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Search Warrant Cites Poway Synagogue Shooter's Hatred Of Judaism

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The sole gunman in a Southern California synagogue shooting in which a woman was killed told an investigator he adopted his hatred of Judaism 18 months before the fatal attack, according to a federal search warrant.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 John Earnest, the suspect in the fatal shooting in April at a Poway synagogue is just 19 years old. Search warrants on sale this week reveal investigations into the online website that Ernest was frequenting in the 18 months before the crime. Kb Best reporter Andrew Bowen has been looking into what we know about the eight Chan website and whether prosecutors could hold anyone connected to that website jointly liable for the crime. Andrew, thanks for coming in. Yeah, thanks. So now apparently Ernest left or posting on each end on the day of the shooting saying, quote, I've only been working here for a year and a half yet, what I've learned here is priceless. So he posted a manifesto to that site, which has since been taken down. The, the manifesto has, do we know what it said?

Speaker 2: 00:43 It's full of very racist, very viral statements against blacks, Jews, Muslims, gays, a number of groups. It talks about how his bloodline is pure and European. Um, so very clear, you know, white, white power, white supremacist, um, stands. It includes Bible passages and talks about how he's a Christian and a, it also calls on other people on the [inaudible] website. They call themselves [inaudible] for anonymous, um, to commit similar acts of violence. Even goes into a suggesting what types of weapons to use. And he says, I think very importantly, look, look at how easy this is. If I can do this, anyone can, what do we know about the website? It calls itself the darkest reaches that the Internet. Um, and that includes many message boards about various topics. The most popular message board is this, well, it says it's about politics, but it's essentially a gathering place for Neo Nazis and the white power movement. People post very racist, antisemitic memes. I'm really, it's truly awful content. The site says that it promotes free speech and it only takes down content that is illegal, but there's essentially no moderating of the message boards taking place. So things that are placed on there usually stay there.

Speaker 1: 01:52 And the search warrant that was, I'm revealed this week. What else did we learn from it?

Speaker 2: 01:56 There were a few details about the shooting and the immediate aftermath that we learned. Um, as you mentioned, investigators say an Yvette, a, he told a sheriff's deputy that he adopted this hatred of Jews and Muslims 18 months prior to the shooting. He said, I'm also in an interview with police that he was inspired by Hitler. Uh, police say they found a helmet with a Gopro on it. Um, he initially said, I'm allegedly in this posting on each hand that he was planning on streaming the event on Facebook, but, um, that didn't happen. Uh, for whatever reason. Um, we also, I think the fact that this search warrant was issued against eight Chan against the website itself, um, is significant for the purposes of the case. The prosecution of the suspect, the feds are essentially looking for proof that he was an, uh, motivated by his hatred of a class of people that are protected by the federal hate crime statute.

Speaker 2: 02:49 So people based on discrimination or hatred towards an entire group of, of, uh, religion or race, his postings and interactions with other people on eight Chan could be used as evidence of his radicalization and ends that racial or religious animus in perpetrating this act. Um, but it also suggests that perhaps, uh, the feds are also interested in tracking other individuals on each hand. It calls people who responded to his original posting as potential co-conspirators, witnesses or people inspired by the coast, uh, the posting. So it's not clear from the war and alone whether or not the government plans to pursue any sort of investigation into other folks who are on the website. But it is a possibility. But there's this free speech question. So you spoke to a former us attorney about this search warrant. Does it seem likely that the prosecutors would be able to charge people who posted on the website as being connected to this crime?

Speaker 2: 03:46 Well, one challenge that law enforcement faces is simply identifying the users themselves. So there is no account registration on eight Chan, you know, an account, uh, is, but most of the postings are anonymous. Uh, people on the message boards often encourage others to use software that masks their IP address, which is essentially how a anything that you post online can be traced back to your computer. So in those cases, the feds would have to work very hard to actually identify who is posting what. But as you mentioned, there's also the first amendment that protects even the most offensive and vials, speech and even general sort of a vague calls for violence. So there's a very high bar for that call to violence to actually be considered criminal incitements. So I did speak with a former US attorney, Eric Best, and here's what he told me.

Speaker 1: 04:37 Does this person have any type of, uh, indication in their background that they really would be likely to commit a crime or likely to incite others to commit acts of violence? Secondly, you'd look at the credibility of the threat. Does the, does the threat really sound like something that's serious or is it just simply talk? So there's this gap between free speech and action. John Ernest is now facing the death penalty for what he allegedly did. Reminders is

Speaker 2: 05:04 what he's accused of potentially. Yes. So he is, he has been charged under state, uh, criminal statutes with murder and attempted murder and also, uh, attempted arson related to the torching of a mosque in Escondido about a month prior to the attack on the Po, uh, the Poway synagogue. Um, he's also been charged with more than 100 counts of federal hate crimes and civil rights violations, so he faces both a state and a federal court proceeding. And both cases don't have a trial dates yet, but there is a motion hearing and a trial setting scheduled for next Wednesday in the federal case against him. And that's the earliest that a judge could set a trial date of been speaking with KPBS rotor. Andrew Bowen. Andrew, thanks for coming in. Thanks Alison.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.