Texas shooting: Global extremist network drives mass shooters, says expert
As authorities in Texas launch an investigation into the suspected white supremacist views of a gunman who killed eight people this weekend, experts said that an increasingly clear link is emerging between mass shootings and far-right groups worldwide.
US federal authorities are probing the alleged neo-Nazi views of Mauricio Garcia, the 33-year-old gunman who shot dead eight people and wounded seven at a Dallas shopping centre.
During the attack, Garcia wore a cloth badge with the letters RWDS, which stand for Right Wing Death Squad, a phrase commonly used by hard-right groups. The cloth badge has also been worn by members of Proud Boys, an anti-immigrant, all-male, neo-fascist organisation, launched by the co-founder of Vice, Gavin McInnes.
Proud Boys encourages the US to “close the border” and “give everyone a gun”.
Though conclusions are yet to be reached about Garcia’s involvement with extremist activity, an FBI bulletin viewed by Rolling Stone magazine said that he frequently posted white supremacist and neo-Nazi material on social media.
The bulletin reportedly said that the agency’s “review and triage of the subject’s social media accounts revealed hundreds of postings and images to include writings with racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist rhetoric, including neo-Nazi materials and material espousing the supremacy of the white race.”
Alberto Testa, professor of Criminology at the University of West London, said the growth of internet forums “gave rise to the so-called alt-right movement”, allowing dangerous individuals to interact with like-minded people.
“Individual attackers are frequently labelled as ‘lone wolves’, implying that they act independently without any connections to groups or movements,” he said.
“However, in several instances, these attackers are part of a transnational ideological network that draws inspiration from violent manifestos and racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”
He said the theories typically railed against the purported “ethnic replacement” of white and Christian populations in Europe and the United States, and served as a common thread connecting these attackers.
“We are witnessing the emergence of a new form of far-right terrorism that is characterised by its ‘post-organisational’ and decentralised structure,” he said. “Unlike traditional far-right organisations with hierarchical leadership structures, this new form is comprised of numerous small cells and individuals who share a common ideology and often interact in online spaces like Telegram and 4chan.”
A report released in 2020 by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies found that far-right plots accounted for “the majority of all terrorist incidents in the United States since 1994” and that the number of such attacks “has increased substantially over the past six years”.
It found that members of far-right movements were responsible for two-thirds of the attacks and plots in the US in 2019 and 90 per cent of those in 2020.
The Small Arms Survey, an international research institute in Geneva, states there are roughly 393.3 million weapons in the United States, compared to a population of 330 million people. The Gun Violence Archive says there have been 201 mass shootings this year alone, where incidents are defined by the injury or death of four or more people.
Professor Peter Squires, Professor of Criminology & Public Policy at the University of Brighton, said the proliferation of private firearm ownership is “an essentially dangerous and anti-democratic force”.
He said he has observed a “definite” and increasing relationship between extremist right-wing beliefs and violent gun crime – “whether it be the right-wing NRA Republican kind in the USA or the rising New Right Neo-Nazi parties in Europe arming up to defend ‘homelands’ against a perceived migration threat”.
“More generally in most of my work I’ve tended to see extreme gun rights advocacy as strongly allied with a kind of neo-liberalism centred on personal sovereignty underpinned by gun ownership,” he told i.
He said that around the world, many mass shooters have “signalled their neo-Nazi orientations”, including the perpetrators of homophobic violence in Florida and the “white supremacist shootings at black churches and synagogues – [for example] in Charleston and Cincinnati.”
Philip Ingram, a former British military intelligence officer, said he thought the “increasing polarisation” of the US political scene could result in an increasing number of mass shootings.
He said that “the ease with which individuals can access weapons is something no society should be comfortable with, yet large parts of US society continue to perversely justify their need”.
He added there is no “easy route” to a safer society in the US, and that the growth in extremist right-wing groups will “likely stimulate the growth in other extremist groups”.
“US law enforcement is in for a very challenging period only likely to get worse,” he added.
Mass shootings with extremist links
— Several notorious mass shooters have openly identified with far-right movements. In July 2011, Anders Breivik set off a car bomb near government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people, and then massacred 69 participants in a Labour Party youth camp on the nearby island of Utoeya. During a parole hearing last year, he gave a Nazi salute, carrying a sign that read “stop your genocide against our white nations”.
— White supremacist Brenton Tarrant, responsible for the death of 51 people at the Christchurch Mosque shootings in New Zealand in 2020, livestreamed the massacre on Facebook. He also posted a picture on Twitter of his arsenal, which he had inscribed with references to Adolf Hitler, the names of other mass shooters, and the Neo-Nazi symbol of the black sun.
— Payton S, Gendron, who was 18 when he shot 10 people dead and wounded three in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York last year, also streamed his attack live. It is believed the killer chose the location due to the area’s large black community. An 180-page manifesto, believed to be his handiwork, was posted online, referencing his desire to “kill as many blacks as possible”. He also described himself as an “eco-fascist” and blames migration for climate change.