That first individual in Montana, David Lenio, overflowed with hyperbolic threats, and Hutson’s efforts to stop him succeeded, as I reported at Salon, just after it happened. Ramos was more cryptic less overtly demonstrative—but in the end, far more deadlier. Both were somewhat enigmatic, angry loners, with an unmistakable affinity for the racist alt-right.
This article originally appeared in Salon.
“Jarrod Ramos was a lone nut who was not politically motivated, but he was politically influenced by the alt-right,” Hutson told Salon.
Researcher Fred Clarkson agrees. “Ramos and David Lenio seem to have been drawn into the orbit of far-right visions of anti-democratic violence, even as they seem to have ultimately acted on their own,” said Clarkson, a senior research analyst with Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank in Somerville, Massachusetts.
The only two politicians Ramos had tweeted about, according to Hutson, were Donald Trump and Michael Peroutka, a wealthy neo-Confederate funder turned Maryland county councilman. Hutson has written about Peroutka, as have I. Peroutka had major funding ties to former Alabama judge and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, as well to the League of the South, whose leader, Michael Hill, had written approvingly about plans to form paramilitary groups to fight a militarized “fourth generation” culture war, one of whose targets would be the media.
“To oversimplify, the primary targets will not be enemy soldiers;” Hill wrote, “instead, they will be political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and other of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don’t run.”
Ramos first contacted Hutson through Twitter, the latter recalls, after "the Capital Gazette published a piece about how I had alerted the FBI about mass shooting threat suspect David Lenio,” Hutson said.
After Hutson tweeted about the story, Ramos tweeted a couple of disturbing responses, first asking “Were any school children intimidated?” then claiming that Lenio “had won”:
“The piece highlighted the fact that I was also researching and writing about Michael Peroutka, for example, in the pages of Huffington Post,” Hutson noted. “I documented Michael Peroutka’s support for the League of the South [here], a right-wing group that advocated death squads, assassinating journalists, elected officials, and other members of the elite,” he explained. He questioned and challenged Peroutka "about his support for the League of the South, and that led to a lot of public attention,” which he also wrote about for Huffington Post.
Although Ramos didn’t contact Hutson at the time, he was clearly not pleased with the critical coverage of Peroutka, fusing his own lawsuit-fueled enmity toward the Capital Gazette with his enthusiasm for the pro-Confederate candidate:
Ramos was also given to self-inflation, putting on both literary and moralistic airs. In court documents, Hutson noted, he referred to himself as a crusader. Like his hero, Peroutka, this would effectively place himself above ordinary human law.
“His defense of Michael Peroutka is particularly interesting, since his views seem to echo Peroutka, a local politician and think tank leader, and other elements of the theocratic far right,” Clarkson added.
When Peroutka did manage a narrow victory that November — with signs that illegal robocalls helped put him over the top, Ramos’s tweet seemed over the top as well:
In fairness, none of Ramos' tweets overtly screams “potential mass murderer.” They’re indicative of someone stewing in resentment, but that’s hardly unusual in this day and age. Except for his Twitter avatar — that’s a whole different story.
“The image used in Ramos' Twitter profile is an image not of himself," Hutson observes, but of former Capital Gazette columnist Eric Hartley, against whom Ramos held a grudge against. “He placed a symbol on Hartley’s forehead and the symbol is a brand of sacrifice, marking a target for ritual murder,” Hutson explained. “It may have Celtic origins, but it is used in a Japanese manga series, called ‘Berserk,’ and it’s called ‘the brand of sacrifice.’
“For years Ramos stewed in his embitterment, over the newspaper's coverage of his unsuccessful defamation case and the newspaper's coverage of his stalking by Facebook of a woman with whom he had gone to high school. But he didn't act,” Huston summed up. “So the question is, what triggered him?”
Several things are worth considering, Hutson suggested. “Ramos tweeted about only two political figures, Trump and Michael Peroutka -- but he also tweeted to me after the Capital Gazette had written about me.”
The content of that story was significant. That was when Hutson wrote about Peroutka's ties to the League of the South, and its support of "death squads to assassinate journalists." These were all pieces of a puzzle Ramos had been playing around with for years, Hutson believes.
“So what happened this past week?” Hutson asked. “On June 25, Trump – at his South Carolina rally – pointed to members of the media, and called them the enemy of the people. This is a phrase that throughout history has been used by autocrats to incite violence,” from ancient Rome to the French Revolution to Nazi Germany.
That's not all that occurred last week, Hutson noted. On Tuesday, Peroutka, an Anne Arundel County councilman, was defeated for re-election, losing in the Republican primary to a female challenger. That may not be coincidental, Hutson suspects.
There are also darker long-simmering elements that may have helped prepare the way. Hutson sees an “overall pattern" of "homicidal ideation," starting with Ramous replacing the bloody severed head in a famous Charlie Hebdo cartoon with the face of Garrett Hartley, the Capital Gazette columnist:
Ramos was actually recycling an even earlier image, which was even less coherent:
Ramos also tweeted at Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell, criticizing him for relegating coverage of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris to page 2. Then he wrote, “je suis CapGazNews.” a direct reference to the hashtag that followed the Charlie Hebdo massacre. As Hutson reads this, Ramos was already thinking of a mass shooting at Capital Gazette in the context of his reflections on Charlie Hebdo:
These aren’t the only such messages, either. As early as September 2014, there’s this one, citing the Capital Gazette's Annapolis address:
But after the Charlie Hebdo attack, Ramos' obsession appeared to become more intense, combining political and religious overtones. “Ramos had a website in which he published court documents from his unsuccessful defamation suit,” Hutson said, and the material reads more like psychodrama than legal briefs:
In the court documents Ramos referred to himself as an agent of the Inquisition, and a crusader who cannot be killed. The Inquisition was a holy inquiry, where church authority superseded that of the civil authority. A crusader is the hand of God, waging a holy war, in the same way that the Charlie Hebdo massacres were. [In the documents] Ramos appeals to "higher authority," and he capitalizes "Higher Authority." This is similar to the way that the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement has appealed to "Higher Law," which they capitalize, to justify homicide against providers of safe, legal abortion, as well as judges and political figures who support the right.
Clarkson sees this tying back to Peroutka’s old allies at the League of the South. “Ramos came to see himself as some kind of vigilante for righteousness, casting himself for example as a 'crusader' and gunning down innocent people in a newsroom," Clarkson said, which "is not unlike the militaristic, millennial vision of Michael Hill, president of the League of the South.” Clarkson said. “Last year [Hill] rallied what he calls the Southern Defense Force, which he envisions as not just a modern Confederate army but the ‘Army of the True Living God.’ This is the group that played a prominent role in the Unite the Right march on Charlottesville.”
Hutson links these violent longings to Ramos' aristocratic pretensions. “His writing style is very arch. He appears to be writing what he conceives of as literature. His speech is highly stylized and idiosyncratic, and uses the metaphors of a holy war. A sense of embitterment and homicidal ideation comes through clearly. He writes about literal carnage, making clear that ... he means this in a literal sense. So it's not for nothing that you think about people like the Army of God.”
Ramos wasn’t acting on anyone’s orders, and despite his apparent linkages to white supremacy never expressed any clear political ideology. But there's little doubt he was influenced and shaped by some of the darkest forces in our society.