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FORT PIERCE, Fla. – An ex-convict who posted anti-Islamic rants online pleaded no contest Monday to setting fire to a mosque that the Orlando nightclub shooter occasionally attended and now faces up to 30 years in prison.
Joseph Schreiber, dressed in a burnt orange jumpsuit, his wrists and ankles shackled, pleaded no during Monday's hearing before Circuit Judge Steven Levin. Schreiber answered Levin's questions in a clear, unwavering voice.
A no contest plea is treated the same as a guilty plea. He had confessed to detectives that he set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce last Sept. 11, the 15th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The damage to the mosque was so extensive that the leaders recently announced that it will move.
Omar Mateen was killed by police after opening fire at the Pulse nightclub on June 12 in a rampage that left 49 victims dead and 53 wounded, making it the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Mateen professed allegiance to the Islamic State group. His father is among roughly 100 people who regularly attend the mosque.
Schreiber, who is Jewish, posted on Facebook last July that "All Islam is radical" and that all Muslims should be treated as terrorists and criminals.
Schreiber, 32, was previously sentenced twice to state prison for theft, according to records from the Florida Department of Corrections. The records show he served his first sentence from March 2008 to July 2009 and his second from June 2010 to August 2014.
Last September, a former inmate who served time with Schreiber at the faith-based Lawtey Correctional Institution, described Schreiber as being a "couple cans short of a six-pack."
Ralph Alfonso said Schreiber joined a Messianic Jewish group he led because he was looking for a place to fit in. Messianic Jews follow Jewish law and the Torah but also believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. He said Schreiber sometimes would say something negative about Muslims, but "we would tell him that's not what we believe, that it is not godly."
A surveillance video from the mosque showed Schreiber driving up to the mosque on a motorcycle and approaching the building while talking on a cellphone. He carried a bottle of liquid and some papers and left when there was a flash. The first 911 calls were made about 45 minutes later, after the fire had spread to the attic. It took about four-and-a-half hours for firefighters to extinguish the blaze. No one was injured in the fire.