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Highland Park Suspect Was in Online Communities Where People Are “Programming Themselves to Kill”

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The death toll in Monday’s mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, has risen to seven after another victim died from their injuries. The suspect has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder over the massacre that also left scores of people injured, including nine people who remain hospitalized. Police say he legally purchased five weapons, including the high-powered rifle used in the shooting, despite visiting his home in 2019 over threats of violence. Reporters also continue to unearth his online history, including videos that appeared to show an obsession with mass shootings and his support for former President Donald Trump. Investigative journalist Michael Edison Hayden, who covers internet radicalization and far-right extremism for the Southern Poverty Law Center, says that same link has been apparent in other mass shootings where disturbed people who are “programming themselves to kill … are also attracted to the nihilism of hard-right authoritarianism in the United States.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Residents of Highland Park, Illinois, are mourning the now seven victims of the July Fourth parade mass shooting, when a gunman climbed onto a rooftop and opened fire with an assault rifle similar to an AR-15, spewing more than 70 rounds at people watching the parade. The dead include a married couple, Irina and Kevin McCarthy, who attended the parade with their 2-year-old son Aiden, who was found wandering alone after the shooting and smeared in blood. He was later reunited with his grandparents, who will now care for him. He was protected under the body of his father.

On Tuesday, County Coroner Jennifer Banek shared the names of those who were killed.

JENNIFER BANEK: It is with a heavy heart that I bring to you the names of the victims of that tragedy: 64-year-old Katherine Goldstein of Highland Park, 35-year-old Irina McCarthy of Highland Park, 37-year-old Kevin McCarthy of Highland Park, 63-year-old Jacquelyn Sundheim of Highland Park, 88-year-old Stephen Straus of Highland Park, 78-year-old Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza of Morelos, Mexico. We have also been notified that there is a seventh victim that died at a hospital located outside of Lake County.

AMY GOODMAN: Some 40 others were injured in the attack. The suspected gunman, 21-year-old Robert Crimo, surrendered to police hours after the attack and had another rifle in his car. On Tuesday, he was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and is appearing in court today.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Highland Park Tuesday, called for an assault weapons ban.

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: There is no question that this experience is something that is going to linger in terms of the trauma. And so, I’d like to urge all the families and all the individuals to do seek the support that you so rightly deserve. And — and we’ll deal with what we need to deal with in terms of also, as we move forward, all agreeing that we’ve got to be smarter as a country in terms of who has access to what and, in particular, assault weapons. And we’ve got to take this stuff seriously, as seriously as you are, because you have been forced to have to take it seriously. The whole nation should understand and have a level of empathy, to understand that this can happen anywhere, in any peace-loving community. And we should stand together and speak out about why it’s got to stop.

AMY GOODMAN: Officials say the rifle the killer used in his attack was purchased legally. During a news conference, a spokesperson for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Chris Covelli, acknowledged the suspect had come under previous police attention in 2019.

CHRIS COVELLI: In April of 2019, an individual contacted Highland Park Police Department a week after learning of Mr. Crimo attempting suicide. This was a delayed report. So, Highland Park still responded to the residence a week later, spoke with Crimo, spoke with Crimo’s parents, and the matter was being handled by mental health professionals at that time. There was no law enforcement action to be taken. It was a mental health issue and handled by those professionals.

The second occurred in September of 2019. A family member reported that Crimo said he was going to kill everyone, and Crimo had a collection of knives. The police responded to his residence. The police removed 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from Crimo’s home. At that time, there was no probable cause to arrest. There were no complaints that were signed by any of the victims.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet, months later, the suspected gunman acquired five — bought five guns, two of them high-powered long guns, legally.

Meanwhile, NBC News reports the suspected killer had a YouTube channel where he, quote, “posted clips that telegraphed violence, including one that appears to show the parade route that was targeted and another showing an animated shooting.” At least two other videos show him supporting former President Donald Trump. The nonprofit media group Unicorn Riot also reports he had a Discord chat channel where he and others discussed graphic violence. He was obsessed with mass shootings. At a news conference Tuesday in Highland Park, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Chris Covelli addressed the role of social media in the shooting.

CHRIS COVELLI: So, the question is, essentially: Social media, if we had known about some of the posts, would we have investigated? Do we encourage the community to report those? And the answer is absolutely. If the public sees something that is concerning online with anybody, they should notify the social media network it’s posted on, they should notify local law enforcement. And that’s when we get involved and we conduct an investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter with the Southern Poverty Law Center, where he focuses on internet radicalization and also far-right extremism.

I’m actually sorry that you’re back on the show, Michael Edison Hayden, that we need to have you to talk about yet another shooting, well over 300 mass shootings this year in the United States, the U.S. alone in the world. And yet, in this case, unlike in the Uvalde case in Texas, it was so clear, the shooter’s obsession with violence, with school shootings, with mass murder. Michael Edison Hayden, take us through this life online. He had thousands of followers on YouTube. Explain what Discord is, etc.

MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Thanks so much, Amy.

So, you know, this Highland Park massacre presents a kind of a different opportunity for us, because it doesn’t involve this white supremacist ideology that drove, for example, the Buffalo shooter, and we’re able to, like, look at it in a sort of a different way. It gives us a different angle on it.

And, you know, there are these fringe communities online, whether they’re white supremacists or they’re gore-related, in this case, where — you know, people use the word “meme” in talking about a memetic nature of the internet, where you don’t need the deep state to come in and radicalize you and put you on psychedelic drugs and get you in a state where you’re going to commit mass murder. People are volunteering for this. And they are subjecting themselves to people who are certainly already in a [inaudible] and subjecting themselves to the same imagery over and over and over again, talking themselves into doing violence. Some people go through with it, and some people don’t. The bottom line is that we’re seeing the horrific tragedy that comes when people do.

AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible] unusual here, or maybe not unusual, is that you have the police at his house twice, once because he had threatened to take his own life, and then, very soon after, because he threatened to, quote, “kill everyone.” They take his knife collection — dagger, sword, many knives — but he isn’t red-flagged, and so there is no notice of this in any system in Illinois. His father sponsors him for guns, and he gets one after another after another after another after another. He gets five guns.

MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Yeah. So, I mean, the center doesn’t have a position to advocate here, but this is some very basic, commonsense stuff. I mean, do you want someone in a fragile mental state, who has been subjecting themselves to murder memes online every day for months, owning weapons of war? I mean, you know, I’m a father. I have two sons. You know, Stephen Miller, for example, is a father of a child. Does he really want somebody like this in his neighborhood owning weapons of war? He may say he does, and that’s the policy of the Republican Party, but when it comes to practicality, you know, the — do you want someone who has been subjecting themselves to this kind of — you know, this kind of coaxing, repeatedly, owning a weapon of war? You know, I don’t understand what society would tolerate this. It’s actually — it’s obviously very frustrating. And you talk about freedom. I mean, what about the — what is the freedom of the people who lost their lives at Highland Park or people who lost their lives in this Tops supermarket in Buffalo?

AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you about this report on NBC News that the shooter “didn’t frequently post about major political figures on his websites, except for two posts about former President Donald Trump.” There’s a picture of him at a rally and also wrapped in a Trump flag. A video posted to his YouTube page January 2nd, 2021, appears to show him among a throng of protesters cheering for Trump’s presidential motorcade outside an airport. And then he also posted what he called a manifesto as an Amazon e-book, which consisted of 28 pages of numbers seemingly meant to be decoded, the e-book published in 2021, no longer available on Amazon. And the numbers of 47 and 23 seem to be very important to him, tattooed, some of it, on his face.

MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Yeah, OK. So, regarding the Trump thing, it’s very interesting to me in some ways, because it sort of lays bare the attraction of the hard-right authoritarian movement that is brewing in the United States, because this person, according to all his friends or people who worked with him or knew him, that he was not like a particularly political person, but yet he appears around these Trump events, right? And the Parkland shooter was also kind of attracted to right-wing stuff online but was not particularly political and didn’t seem to be motivated by politics. A Vegas shooter, for example, also had some kind of murky connection to the right wing, but he didn’t seem to be motivated by it.

So you have these people who are programming themselves to kill and are, like, hyped up on killing, who are also attracted to the nihilism of hard-right authoritarianism in the United States. And it really shows. I mean, you know, it’s not coincidental that there are all these themes of death and all these things around fascism. And it’s just — you know, I find it fascinating, because this is not a political shooting at all, but yet here he is with this Trump flag. It’s interesting, because, you know, all these apolitical shooters also have this — seem to have some sort of connection to this.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about this report. “After Monday’s shooting, 4chan trolls invaded the community, using it as a meeting point to laud the shooter and post memes about the attack. The Discord channel was shut down around 6 p.m. [Eastern on Monday], just hours after [he] was named as a person of interest. [He] also posted frequently to a message board that discussed graphic depictions of murder, suicide and death. His most recent … last week, when he posted a video of a beheading.”

Now, I’m saying “he,” “he,” “he,” though we did name him in this show so far. What about that, as well, the celebration of the mass murderers, using their names, showing their pictures? How do you feel about showing them or not? Now, they put out his picture and his name constantly on Monday because they were looking for him. Apparently, he was dressed as a woman to disguise especially his facial tattoos when he actually carried out the shooting, blended in with the crowd, went to his mom’s house — mom and dad live separately; he lives with his father — got the car, went to Wisconsin, came back and was found right in the next community because of an alert person who called the police. Talk about all of this, and specifically whether the picture and the name should be repeated.

MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: So, I’m not using his name, or using it sparingly. And we are, you know, going to report, add anything we add from the Highland Park murders into reports that we do carefully, because we don’t want to add to this guy’s celebrity. He so obviously sought it, just in the same way the Buffalo shooter sought to be accepted and treated as a celebrity inside white supremacist communities, for example.

Regarding the 4chan stuff, these are, in a colloquial sense, cyber Nazis. They are, essentially, just internet fascists. Whether they’re conscious of that — some of them are — or whether they’re not, they’re fascists. And what attracts them to shooters — and they have been all over shooters for many years on 4chan, sadly — is, I mean, they seek to disrupt the country. They seek to create chaos and division in the country, and shootings give us all this sense of grief and anxiety. We worry about our children. We worry about our loved ones. We feel horror for those who died, and we mourn. And they love those emotions, because they like to feast on them, because they can use it to try to tilt the country towards fascism. And that’s sort of just the way 4chan has worked since the Obama years. And it’s horrible. And these type of people are going to be online for a long time. The question is: What are we going to do about it, just in terms of mitigating this kind of — these sporadic — actually, not really sporadic — these frequent shootings?

AMY GOODMAN: Michael, we want to ask you to stay with us. We’re going to move from the online presence of the shooter to what happened in Boston. We’re speaking with Michael Edison Hayden. He is a senior investigative reporter with Southern Poverty Law Center. He focuses on internet radicalization and far-right extremism. Yes, next up, we’re going to go to Boston, where about a hundred members of the white supremacist Patriot Front marched through downtown on Saturday. A Black activist artist was attacked when he simply put up his phone to film them. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Freedom” from Moon Cricket Songs by Boston-based composer and musician Charles Murrell at the Boston Center of the Arts’ Cyclorama on World AIDS Day last year. Charles Murrell was attacked Saturday by the Patriot Front, which we’re going to talk about now.

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“Children of the KKK”: White Supremacist Patriot Front Marches Through Boston, Attacks Black Artist

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