DALLAS (AFP, REUTERS) - The main shooting suspect in the deadly ambush on Dallas police was a US Army reservist and Afghanistan veteran who apparently supported violent black militant movements.
The 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson’s links with the groups were being investigated by US law enforcement on Friday, highlighting the role of little known organisations that rail against racial injustice and police abuses.
Babu Omowale, the co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, a Dallas-based black militia that performs armed community patrols, said Johnson came to black community events in Dallas. “We don’t condone it, we don’t support it, but we understand it,” Omowale told Reuters.
“We can understand how the conditions of America today pushed that man to respond how he did. Every man and woman has his breaking point, and we just think Micah got to his breaking point before anyone else.”
Omowale said the club was founded in August 2014 in the wake of black teenager Michael Brown’s fatal shooting by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and organises armed groups under Texas’s“open-carry” gun laws to monitor police and drug activity.
He said he did not know Johnson personally but recognised him from gatherings to commemorate black historical events. “He wasn’t a stranger to us.”
On the Facebook page attributed to Johnson, whom the police have confirmed is the gunman, he appears with his right arm raised in the tight fist reminiscent of the black power movement of decades ago in America.
Johnson, who is black, wears a colourful, loose-fitting African style tunic against the backdrop of the red, black and green Pan-African flag, which became popular during the black liberation drive of the 1960s in the United States.
Dallas police say the gunman staged a furious ambush-style attack on Thursday night in Dallas at a rally held to protest this week's fatal shooting of two black men by police in other states.
Five police were shot dead and seven were wounded, as were two civilians.
The shooter was killed by a bomb carried by a police robot device after an hours-long standoff with the authorities.
While negotiating with police, he said he was acting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and that he wanted to kill white people, particularly police officers.
Police later said they found bomb-making material, ballistic vests, rifles and ammunition in the suspect's home.
At some point on Friday, Johnson's Facebook page was taken down from the social media giant. But screen shots of it show several photos posted by Johnson and other information about him.
Another photo is of a black and white drawing of a fist and the words black power in capital letters.
A resident of the Dallas area, Johnson served six years as a private in the army reserve and was in Afghanistan from November 2013 to July 2014, the Army said. It said he was a carpentry and masonry specialist.
On his Facebook page, his "likes" include a number of organisations listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies such movements in the United States.
They include the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) and the Nation of Islam, both known for expressing virulently anti-Semitic and anti-white views, the SPLC said in a statement.
Another of his "likes" is a group called the African American Defense League, which following Thursday night’s shootings responded by calling for attacks on “everything in blue except the mail man.”
One of that organisation's leaders is a self-described psychotherapist, poet and black nationalist named Mauricelm-Lei Millere.
After this week's police shooting death of a black man named Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Millere called for violent retaliation by blacks.
He did so in a posting on the defence league's Facebook page.
It read like this: "You and I know what we must do and I don't mean marching, making a lot of noise, or attending conventions. We must 'Rally The Troops!' It is time to visit Louisiana and hold a barbeque. The highlight of our occasion will be to sprinkle Pigs Blood!"
Johnson, who posted anti-white messages on Facebook pages of some of the groups days before his attack, had also liked pages for affiliates of the Anonymous group and conspiracy-minded pages like “Illuminati Exposed Media.”
He also liked pages for the Black Lives Matter movement, which advocates peaceful protests against violence towards black people, appeared to have an interest in gun culture, and followed a tactical shooting page called “Guerrilla Approach.”
US law enforcement officials said on Friday they were trying to determine the relationship between Johnson, who was killed by police, and the black extremist groups that he praised online.
They said it appeared the gunman had acted alone but that they were still investigating whether anyone assisted him in the shootings.
NO TRACK RECORD OF VIOLENCE
Experts on hate groups said the black power groups have little track record of violence in the wake of recent high-profile police killings of black men in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York and other cities.
Since the 2014 killing of Brown in Ferguson, no attacks have been carried out by the groups, said Heidi Beirich, the head of the SPLC’s intelligence analysis.
“These groups are not associated with violence on a regular basis the way skinheads or neo-Nazis are now,” said Beirich.“They don’t have a list of members who have been arrested for crimes the way many white supremacist groups’ members have.”
The centre says there was an increase in the number of chapters of “black separatist” groups to 180 from 113 between 2014 and 2015. It says the New Black Panthers posts “virulently”racist and anti-Semitic messages.
Johnson also displayed a photograph of himself on Facebook with the rapper Professor Griff, a member of the group Public Enemy who has accused law enforcement of harassing him. In a message on Twitter posted on Friday, Professor Griff said he did not know Johnson.
FBI spokesman Chris Allen said the FBI was focused on assisting the Dallas investigation and had no immediate comment on the larger context of Black nationalist attacks on police officers.
Beirich said it was not clear if Johnson belonged to the radical groups he liked on Facebook or simply was influenced by their online literature and ideas. “It may turn out he is a member of one of these organisations but nowadays even white extremists are less and less formal members of groups and engage in propaganda and like-minded racism on the web,” Beirich said.
Omowale of the Gun Club said Johnson had been “very compassionate about his people.” “It hurt him and broke his heart every day to read on social media about his people being killed by police,” he said. “This didn’t happen because a man wanted to go out to kill some people. The judicial system in America is corrupt.”