With the nation still reeling from a week of tragedy, and political leaders grappling once again with the very real threat of more racially motivated violence, new details emerged Sunday about Micah Johnson, the sniper who claimed the lives of five police officers in Dallas last week — including a chilling account of how he mocked authorities and wrote cryptic messages in his own blood shortly before he was killed.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown, in his first interview since five of his officers were killed and six others wounded at the site of a Black Lives Matter protest last Thursday, revealed details not only of Johnson’s final moments but also of the shooter’s plans to inflict further carnage across the city in the name of racial justice.
Johnson, 25, a black Army veteran, had received extensive firearms training and employed that knowledge as he rained fire on police from his perch inside Dallas’ El Centro College building. After a search of his home in nearby Mesquite, authorities say Johnson had the materials and the know-how to do even more damage.
“This suspect had been practicing explosive detonations and the materials were such that they were large enough to have devastating effects on our city,” Chief Brown told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re convinced this suspect had other plans and thought that what he was doing was righteous and believed he was going to make law enforcement and target law enforcement pay for what he sees as law enforcement’s efforts to punish people of color.”
Johnson told police he was inspired by recent deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, both of whom died at the hands of police, and whose deaths have added more fuel to the national dialogue about race relations, particularly how police departments deal with black citizens.
That already heated debate over race now will be amplified against the backdrop of a presidential campaign that quickly is becoming as nasty and divisive as any in recent memory. Critics on the left say likely Republican nominee Donald Trump is promoting violence with his edgy rhetoric on the trail, while GOP leaders such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani say Black Lives Matter activists are overtly “racist” and doing far more harm than good.
Amid all of that, there’s a very real fear among law enforcement that further confrontation — likely between activists and police — waits down the road when Republicans gather in Cleveland and Democrats in Philadelphia for their respective conventions later this month.
“We are sitting on a powder keg,” said former Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey, who also headed President Obama’s task force on 21st century policing.
“Obviously when you look at what’s going on, we are at a very, very critical point in the history of this country,” Mr. Ramsey said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I think you have two conventions coming up that are going to be very, very challenging to handle, and I don’t think they’re going to go without some incident taking place. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what I personally think. I hope that’s not the case, but you’ve got too many people now that are with this extreme rhetoric, and that is just not good for anybody.”
The so-called powder keg extends well beyond the sites of last week’s violence. Shots were fired over the weekend at police in San Antonio, Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee, according to media reports. Hundreds of protesters also were taken into custody in Minnesota, Louisiana and elsewhere, and in several instances they violently clashed with police before being arrested.
While last week’s events have amplified violence and the fear of more tragedy, Johnson had been plotting his attack long before Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile were killed at the hands of white police officers, Chief Brown said Sunday.
Johnson also showed no remorse in his final moments. Dallas authorities say Johnson laughed at police, sang songs and asked how many officers he’d killed while on the phone with negotiators. He refused to even talk to white officers and would only speak with a black police negotiator.
Johnson also apparently was wounded in a firefight with police before he was ultimately killed by a bomb-carrying robot. He used the blood from his wounds to write messages on the walls, Chief Brown said.
“This killer obviously had some delusion,” the police chief said. “At the scene where he was killed, he wrote some lettering in blood on the walls, which leads us to believe he was wounded on the way up the stairwell to the second floor of the El Centro building, where we detonated the device to end the standoff. There was more lettering written in his own blood. We are trying to decipher that.”
Chief Brown said the initials “RB” were written in blood in the wall, along with other lettering. He said authorities still are working to determine what those messages mean.
Before last week’s massacre, Johnson had practiced military-style drills in his yard and trained at a private self-defense school that teaches special tactics, including how to shoot on the move, The Associated Press reported Sunday.
He also received instruction at the Academy of Combative Warrior Arts in the Dallas suburb of Richardson about two years ago, officials with the academy confirmed over the weekend.
That type of training, combined with his access to firearms, was a deadly combination. President Obama and other leaders have said gun control must be part of the discussion moving forward to prevent similarly dangerous people from getting their hands on assault weapons and wreaking havoc.
“When this guy, who was trained in the military, unleashes with his training these guns, he could not be stopped. That could happen in front of a ball game or a church or a theater,” civil rights leader Jesse Jackson told “Fox News Sunday.”
But Mr. Jackson had even stronger words for Mr. Trump, who he says is fanning the flames of hate — though he did say the billionaire struck the right tone with his response to last week’s shootings.
“When you do the birther movement with the president, which is a dog whistle for a kind of anti-black [attack], the anti-Mexican, the deportation of 15 million people, of families, disruption, anti-Muslim, that kind of rhetoric has helped to seed these clouds,” Mr. Jackson said. “I hope Mr. Trump will maintain the level of rhetoric” he used in his statement last Friday.
Meanwhile, at least one prominent Republican says it’s the Black Lives Matter movement — and, for that matter, African-American parents across the country — that bear the most blame for the spike in violence, especially against police officers.
“If you want to deal with this on the black side, you need to teach your children to be respectful of police, and you need to teach your children that the real danger to them is not the police. The real danger to them — 99 times out of 100, 999 times out of 1,000 — are other black kids who are going to kill them. That’s the way they’re going to die,” Mr. Giuliani told “Face the Nation” on CBS. “When you say ‘black lives matter,’ that’s inherently racist. Black lives matter. White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. That’s anti-American, and it’s racist.”
Top Obama administration officials spent the weekend appealing for calm and urging all sides of the debate to exercise restraint and to listen to one another.
“An eye for an eye leaves everybody blind,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.