Man accused of planning mass shooting in Atlanta to start ‘race war’

An Arizona man plotted to target Black people in a mass shooting this spring in an effort to incite a “race war” before the 2024 election, a federal grand jury charged this week.

Mark Prieto, 58, of Prescott, Arizona, planned to carry out the attack in Atlanta, hoping to target African Americans and other non-white people, according to the indictment. From January to May, he allegedly discussed the idea with people who he believed shared his racist beliefs – but who turned out to be an FBI source and an undercover FBI agent.

Prieto made plans with them during meetings at gun shows across Arizona, focusing on the racist messages he wanted to send and the desire to “fight back” against black, Jewish and Muslims, according to the criminal complaint.

He “wanted to make it clear that the attack was racially motivated,” FBI Special Agent Ryan Harp wrote in the complaint. Prieto reportedly said he planned to leave Confederate flags at the shooting location and shout phrases such as “Black lives don’t matter, white lives matter.”

The concert he wanted to target was not identified by name in court documents. Its dates and location correspond to an appearance by artist Bad Bunny at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Prieto sought to target a rap concert because he thought black people would be there, the complaint states.

Prieto was charged with firearms trafficking and related charges after allegedly selling two rifles in February and March. to the undercover agent. He was jailed in Arizona and no attorney is listed in the case. A lawyer in New Mexico, where Prieto was arrested, did not respond to a call from The Washington Post on Thursday.

In recent years, factors such as online extremism, distrust of government, and the growing influence of Christian nationalism – including ideas championed by some conservative elected officials and candidates – have influenced politics. American. The country has seen racially motivated mass shootings in El Paso; Charleston, South Carolina; Buffalo; and elsewhere.

The rise of extremism has deep historical roots in the United States, said Alvin Tillery Jr., director of the Center for the Study of Democracy and Diversity at Northwestern University. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act, white supremacist protests became “more reserved…and now we’re in a more open phase again,” he said.

The belief in the need to “stop the stealing of this country” by liberals or non-whites has led to instances of political violence, said Jon Lewis, a researcher at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism .

“This case is symptomatic of the current state of political violence and extremism in the United States,” Lewis said. The idea of ​​committing an “act of mass violence in the hope that it will trigger a cascade of violence… is an increasingly common narrative in many of these far-right neo-Nazi spaces.”

According to the indictment, Prieto said his attack was supposed to take place before the November attack. presidential election. He reportedly spoke of his desire to incite a race war and his belief that the government would impose martial law after the election.

In his conversations with the FBI source and the undercover agent, Prieto allegedly strategized on what type of weapon to use, what to wear, how to escape, how to broadcast messages during the attack and other logistical aspects . He allegedly sold the undercover agent an AR-15 rifle and told him to use it in the attack.

In early May, Prieto reportedly said he would travel to Atlanta to conduct reconnaissance work. He decided not to carry out the attack at the concert and instead talked about attacking a mosque later that summer, according to the indictment.

On May 14, law enforcement arrested Prieto as he drove through New Mexico. He said he was going to visit his mother in Florida and allegedly admitted that he had considered carrying out an attack in Atlanta, but said he had no intention of doing so, according to the complaint.

No trial date had been set as of Friday.

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