The motive behind the Gilroy Garlic Festival rampage that left three dead remained a mystery Wednesday, with federal authorities saying literature found in searches of gunman Santino William Legan’s homes ran the gamut from left to right.
John Bennett, FBI special agent in charge, said they had not determined the ideology of the Gilroy shooter and had recovered “conflicting literature” during searches in Nevada and Gilroy.
Authorities are bringing in two profilers to help build a picture of the gunman.
Among the “information we are collecting, there is conflicting literature ... everything from left to right.” So, Bennett said, investigators do not feel they can “put this person in a box. I wouldn’t say it was extreme views. It is writings and books that we have found through some of the search warrants. ... We are trying to go through all the literature and make sense of it.”
Authorities in Nevada searched a triplex unit where Legan lived. Court documents showed they retrieved items including a bulletproof vest, empty weapon and ammunition boxes, a pocketknife, a gun light, a camouflage backpack, pamphlets on guns, a sack of ammo casings, a gas mask and gloves.
They also took electronics: three hard drives, three thumb drives, a flip phone and a computer tower. They found a letter to Legan from a woman, according to the court records.
Legan’s home in Gilroy was also searched. Authorities hope his electronic footprint will yield clues.
Before the attack, Legan posted a photo on Instagram 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.
The book, published in 1890, includes discredited principles related to social Darwinism that have been used to justify racism, slavery and colonialism, said Brian Levin, director of Cal State San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
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,” Levin said, “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.”
He cautioned that there were a lot of factors that could spur someone to carry out a violent act, not just one motivating cause. 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.
Bennett, the FBI official, said authorities had not determined that Legan had white supremacist leanings.
Michael Downing, a retired deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department’s counter-terrorism unit, said digital footprints were a “critical tool” for law enforcement in shooting investigations where the gunman had died.
Downing, currently chief security officer with Oak View Group, said the individual’s online presence could be telling for investigators who were tasked with piecing together the person’s motivations without being able to speak with him.
“A digital footprint shows what they are reading, who they are associating with and who they are influenced by,” he said.