Texas mall shooter’s ‘neo-Nazi ideation’ shocks Latino community
"ALLEN, Tex. — After hiding in terror as the sound of bullets rang out nearby, Marvin Castaneda and his family emerged from the outlet mall last Saturday to the sight of the gunman, lying dead on the sidewalk.
Through the gore, Castaneda noticed something unexpected: the shooter, Mauricio Garcia, who killed eight people that afternoon, was Latino.
“That image is there, in our minds,” Castaneda, who is from El Salvador, said in Spanish, choking up. “It’s not easy.”
A barrage of news would soon follow about Garcia. The 33-year-old was wearing a badge that read “RWDS,” for Right Wing Death Squad and had a tattoo of a swastika, according to police. He had been inculcated in white supremacist and other hate-based movements, scrawling anti-Asian and anti-woman messages on social media platforms. In one online post, Garcia said he had once been “ashamed” to be Hispanic.
Garcia targeted the mall, not specific types of people, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which also said he had “neo-Nazi ideation.”
The 22nd mass killing of the year, the second in Texas in less than a month, has infused an intense sense of vulnerability and fear into the community. In the days since the shooting, Latino residents in Dallas-Fort Worth say they have also been grappling with Garcia’s identity, discussing racism within their own community and worrying that the shooter could compound negative stereotypes of Hispanics.
“There are many people who don’t accept their origins or where they’re from,” said Castaneda’s wife, Abi, who hid in the backroom of the Express store with her 4-year-old. “Those that are racists, like in the case of Latinos, it’s because they’re embarrassed of who they really are.”
“We Latinos don’t have a great reputation in the United States, and these things don’t help us at all,” Marvin Castaneda said.
White supremacist movements are attracting and seeking out non-White members to legitimize their ideology, experts say. “We’re going to these rallies and seeing more and more men of color involved in them,” said Daniel Martinez HoSang, a Yale University professor and author of “Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity.”
“It’s confusing but it shows the complex and contradictory identities of these groups — they’re not just fixed and frozen in time, they’re moving and changing and responding to a multicultural world as well.”
Enrique Tarrio, who is Afro-Cuban and head of the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group, was found guilty last week of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, plot to attack the U.S. Capitol. He was arrested in 2021 for burning a Black Lives Matter flag stolen from a historic Black church in Washington. Nick Fuentes, a political commentator on YouTube who has a history of touting white nationalist ideas, is half-Mexican.
Ignoring the growth of Latinos and other people of color in the White supremacy movement is dangerous, said Fordham University professor Tanya Kateri Hernandez, author of “Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias and the Struggle for Equality.”
“Until we deal directly with the notion that many people can be complicit in and uphold white supremacy — if we keep looking at it with blinders on as simply something that a White, English-speaking, Ku Klux Klan member, neo-Nazi does … that is what will permit the growth of other groups being a part of it,” she said. “It goes under the radar.”
Kateri Hernandez said Latinos who gravitate toward White supremacy are often reacting to elements within their community that prize “whiteness” and grappling with the feeling that Latinos are assigned second-class status in the United States. Some believe that elevating White people could absolve them of the hardships of being Latino in this country, she said.
The shooting took place in an area 45 minutes from Dallas that has recently undergone demographic change, with a growing non-White population and a shrinking White one. Collin County, which includes the city of Allen, is 52 percent White, 17 percent Asian, 15 percent Hispanic and 11 percent Black. It was a longtime Republican stronghold whose strength has been slipping with its changing electorate.
The victims reflected the area’s diversity. Cindy and Kyu Cho, two Korean American parents, and their 3-year-old, James, were killed; their wounded 6-year-old son, William, survived. Sisters Daniela Mendoza, 11, and Sofia Mendoza, 8, were killed; their mother was in critical condition. Aishwarya Thatikonda, a 26-year-old from India, was killed. Elio Cumana-Rivas, 32, was reportedly from Venezuela and was killed, as well as Christopher LaCour, a 20-year-old security guard.
