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El Paso Shooter's Connection To Far-Right Violence


Authorities in El Paso, Texas, are considering racial hatred as a motivating factor in yesterday's mass shooting at a Walmart. Twenty people died; at least 26 others were wounded. It's one of the many mass shootings this year. We'll hear more about this morning's attack in Ohio elsewhere in the program. Right now, NPR's Hannah Allam is here. She covers domestic extremism, and she's with us to talk about what we know about the El Paso suspect's possible motivations. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us. What do we know about this alleged gunman?

ALLAM: Well, details are still coming out. The suspect is identified as a 21-year-old white man from Allen, Texas. That's a suburb of Dallas. He surrendered to police at the scene without shots being fired, and he is in custody. As for motivation, police say the initial investigation suggests a, quote, "nexus" with a hate crime. And that's based on a long statement - a manifesto as it's being called - purportedly written by the suspect and posted on 8chan. It's a site that's home to lots of extremist content that's been pushed off some of the other social media sites. And the statement is filled with anti-immigrant hatred, white nationalist language. Police say they are working to verify that document, as well as a number of other social media posts attributed to the suspect. So at this point, they are looking at hate as a motivating factor, but they do stress that they're at the beginning of this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's dig into this. What is in this so-called manifesto?

ALLAM: Well, the suspect posted a detailed statement, as other mass shooters have done. It was said to be posted shortly before the attack began. And it begins by saying he basically agrees with the shooter who killed some 50 Muslims at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year. And like other recent attackers, the motivations described in the El Paso statement are rooted in this idea of so-called white genocide or replacement theory. This is the idea that white people are being replaced and that violence is required to fight that trend. And we've seen that in several other attacks. And we saw that in the chants of, for example, Jews will not replace us in Charlottesville at the Unite the Right rally. In this case, he does mention a lot of other grievances - corporate greed, partisan politics, consumer culture, even destruction of the environment. There's a whole section on the kind of gun and ammunition he planned to use. But the overarching theme is anti-immigration and what the suspect sees as the dangers of immigration with Hispanic people singled out. He refers to, quote, "a Hispanic invasion" and he called this attack as, quote, "an act of preservation."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how does El Paso fit in with other recent attacks that appear to be motivated by far-right extremism?

ALLAM: Yeah. We've seen a string of these shootings now, mass killings targeting racial minorities, religious minorities, based on a suspect's self-proclaimed desire to somehow save the country from being taken over by immigrants. And extremism trackers talk about this as a kind of cascading effect, suggesting there is an element of inspiration, copycat, one-upmanship involved because this idea of the vanishing white race is a popular trope in the white power movement and it's often mentioned in tandem with a conspiracy - that there is a Jewish conspiracy to engineer the end of white people. And that kind of thinking, which was once on the fringe, has become widespread enough now that federal authorities consider it part of a domestic terrorist threat. And just last week, Yahoo obtained an intelligence bulletin in which the FBI says that, quote, "anti-government, identity based and fringe political conspiracy theories can be motivators in domestic extremism."

And really, all of this is a tragic illustration of what the FBI has said for years, that far-right violence is the deadliest and the most active form of homegrown extremism. On the ground, the authorities know this. They've said this many times and before members of Congress and in the news media. But overall, the Trump administration has not made this a funding or law enforcement priority. And the president himself has repeatedly retweeted white nationalist accounts.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, speaking of President Trump, the shooter's manifesto also mentioned him, right? What is the political context?

ALLAM: That's right. In the document, the suspect spells out that his ideas about race mixing and immigration pre-date Trump. He appeared to be worried that the so-called fake media was going to try to blame the president. And he does criticize the Republican Party, along with Democrats, for helping facilitate immigration to the United States. But extremism trackers I speak with say the issue is bigger than the president's rhetoric and one specific attack. Their concern is that the president's repeated amplifying of white nationalists on Twitter, that prominent Republicans and TV personalities using these same kind of talking points, suggesting the coming erasure of white people and bemoaning the, quote, "loss" of the country to immigrants - that all that serves to push a really dangerous ideology into the mainstream.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Hannah Allam. Thank you very much.

ALLAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hannah Allam is a Washington-based national security correspondent for NPR, focusing on homegrown extremism. Before joining NPR, she was a national correspondent at BuzzFeed News, covering U.S. Muslims and other issues of race, religion and culture. Allam previously reported for McClatchy, spending a decade overseas as bureau chief in Baghdad during the Iraq war and in Cairo during the Arab Spring rebellions. She moved to Washington in 2012 to cover foreign policy, then in 2015 began a yearlong series documenting rising hostility toward Islam in America. Her coverage of Islam in the United States won three national religion reporting awards in 2018 and 2019. Allam was part of McClatchy teams that won an Overseas Press Club award for exposing death squads in Iraq and a Polk Award for reporting on the Syrian conflict. She was a 2009 Nieman fellow at Harvard and currently serves on the board of the International Women's Media Foundation.