Police thwarted at least seven mass shootings and white supremacist attacks since El Paso

Sam Levin in Los Angeles
Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

In the two weeks since a gunman killed 22 people in El Paso, law enforcement officials say they have thwarted at least seven separate mass shootings or white supremacist attacks across the US.

At least four of the alleged foiled plots also appeared to involve men espousing far-right viewpoints and racist ideologies, with echoes of the Texas massacre. The 21-year-old suspect in that shooting, considered the deadliest anti-Latino attack in modern US history, allegedly authored a racist anti-immigrant “manifesto”.

In online posts and in their alleged planned massacres, the suspects in these recent cases targeted LGBTQ people, Jewish people, black Americans, Latinos and Muslims, according to law enforcement and media reports on the six men. Four of them were white men in their 20s, and all but one of them were believed to be armed, some with extensive weaponry.

A timeline of foiled plots

8 August, Nevada

Five days after the El Paso attack police arrested 23-year-old Conor Climo, saying the Las Vegas man wanted to attack Jews and an LGBTQ bar and was trying to build a bomb. The US attorney’s office said he was “communicating with individuals who identified with a white supremacist extremist organization”. During encrypted conversations online, he would regularly use racist, antisemitic and anti-gay slurs, authorities said.

Related: How white supremacy went mainstream in the US: 8chan, Trump, voter suppression

Climo was charged with possession of illegal firearms and destructive devices.

15 August, Connecticut

One week later, Brandon Wagshol, 22, was taken into custody in Connecticut after he allegedly wrote on Facebook that he was interested in committing a mass shooting, the FBI said. Police had received a tip that he was looking to buy ammunition out of state and had written on social media about building his own rifle with gun parts he had purchased online, authorities said.

Wagshol was charged on Thursday with illegal possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, and law enforcement allegedly seized firearms and body armor from his home. The guns were reportedly registered to his father. One news report suggested he had posted racist and anti-transgender comments online.

16 August, Florida

In Daytona Beach, Florida, 25-year-old Tristan Scott Wix was arrested on Friday after he allegedly sent violent and threatening text messages to his ex-girlfriend, saying he wanted to commit a mass shooting, according to the local sheriff’s office. His texts, police said, included: “I’d wanna break a world record for longest confirmed kill ever,” and, “A good 100 kills would be nice. I already have a location.”

Wix told detectives he didn’t own firearms but was fascinated with mass shootings, the sheriff’s department said.

17 August, Ohio

The following day, police in New Middletown, Ohio, charged 20-year-old James P Reardon with telecommunications harassment and aggravated menacing, saying he had threatened to commit a shooting at a local Jewish community center. The FBI said he had posted a video on Instagram depicting himself as a shooter, saying he was a “white nationalist”, and tagging the nearby Jewish organization.

Police recovered assault rifles, ammunition, a gas mask, bulletproof armor and antisemitic propaganda at his home, authorities said. WYTV, an Ohio news station, reported that he had attended the violent white nationalist Charlottesville rally in 2017.

20 August, Florida, Tennessee and California

US authorities announced on Tuesday the arrest of Maryland resident Eric Lin, 35, who had allegedly made a series of social media threats against Hispanics in the Miami area. On Facebook, he threatened a Hispanic woman and her family, praised Hitler, and called for the extermination of Spanish-speaking people, Muslims and black Americans, the FBI said.

He also allegedly wrote, “I Thank God everyday President Donald John Trump is President”, saying he expected Trump to launch a racist war.

Also on Tuesday, law enforcement announced the arrest of Thomas Matthew McVicker, a 38-year-old truck driver accused of threatening a mass shooting at a Memphis, Tennessee, church. His mother reportedly told the FBI he owned a Ruger P90 handgun, though the motive of his potential attack was unclear.

Police in Long Beach in southern California also arrested a hotel cook who had allegedly amassed a large cache of powerful firearms and had well-laid plans to carry out a gun rampage throughout the hotel.

Rodolfo Montoya, 37, was picked up at his home in Huntington Beach in Orange county on Tuesday. Police said the previous day he had confessed to a fellow worker at the Long Beach Marriott that he planned to carry out the attack as revenge against the company.

Attorneys for the suspects did not immediately respond to inquiries or could not be reached.

‘This is the new normal’

Brian Levin, the director for the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, said there is often a cluster of violent threats and possible copycat attacks after high-profile mass shootings. But he also expected there could be more families and friends reporting their loved ones who may be plotting shootings.

“This is the new normal,” he said. “The people most able to thwart these attacks are often not law enforcement, but those closest to them – friends, family, co-workers and fellow students … We’re not dealing with foreign-based terrorists, but the mass killer down the block.”

Antonio Basco, whose wife Margie Reckard was one of 22 killed at a local Walmart, lays flowers in her honor at a memorial on 16 August 2019 in El Paso, Texas. Photograph: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Before the El Paso massacre, police in Texas said officers were able to intervene and stop a potential mass shooting after a suspect’s grandmother reported him.

Those kinds of stories could incentivize people to speak up, said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a professor of education and sociology at the American University.

“When they see other people who loved these individuals, who were close to them stepping up and doing the right thing, I think that does have the effect of encouraging other bystanders to step up, too,” she said, adding: “It’s disturbing to see them being planned, but it’s reassuring to see them being stopped.”

Mike German, a former FBI agent and fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice, said he would like to see US law enforcement devote more resources to investigating organized far-right groups, and not just the individual cases: “We have to understand the scope of these threats … The ability of an organized group to do mass violence is much greater.”

  • This story was updated on 22 August to include details of the arrest in Long Beach.