Authorities searching the Nevada home of Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter Santino William Legan found extremist materials, according to a law enforcement source.
The discovery came as detectives are trying to determine a motive in the Sunday attack at the famed food festival. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, did not provide details about the materials found or whether they provided clues as to a motive.
Detectives have been looking through his social media, electronic devices and computer hardware but are still struggling to understand why he opened fire, killing three and leaving 12 hurt, the sources said.
“Our preeminent and principal concern is motivation, ideological leanings and was he affiliated with anyone or any group,” said Craig Fair, FBI assistant special agent in charge of counterintelligence at the San Francisco office.
At a news conference Tuesday, officials said the attack appears pre-planned but that the motive is still unclear.
“We have no reason to believe at this point he was targeting any protected characteristics or any class,” Fair said. “We continue to try and understand who the shooter is and what motivated him and if he was aligned with any particular ideology.”
“Everyone wants to know the answer: Why?” Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said. “If there’s any affiliation with other people, or groups of people, that could potentially pose a threat in the future, that all plays in.”
That digital footprint in the case of the San Bernardino terror attacks that killed 14 and wounded 22 yielded a considerable history of aspiring to commit a holy war on America.
The killers in that case were so aware of their digital footprint they tossed away their laptop’s hard drive. But in the case of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that claimed 58 lives despite a year of investigation, Las Vegas police and the FBI were unable to ascribe a motive for Stephen Paddock’s rampage during the Route 91 Harvest music festival.
In letting Gilroy police be the lead agency, the FBI has already eliminated the prospect that Legan’s actions on their face were terrorist in nature as federal law requires the bureau to lead such investigations.
Smithee, asked whether the victims were targeted, said Monday that it seemed “random.” But he cautioned that the motive remains unknown.
A study published by the Cal State San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism this month found that mass shooters frequently used sites such as 8chan, Telegram, GAB and Facebook around the time of their attacks. It remains unclear whether Legan used any of these sites, authorities say.
“Over the last decade, many of the most notorious extremist mass killers have participated in, or were influenced by, bigoted content on social media before undertaking attacks in their home regions,” said Brian Levin, the center’s director.
He cautioned that there are a lot of elements that can propel someone to carry out a violent act, not just one motivating factor. But young people who don’t belong to a specific hate group can self-radicalize through content from those groups easily found online, Levin said.
Michael Downing, a retired deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department’s counterterrorism unit, said digital footprints are a “critical tool” for law enforcement in shooting investigations where the gunman has died.
Downing, who is currently chief security officer with Oak View Group, said the individual’s online presence can be telling for investigators who are tasked with piecing together the person’s motivations without being able to speak with them.
“A digital footprint shows what they are reading, who they are associating with and who they are influenced by,” he said.
If investigators can find a computer Legan regularly used, cyberforensic experts could quickly decipher the gunman’s behavior, which might shed light on his motives, Downing said.
At Legan’s home in Nevada, investigators found thumb drives, hard drives, a computer tower, empty ammo boxes, a pocketknife, a gun light, a reflective vest and a camouflage backpack, court records show.
FBI spokeswoman Katherine Zackel said agents are also continuing to gather evidence at the crime scene, which is extensive. “It is a very large and complex scene,” she explained, noting that it could take several days. In the past, the bureau has flown evidence back to its Virginia lab for examination by its forensic experts.
Before the attack, the shooter posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “Ayyy garlic festival time come get wasted on overpriced ...,” using an expletive.
He also posted a photo of a Smokey Bear sign warning about fire danger, with a caption instructing people to read an obscure novel glorified by white supremacists: “Might Is Right” published under the pseudonym Ragnar Redbeard. In his profile, which has since been deleted, Legan identified himself as being of Italian and Iranian descent.
The book, published in 1890, includes discredited principles related to social Darwinism that have been used to justify racism, slavery and colonialism, Levin said.
“The notion that people of color are biologically inferior is a key tenet of this book, and that biological determinism, the Darwinian view of the world, justifies aggression against diverse people and vulnerable people,” he said.
The famed festival was winding down when authorities allege that Legan crept past a creek and cut through a fence, bypassing entrance security, while armed with an AK-47-style rifle that is illegal to own in California.
Soon after, he began spraying attendees with gunfire, authorities said, claiming three lives and wounding a dozen people. Within a minute, Legan was shot and killed as three police officers arrived and fired at him with their handguns.
Nelson reported from Gilroy, the others from Los Angeles.