The county has previously produced notable extremists. Allen was the hometown of Patrick Crusius, who killed 23 people in 2019 at a Walmart in El Paso. Crusius had noticed the demographic changes in Allen, law enforcement said, and in a manifesto written before the rampage wrote that he wanted to “stop the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” a reference to the white supremacist invasion theory that immigrants are taking over the country. In nearby Frisco, also in Collin County, 19 local residents were charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack — one of the largest concentrations of the rioters in the nation.
The county’s increasing diversity “adds some challenges and it also adds a lot of character to the community,” said Abraham George, who is chairman of the Collin County Republican Party and Indian American.
But the shooting shouldn’t be seen through the lens of race, George said.
“Even if (Garcia) is sympathetic to a white supremacist group — I’m like, this guy isn’t even White,” George said. “It should matter about the crime itself, it shouldn’t matter the color of the person’s skin.”
In one of his many screeds posted on a Russian social media platform, the Allen gunman described his relationship to his identity in response to criticism from another online poster.
“This loser then starts bashing Mexico … he called Mexico a vast desert full of cartels. All I said was I know,” Garcia wrote. “To be fair there was a time when I was ashamed of being Hispanic. I’m Hispanic whether I like it or not. I’ve made peace w/ that.”
The gunman also frequented the Mexican-owned Jorge’s Barber Shop, near his family’s home in East Dallas. He was known as “the weird dude,” said barbershop owner Jorge Nila in an interview with The Washington Post. He was quiet except when he was leaving after his haircut, he said, and would say loudly “Viva la raza!”
“It was like, okay, you don’t have to say that, we’re all Mexican, we’re all cool, you don’t need to be like, confirming it with us,” Nila said. “He never talked about Nazis or representing it — he was good at hiding it.”
The racial diversity among some recent mass shooters has shaken some observers. In January, Asian gunmen committed mass killings in Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park, Calif., police said; Chunli Zhao faces murder charges in the first killings and Huu Can Tran died by suicide after a police hunt. Two weeks ago, a Latino gunman was charged with killing five of his neighbors in Cleveland, Tex. A Latino man was charged with eight counts of manslaughter Monday after his SUV slammed into a crowd of migrants in Brownsville, Tex., although police have yet to determine a motive.
After Saturday’s shooting, some Latinos say they worry these incidents could increase the perception of Latinos as criminals.
“It’s a shame it was a Latino … They’ll see us even more as bad people,” said Juan Castro, 53, co-owner of Buena Vida Mexican Grill, which is a couple of blocks from the gunman’s parents’ home in Dallas. “The hate against Latinos will grow more.”
Castro immigrated to the United States from El Salvador in 1989 and lives in Sachse, which is partly in Collin County.
“I live in a neighborhood where the majority are White, and I don’t interact much with anybody,” Castro said. “But they do look at you differently. And it’ll be worse now with what happened — much worse. Like on Sept. 11 when they went after the Muslims.” ”
Maria Alejos teared up as she stared at eight crosses in a patch of green grass across from the Allen mall’s American Eagle Outfitters store, each cross scrawled with well wishes and prayers. “We feel sadness because we’re Latino and we never wanted this to happen,” she said. Alejos said there need to be stricter regulations to accessing guns and more security.
Maricela Rangel, 36, who works at Nancy’s Fruteria y Neveria, which sells shakes and ice cream, is a citizen but has family and friends who are undocumented and is worried about the effect the shooting could have on them. Garcia was probably trying to “integrate with Whites” for protection, she said.
Erica Martinez, who lives in nearby Mesquite, cleans homes near the Allen Premium Outlets and stopped by the makeshift memorial after work.
“It’s a lack of love, of not being proud of being Latino, not feeling good about your roots,” she said. “A lack of love for other people, and a lack of love for himself.”
Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.