MOORHEAD — Lisa Enderle said she was not surprised when she heard her half brother, 22-year-old Benjamin Enderle, is facing felony charges for allegedly vandalizing the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center with racist and anti-Islam graffiti. Her half brother, she said, was homeschooled, had a rough upbringing and was never exposed to different people and cultures.
“When he was little, he was a good boy," said Lisa, 31. "But if you were not raised properly and you were exposed to certain types of beliefs, and those beliefs are not calibrated by real life experiences with other people who hold beliefs that are dissimilar to you, you will have a false version of people in your mind.”
“I think he snapped at some point. I think he felt abandoned. Since then he has been very hard to speak to, be around, it’s like he’s not connected to reality,” she said.
Police identified Benjamin Enderle as a suspect after a Walmart loss prevention officer who heard about the vandalism reviewed security camera footage at two stores in the Fargo-Moorhead area. The employee noticed a person buying spray paint was wearing the same coat as the person caught on the mosque's security camera and forwarded the information to the police.
The felony harassment and criminal damage to property charges are being enhanced as hate crimes under Minnesota law, and police have handed the case over to Clay County prosecutors.
Lisa said she came close to throwing up when she saw images of the vandalism. She has good friends who are Muslims, people anyone should want as neighbors, she said.
“If you don’t have the opportunity to practice discernment, learn the differences between people’s words and their actions, read people, understand them, if you don’t have that then you end up like him," she said. "You’re just operating off all these faulty ideas of who people are.
“He never had to have his prejudices tested against real life,” Lisa said.
She said she didn’t reach out to her half brother in recent years because she was focused on making ends meet.
“Maybe I should have, but there are some things a woman can’t tell a man, as sad as it is," she said. "He needed a father figure, if not his own father, to do that, and I just don’t think he had that.”
According to court records, Benjamin doesn’t have a criminal history other than pleading guilty to running a stop sign on April 6 in Fargo. His address at the time shows he was living at 1615 20th St. S., Moorhead, which is about four blocks away from the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center.
Hate speech, video game references
The hate speech spray-painted in red around the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center included a swastika at the front door, a racial slur along six adjoining windows and the words “Death to Islam.” The graffiti also made obscure references to the Command and Conquer computer game series popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“Kane Lives” was spray-painted near the front entrance of the mosque, and in the rear a symbol with a scorpion tail and the word "Nod." Both are references to a character in the once popular Command and Conquer computer games called Commander Kane, a charismatic and totalitarian leader of the Brotherhood of Nod.
Lisa said she wasn’t aware why her half brother spray-painted “Kane Lives” on the mosque, but said his versions of reality and fantasy were mixed to the point where perhaps he couldn’t tell the difference any longer.
“I think if you’re not taught how to differentiate between reality and fantasy, it could certainly go that way,” Lisa said.
While the mix of hate speech and video games was apparent at the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center, the message wasn't so clear, and even had Moorhead Police Chief Shannon Monroe searching the internet for its meaning.
“That was the first thing I looked at just Googling it, like ‘What does this mean?’” Monroe said about the spray-painted words “Kane Lives.”
National civil rights organization Muslim Advocates condemned the vandalism and said the obscure video game references bore a similarity to the writings of Brenton Tarrant, the man who killed 51 and wounded dozens of others at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“These threatening and racist messages are part of a longstanding wave of hate and violence directed at people of color. Further, the references to characters from a 1990s video game spray-painted on the mosque echo the irony and reference-laced manifesto of the Christchurch shooter," said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry. "This hate is real and it is part of a larger, more dangerous reality for Muslims around the country.”
Police have not said if there was any indication Benjamin Enderle had any violent intentions.
After Benjamin Enderle’s arrest, the Council on American–Islamic Relations in Minnesota, or CAIR-MN, said in a statement they previously called for the incident to be investigated as a hate crime and called on state lawmakers to pass a bill updating Minnesota’s hate crime legislation.
“We welcome the arrest in this troubling case, thank the investigators involved, and hope the swift apprehension of the alleged perpetrator sends a strong message to others who would contemplate engaging in bias-motivated crimes,” said CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein.
Members of the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center expressed interest in sitting down with the person behind the vandalism to try to come to understand each other.
“I’m thankful that they’re compassionate and that they have that kind of heart. I hope he’ll take them up on it,” Lisa said.