MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Authorities are looking into the mass shooting at the Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Authorities looking into this mass shooting at the Walmart in El Paso, Texas, are investigating racial hatred as the likely motivation behind the attack. A 21-year-old man is in custody and is said to be cooperating with police. He is believed to be the author of a four-page manifesto or screed that's central to why federal investigators have called this an act of domestic terrorism. NPR's Hannah Allam covers domestic extremism, and she's here to tell us about what we know so far.
Hannah, thank you so much for joining us.
HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Hi.
MARTIN: So is there anything about the El Paso shooting that stands out now that authorities are saying that it is likely an attack directed toward the Latino shoppers at that area?
ALLAM: Right. Well, we've seen Muslims, Jews, Sikhs gunned down in their houses of worship in recent years. We've seen black churchgoers killed in Charleston, black churches torched in Louisiana. But the attack in El Paso really squarely targeted Latinos. It appeared designed to kill as many Latinos as possible. The suspect's writings talk about a, quote, "Hispanic invasion," and he casts himself as fighting against that.
So this targeting, the specific targeting of Latinos, was something that's come up repeatedly when I've been talking with extremism researchers today. One of them is William Braniff. He's director of the START center at the terrorism research center at the University of Maryland. And here's what he said to - here's what he had to say about that targeting.
WILLIAM BRANIFF: He picked specific victims not because of what they did but because of what they represent in order to communicate to an audience beyond the physical target of the attack. He's trying to change the calculus of individual Latinos and Latinas from coming or staying in the United States.
ALLAM: Right. So this deliberate targeting of Latinos in a town that straddles the border with Mexico, ordinary people shopping at Walmart - that's unusual. Although we should point out that there have been Latino casualties in several of these previous attacks.
MARTIN: So where does El Paso fit in with this pattern of other people who identify with the far-right that we have seen recently?
ALLAM: Well, simply put, the violent far right movement has been and remains the most active terrorist threat inside the United States. And that's from the FBI as well as from researchers of extremism. And the targeting is getting more specifically aimed at immigrants, or at least those who appear to be immigrants.
And Braniff from the START center says research shows what he's called a massive spike in the percentage of white supremacist extremists who are expressing xenophobic, anti-immigrant ideas. He said that's always been a feature of the movement but that from 2014 to 2015, the percentage expressing xenophobia more than doubled. And then it went up another 12% in 2016, another percentage point in 2017. And the numbers aren't complete for 2018, but Braniff said that it's on track to show an increase there as well.
MARTIN: Is there any profile emerging of people who are attracted to this racist, far-right ideology and who are prepared to act upon it?
ALLAM: Monitors who catalog these incidents have warned that it's very hard to pin down a clear profile of the attackers because they vary in age, education, location, socioeconomic background. And so there's no clear picture that emerges. And researchers warn against trying to fit them into a box and drawing conclusions.
MARTIN: And what about the attacks themselves? Are we seeing any similarities there, as briefly as you can?
ALLAM: Yes. There, we do see a clearer pattern - the use of a high-powered weapon, a manifesto spelling out white nationalism as an ideological driver and the invoking of this so-called replacement theory - the idea that changing demographics represent an existential threat to the white race and that it's a duty to fight that change. So yeah, the El Paso suspect talked a lot about preservation.
MARTIN: That is NPR's Hannah Allam, and she covers domestic extremism.
Hannah, thank you so much for joining us.
ALLAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.