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‘There are no lone wolves’ when it comes to white supremacist violence, expert says in wake of Winthrop shooting

Flowers and notes were left on the fence at the scene where an armed man crashed a stolen truck on Saturday, then fatally shot two people before being killed by law enforcement in Winthrop.
Flowers and notes were left on the fence at the scene where an armed man crashed a stolen truck on Saturday, then fatally shot two people before being killed by law enforcement in Winthrop.Scott Eisen/Getty

People who carry out violent crimes motivated by white supremacist ideology do not do so in isolation, one national security expert said in the wake of a shooting in Winthrop, where a 28-year-old man “executed” two Black people before being killed by police.

“I often say, there are no lone wolves,” Juliette Kayyem, senior Belfer lecturer in international security at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said in an interview Tuesday. “Often we find that they seek comfort, shelter, and radicalization through online networks.”

Investigators are combing through the background and personal writings of Nathan Allen, who authorities say acted with “hate in his heart” on Saturday when he crashed a stolen truck into a building and then shot and killed retired state trooper David Green, 68, and Air Force veteran Ramona Cooper, 60. Allen was then killed in an exchange of gunfire with a Winthrop police sergeant.

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After the crash, Allen passed by several other people who were not Black and did not harm them, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said at a news conference on Monday. He also left behind notebook entries featuring swastikas, anti-Black and antisemitic rhetoric, and descriptions of white people as “apex predators,” Rollins said. Authorities are investigating how and where Allen, who had no criminal history, may have become radicalized.

The Winthrop shooting follows a growing threat posed by white supremacy, made worse by a network of hate online and the current political climate, Kayyem said.

“The FBI and those in counterterrorism have been pretty consistent for the last few years that the rise of white supremacy radicalism poses the greatest violent threat in the United States, and I think that’s a key point,” Kayyem said. “It’s the language that would incite violent action which is the most troublesome.”

She said it’s key to examine more than a perpetrator’s own statements.

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“Who was he communicating with, either online or in person, that may have turned ... someone who presumably has not been a menace for years into a racist killer?” Kayyem said. “That doesn’t happen alone in your home. More often than not, that happens because of a network and a community that people find online.”

A report this month from the National Security Council that lays out the government’s plans to counter domestic terrorism said individuals and groups “have been galvanized by recent political and societal events in the United States to carry out violent attacks.”

“Among that wide range of animating ideologies, racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (principally those who promote the superiority of the white race) and militia violent extremists are assessed as presenting the most persistent and lethal threats,” the report said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 838 hate groups in the United States in 2020, including 12 in Massachusetts. Hate crimes also were also seeing an upward trend, according to FBI statistics that show law enforcement agencies in 2019 reported 7,314 criminal incidents motivated by bias, a number rising steadily over recent years since it was at 5,479 in 2014.

The past few years have seen a number of high-profile attacks by white men targeting people for their race or ethnicity, including one earlier this month in London, Ontario. In that attack, the driver of a pickup truck ran down a Muslim family out for an evening walk, killing four people who police said were targeted for their faith.

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Kayyem said “the vehicle as a weapon is [a] very dominant” theme among such attacks, as is gun violence.

Other recent incidents, to name just a few, include the 2019 shooting targeting Latinos at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart that killed 23 people; attacks on Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 in 2019; 11 worshippers killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 by a gunman who later told police he wanted to “kill Jews”; the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., attack in which an avowed neo-Nazi rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white-supremacist rally; and the Charleston, S.C., church shooting of 2015 in which a self-avowed white supremacist slayed nine Black worshippers.

And then there is the storming of the US Capitol on Jan. 6, the fallout from which is still ongoing. Insurrectionists, white supremacists, and rioters mobbed the Capitol in D.C. on Jan. 6 in rejection of Donald Trump’s election loss.

“The political atmospherics are feeding into” the worsening threat of violence, Kayyem said. “The Big Lie and the sense of something rightfully theirs being taken from them is about violence. The threat of violence that permeates so much of the political discourse for one party right now, the GOP, is something that needs to be called out.”

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Kayyem said she believes in devoting resources to prosecuting hate crimes, as well as community outreach to encourage people to come forward about signs of radicalization among people they know.

“People do not just wake up and do this,” she said. “I think this is proof that while there’s much to be proud of in Massachusetts about our diversity and how communities live peacefully together, there’s also still a lot of hate, as well.”


Sahar Fatima can be reached at sahar.fatima@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @sahar_fatima.