The El Paso Attack, One Year Later: Extremist Threat Remains High

  • July 31, 2020

On August 3, 2019, white supremacist Patrick Crusius’ deadly shooting spree at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, took the lives of 23 people and injured 23 more, making it one of the deadliest domestic terror attacks and deadliest hate crimes in U.S. history. It was also the most horrific attack against the Hispanic community in the U.S. in modern memory.

In the twelve months since El Paso, right-wing extremists have not carried out any deadly mass shooting attacks – but the threat remains significant.

Crusius’s killing spree was the latest in a series of attacks by right-wing extremists in the United States intended to cause mass casualties in the name of hate. Several months earlier, in April 2019, white supremacist John T. Earnest opened fire inside a synagogue in Poway, California, though he killed only one person before his gun malfunctioned and he fled.  The previous November, Scott Beierle, an adherent of the misogynistic incel subculture, opened fire inside a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, killing two people and wounding four others. Just days earlier, in October 2018, white supremacist Robert Bowers murdered 11 people and wounded seven more at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the 12 months since the El Paso attacks, one right wing extremist mass shooting attack resulted in injuries, but no deaths. In May 2020, Armando Hernandez Jr., described by law enforcement as an incel, wounded three people when he opened fire at a shopping mall, allegedly targeting couples.

Right-wing extremists have certainly killed people in the U.S. since the El Paso attack. ADL’s Center on Extremism has identified at least 15 such murders so far, 10 of them by white supremacists.  However, many of the murders were non-ideological in nature and none were part of a mass shooting.  The deaths in the El Paso shooting itself considerably outnumber those all the people killed by right-wing extremists in the 12 months since.

But this is not to say that right-wing extremists haven’t been trying to cause more casualties and do more damage.  It’s just that they haven’t been very successful (here ADL defines a “successful” attack as one that wounded or killed people or, if the target was property, succeeded in doing damage). 

The Center on Extremism has tracked at least 18 terrorist incidents (attacks, attempted attacks and plots) by right-wing extremists in the U.S. since the El Paso shooting.  White supremacists were responsible for nine of these incidents, while anti-government extremists accounted for five more. Anti-abortion, incel, and anti-Muslim extremists were involved in the remaining four.

Had they been successful, many of these domestic terrorist incidents could have caused major casualties.  Examples include:

In all the above cases, federal or state/local law enforcement stopped the alleged perpetrators before attacks could be carried out.

One of the main reasons for the relative lack of extremist success has been increased vigilance by law enforcement around the dangers of right-wing extremist violence, especially the threats posed by the newest generation of white supremacists, as well as a new wave of anti-government extremists.  However, future attacks are possible and the threat level remains high.

White supremacists remain focused on Hispanic community.

While white supremacists have not launched any mass casualty attacks in the last year, they continue to target the Hispanic community and immigrants via propaganda and online rhetoric.

In the year since the El Paso attack, the distribution of white supremacist propaganda has continued to soar. The Center on Extremism has already recorded more than 2,600 incidents of white supremacist propaganda in the first seven months of 2020, compared to 2724 incidents over the entire year in 2019. The messaging found in the propaganda is often anti-immigration. The month after the El Paso attack, the Texas-based Patriot Front, added “One Nation Against Invasion” to its propaganda repertoire and has since distributed that particular piece of propaganda over 400 times.

The New Jersey European Heritage Association (NJEHA) has steadily increased their propaganda distribution efforts since the El Paso attack. The group’s propaganda includes language such as, “Mass immigration is white genocide,” “Deport illegal aliens” and “Build the wall! Deport them all!”

In the wake of the COVID-19, NJEHA added propaganda reading, “Open borders spread disease,” “Closed borders: the best vaccine,” “Open borders is the virus” and "Stop coronavirus Deport all illegal aliens! Close the borders! Stop immigration!" In June 2020, approximately five members of the group held a flash demonstration on an overpass in Lake Ronkonkoma, New York, holding banners reading, “Open borders spread disease” and “white lives matter.”

 

Samples of NJEHA and AIM fliers posted on social media.

Meanwhile, individuals associated with the American Identity Movement (AIM) created propaganda featuring a Corona beer with the phrase “Immigration kills.” And in March 2020, five members of the group held a flash demonstration at the California State Capitol holding signs that read “stop the spread!” and “stop immigration.”

Some white supremacists have used propaganda to target the Hispanic community more directly.  In September 2019, a flier from the neo-Nazi National Alliance reading, “Send them back. They can’t make white babies” was reported in New Orleans. In October 2019, fliers from the Daily Stormer Book Clubs requesting that the public “report any and all illegal aliens” were posted at the Center for Latino Policy Research at the University of California, Berkeley. And in June 2020, dozens of white supremacist fliers were distributed in Norfolk, Virginia, with messaging that included “the Mexicans must go” and “help us stop race mixing.”