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Report: Aztec High School shooter one of 13 ‘alt-right’ killers

Southern Law Poverty Center says William Atchison was influenced by extremist movement
Aztec High School students react as they arrive Dec. 7, 2017, at McGee Park in Farmington to be reunited with family after a gunman killed two students and them himself. The shooter, William Atchison, has been named by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of 13 people influenced by the “alt-right” political movement.

William Edward Atchison, the 21-year-old who entered Aztec High School and killed two students before taking his own life in December, bore all the hallmarks of an increasing number of killers influenced by the “alt-right” political movement, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The report – “The Alt-Right is Killing People” – released on Monday documents more than 100 people killed or injured by 13 aggressors the SPLC says had ties to the “alt-right,” a group the center says is comprised of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other fringe hate groups.

“While some (perpetrators) certainly displayed signs of mental illness, all share a history of consuming and/or participating in the type of far-right ecosystem that defines the alt-right,” the SPLC said in its report.

The SPLC was founded in 1971 in Montgomery, Alabama, and is regarded as one of the most prominent nonprofits specializing in legal civil rights. Calls to the center for comment were not returned Tuesday.

William Atchison, 21, who disguised himself as a student to get into a Aztec high School where he killed two students on Dec. 7, 2017, had caught the attention of U.S. investigators more than a year ago, authorities said the day after the shooting. Atchison, a former student at the school, had legally purchased a handgun at a local store a month ago and planned the attack, authorities said.

Atchison, who had attended Aztec High School but never graduated, entered the school around 8 a.m. Dec. 7, 2017, disguised as a student. Armed with a 9 mm Glock, he killed two students: Casey Jordan Marquez and Francisco Fernandez, both 17 years old and both Hispanic. He then turned the gun on himself.

Before Atchison began his killing spree, the report says he displayed many of the same behaviors found in the actions of other killers with ties to the alt-right, namely a hateful and racist online presence that advocated white supremacy, glorified school shooters and made suggestions of a mass shooting of his own.

“At the time, the news of the shooting went largely ignored, but the online activity of ... Atchison, bore all the hallmarks of the ‘alt-right’ – the now infamous subculture and political movement consisting of vicious trolls, racist activists and bitter misogynists,” the SPLC report said.

The term “alternative right” is partly considered to have been first invented by white nationalist leader Richard Bertrand Spencer around 2008 to promote white nationalism – “most notably the belief that white identity is under attack by multiculturalism and political correctness,” according the center.

Since then, the movement has gained traction, especially during the 2016 election, emboldened by publications like Breitbart News and propaganda posted anonymously on online forums such as 4chan and Reddit.

The Daily Beast in December conducted a sweeping investigation of Atchison’s online activity, analyzing hundreds of his posts. The publication said the posts paint a prolific picture of the 21-year-old as a white supremacist who idolized school shooters.

In a review of a video game based on World War II in Germany written on Steam, a gaming website, Atchison wrote, “I find this game highly offensive for featuring mass murder against your own race.” In another review, he added: “RIP Hitler.”

Last November, also on Steam, Atchison wrote: “Whereever I go, I see degeneracy ... Go to the store and buy groceries in peace? Nope, here’s a group of LGBT liberal filth in line with you. And there’s a (racial slur) family with 10 kids over there. And a Finn, too, but he’s overweight as (expletive) and he’s buying alcohol and (expletive) junk food. (Expletive) fantastic.”

He had more than 40 offensive usernames, The Daily Beast reported, such as “School Shooter” and “Future Mass Shooter” as well as several others named after school shooters Adam Lanza, Elliot Rodger and Anders Breivik.

In March 2016, the FBI investigated Atchison after he made comments online about planning a mass shooting. However, authorities dropped the case after they found no evidence he had guns or plans for a crime.

“He was cooperative,” Albuquerque FBI Special Agent Terry Wade said at a news conference shortly after the shooting, recalling the 2016 investigation. “He told us that he enjoyed trolling on the internet.”

Authorities believe Atchison purchased the 9 mm Glock a month before the attack at Aztec High School.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s report says the first killer with direct ties to the alt-right is Elliot Rodger, who as a college sophomore at the University of California-Santa Barbara went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California, that left six dead and 14 wounded.

The report says Rodger, too, was considered to be a marginalized youth, unable to find friends or a girlfriend in college, who then found some sense of community in the fringe alt-right that typically scapegoats personal shortcomings on other ethnicities or women.

“Alt-right propaganda is intentionally designed to foster feelings of grievance, injustice, and animosity, particularly against those considered threats to ‘western civilization’ – otherwise known as people of color, immigrants and other marginalized communities,” the SPLC report said.

The center says the violence is unlikely to abate, because “the alt-right is redoubling its efforts at youth recruitment, intensifying its rhetoric and calling for radical, individual action.”

In August, 20-year-old James Alex Fields drove a car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a 32-year-old-woman and injuring 19 others. News stories reported that Fields had an obsession with Nazis and had an association to Vanguard America, a white nationalist, neo-Nazi group.

“The internet has changed a lot of things,” Ryan Lenz, with SPLC, told The Daily Beast. “Make it much easier for an alienated, isolated kid to find communities where they feel they belong. And it sometimes goes unchecked because of how the alt-right has presented itself: It’s just irony. It’s for the lulz.”

The New Mexico San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and FBI bureau in Albuquerque have yet to release a final motive for Atchison’s attack. Neither agency responded to The Durango Herald’s requests for comment.

The Daily Beast, drawing from Atchison’s more personal posts to Live Journal, said Atchison dropped out of 10th grade because he suffered from anxiety and a “backwards as hell” culture at school. He had a 3.5 GPA but had social issues, no friends and had trouble finding work.

Three years before the shooting, Atchison pleaded for help in a September 2014 post called “Stuck in a Rural Redneck Town.”

“Look, I’m sorry if I’m rude and hateful or anything, but I don’t know what to do. I’ve lived no life for nearly 19 years, most of which was in the miserable ass sun-belt. Did you know new mexico has the fourth highest suicide rate?”

“Should I escape this dump or deal with it? How can I become polite and make some friends out there in this world?”

More than 230 people viewed the post, but no one responded, The Daily Beast reported.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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