Texas shooting: US far-right try to spread conspiracy theories about motive behind church murders

Authorities say they know very little about Kelley's motive, or why the shooting happened

Andrew Griffin
Monday 06 November 2017 09:56 GMT
Texas church shooting: What we know so far

It has been only hours since a gunman dressed in black walked into a Texas church and shot dozens of innocent people dead. But online trolls and far-right activists are already attempting to spread misinformation about why it happened.

Numerous posts are attempting to connect Devin Kelley, the man who killed at least 26 people inside the Sutherlands Spring church, with a range of different groups to which the far-right are opposed. That includes antifascists and Muslims – despite there being no proof that he was interested in or in contact with either.

Some even suggest that he espoused his leftist views during the killing, with some claiming Kelley forced people to read from communist texts and targeted the church because it was a "white conservative" organisation. Those reports appear to be entirely false.

In fact, police appear to understand very little about the killer's motive. All authorities have said is that there is nothing to connect him to any organised terrorist group, apparently ruling out radicalisation by groups like Isis for now.

The misinformation has been given extra credence and popularity because Google featured it in its results. Anyone attempting to search for the full name of the killer, Devin Patrick Kelley, was shown a series of tweets that erroneously linked him with Bernie Sanders, Islam and Antifa.

As time has gone on, those tweets have been swapped for posts from more credible outlets, primarily promoting factual reports on the shooting. But for many hours in the wake of the shooting, they were displayed to the many people looking for information on the killing.

Many of the posts claimed to have seen pictures on Kelley's Facebook, which they said showed him posing next to antifascist logos and Liking groups that support Democrat politicians such as Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. But it's not clear there was any such information on his Facebook page, which did however include a picture of him holding a gun, captioned with the words "she’s a bad bitch", according to the Daily Beast.

The misinformation mirrors that spread in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, just weeks ago. In the aftermath of that attack, a number of trolls and activists attempted to link shooter Stephen Paddock with leftist and Islamist groups.

Authorities didn't identify the attacker during a news conference Sunday night. But two other officials — one a U.S. official and one in law enforcement — identified him as Devin Kelley. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the investigation.

The U.S. official said Kelley lived in a San Antonio suburb and didn't appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. Investigators were looking at social media posts Kelley made in the days before the attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.

Kelley received a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force for assaulting his spouse and child, and was sentenced to 12 months' confinement after a 2012 court-martial. Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his 2014 discharge, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.

At the news conference, the attacker was described only as a white man in his 20s who was wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest when he pulled into a gas station across from the church, about 30 miles (48.28 kilometers) southeast of San Antonio, around 11:20 a.m.

The gunman crossed the street and started firing the rifle at the church, said Freeman Martin, a regional director of the Texas Department of Safety, then continued firing after entering the white wood-frame building, where an 11 a.m. service was scheduled.

As he left, the shooter was confronted by an armed resident who "grabbed his rifle and engaged that suspect," Martin said. A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line.

Federal agents, including ATF investigators and the FBI's evidence collection team, swarmed the small rural community of just hundreds of residents.

Several weapons were found inside the vehicle and Martin said it was unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflicted wound or if he was shot by the resident who confronted him. He said investigators weren't ready to discuss a possible motive.

Martin said 23 of the dead were found in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.

The man who confronted Kelley had help from another local resident, Johnnie Langendorff, who told KSAT TV that he was driving past the church as the shooting happened. He didn't identify the armed resident but said the man exchanged gunfire with the gunman, then asked to get in Langendorff's truck and the pair followed as the gunman drove away.

Langendorff said the gunman eventually lost control of his vehicle and crashed. He said the other man walked up to the vehicle with his gun drawn and the suspect did not move. He stayed there for at least five minutes, until police arrived.

"I was strictly just acting on what's the right thing to do," Langendorff said.

Among those killed was the church pastor's 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy. Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, were both out of town when the attack occurred, Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message.

"We lost our 14-year-old daughter today and many friends," she wrote. "Neither of us has made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as i can."

Additional reporting by agencies

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in