's tattoos, which include white-supremacist symbols and a drawing of Hitler.

"This, judge, is the image of hate,"  McCaul said. "Hate is so ingrained in him. He wants to display it whenever he can."

Rissell said he did not have racist views until 2012, when he was attacked in state prison while serving a 2- to 4 year sentence for assault. His prison attackers were members of the Gangster Disciples, a primarily black gang, and a group of white men — whom he would later learn were members of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white-supremacist and Neo-Nazi gang — came to his defense, he said. Rissell felt he owed them, he said.

During those years in prison, "I lived, breathed, and ate the Brotherhood," Rissell said. When he was next released, he got those tattoos at the recommendation of Aryan Brotherhood members, but by last summer he had disassociated from the gang, he said.

The judge said he didn't buy Rissell's classification of himself as someone so easily persuaded by others.

"You're not a follower," Carmody said. "You took the baton of hatred and you came out and you spread it in Coatesville."

There are 36 hate groups operating in Pennsylvania, according to Southern Poverty Law Center data, and a few are in the Philadelphia area.  Authorities have said they are not aware of any such active groups in or around Coatesville.