Newly unsealed federal search warrants have revealed the extent to which the man who attacked the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego this April was inspired by the far-right extremist who attacked two mosques in New Zealand earlier this year.
John T. Earnest, 19, has been charged with one count of murder, the attempted murder of 53 people, and 109 counts of federal hate crimes. On April 27, Earnest opened fire on a Passover service at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, killing one and injuring three before fleeing the scene and being captured by police. Less than a week prior, Earnest had tried to set fire to a mosque in Escondido, California.
The similarities between Earnest’s attack and the one that happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, were apparent from the start.
Like the Christchurch shooter, Earnest released a manifesto in advance of the shooting, which touted his European heritage and went on a conspiracy-filled ramble about how an “other” group (In Earnest’s case Jews, in the Christchurch shooter’s case Muslims) were conspiring to bring down the white race. Like the Christchurch shooter, Earnest also attempted to livestream the attack on Facebook.
The extent of Earnest’s praise of the New Zealand attack, however, did not become clear until Tuesday, when Superior Court Presiding Judge Peter Deddeh unsealed more than 300 pages of court documents related to the case, at the request of five news organizations including the Associated Press and several local outlets. Their lawyer, Elizabeth Baldridge, had argued that the public “has a substantial interest in understanding the motivations behind these crimes and obtaining transparency in the process of bringing the alleged perpetrators to justice.”
Previous search warrants that were made public in June showed Earnest told the FBI post-arrest that he had been “inspired by individuals such as Adolph Hitler and [New Zealand Shooter] Brenton Tarrant.”
The latest warrants further expand upon Earnest’s obsession with the New Zealand shooter. As reported by KPBS, in the days after the attack Earnest complained over text to a person that he wasn’t able to watch the shooting livestreamed. He also described the shooter’s manifesto as “spot on with everything” and that it was “important that everyone should read it.”
Earnest also prepared for the attack by opening an Amazon account and using it to buy equipment in advance of the shooting, including an ammunition holder, a tactical helmet and a “GoPro” camera. Earnest also legally purchased an AR-15 rifle from a local San Diego gun shop just prior to the attack. Authorities suspect he may have used his family’s hunting license to do so, since it’s illegal in California for anyone under the age of 21 to buy a rifle unless they are a member of the military or hold a hunting license.
As ThinkProgress has previously outlined, the connections between Earnest and the New Zealand shooter show how far-right attacks bounce off each other, offering inspiration and creating further radicalization.
“They’re not acting alone in terms of being inspired, gathering information, tactical knowledge, ideology. It’s clear that the pace of that dissemination is increasing,” Zahed Amanullah, resident senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, previously told ThinkProgress. “That’s the real concern, because the bar is being lowered and lowered for someone to be inspired by the manifesto and to take action themselves.”