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Man allegedly planned mass shooting in Atlanta to trigger ‘race war’

A federal grand jury this week indicted an Arizona man on charges of planning a massacre of black people in the spring in an effort to spark a “race war” before the 2024 election.

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

Prieto made these plans with them at meetings at gun shows across Arizona, focused on the racist messages he wanted to send and the desire to “fight back” against blacks, Jews and Muslims, the criminal complaint says.

He “wanted to make clear that the attack was racially motivated,” FBI Special Agent Ryan Harp wrote in the complaint. Prieto allegedly said he planned to leave Confederate flags at the scene and shout phrases like “Black lives don't matter, white lives matter.”

The concert he wanted to attack was not named in the court documents. The date and location match a performance by the artist Bad Bunny at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Prieto wanted to attack a rap concert because he believed there would be black people there, the lawsuit says.

Prieto was charged with arms trafficking and related charges after allegedly selling two rifles in February and March. to the undercover agent. He was in prison in Arizona and does not have a lawyer in the case. A lawyer in New Mexico, where Prieto was arrested, did not return 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 espoused by some conservative elected officials and candidates – have influenced U.S. politics. The country has seen racially motivated mass shootings in El Paso, Charleston, South Carolina, Buffalo and elsewhere.

The rise of extremism in the United States has deep historical roots, says Alvin Tillery Jr., director of the Center for Democracy and Diversity Studies at Northwestern University. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act, demonstrations of white supremacy “became more restrained … and now we are back in a more open phase,” he says.

The belief that we must stop the “robbery of this country” by liberals or non-whites has led to cases of political violence, says Jon Lewis, a research fellow at George Washington University's extremism program.

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

According to the prosecution, Prieto said his attack had to take place before November. Presidential elections. He reportedly spoke of a desire to start a race war and of his belief that the government would impose martial law after the elections.

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

In early May, Prieto allegedly said he wanted to travel to Atlanta to do reconnaissance work. He decided not to carry out the attack at the concert, but instead talked about attacking a mosque later in the summer, the indictment states.

On May 14, Prieto was stopped by police officers while driving through New Mexico. He said he was going to visit his mother in Florida and allegedly admitted that he had discussed an attack in Atlanta but had no plans to do so, the complaint states.

A trial date had not yet been set as of Friday.