The Nevada man charged with killing a Taiwanese churchgoer and wounding five others in California has been linked to a group said to have close ties to China‘s ruling Communist Party.
David Wenwei Chou, the alleged shooter, was charged on Tuesday with first-degree murder and nine other counts for the attack inside a church on Sunday, prosecutors in Orange County, California said.
Published reports link Mr. Chou, a security guard in Las Vegas, to a group that is part of a network of more than 30 alleged front groups directly tied to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) United Front Work Department, a quasi-intelligence agency, according to a former State Department official. The groups “all report directly to Beijing,” the former official said.
The Trump administration, as part of an effort to curtail large-scale Chinese influence operations in the United States, imposed sanctions on the Washington chapter of the network, the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification.
In 2020, the State Department designated the association as a Chinese government entity and said the group is part of the United Front Work Department, the party organ tasked with co-opting and neutralizing threats to party rule outside China and spreading the official Chinese government line.
“The CCP regards this party apparatus as a ‘magic weapon’ to advance Beijing’s policies,” the department said of the UFWD. “The goal of this action is to shine a light on this organization and make clear that their messages come from Beijing, as we did when we designated [China-funded Confucius Institute cultural centers] as a foreign mission in August,” the statement added.
The “Peaceful Unification” network is under the control of Wang Yang, a member of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee and was originally set up in the United States by Taiwan’s Nationalist Party in the 1960s as a way to monitor pro-independence sentiment among overseas Taiwanese.
However, the network gradually was taken over by the CCP’s United Front Work Department.
Radio Free Asia published a photograph Tuesday showing Mr. Chou at the founding meeting in 2019 of the Las Vegas Association for China’s Peaceful Unification, the Nevada affiliate of the pro-Beijing network. Mr. Chou is seen in the photo pointing to a banner that calls for the “eradication of pro-independence demons.”
Gu Yawen, chairwoman of the Las Vegas National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification, could not be reached for comment. But she confirmed to the Beijing-based China Review News Agency that Mr. Chou, who was born and raised in Taiwan, attended the association’s founding ceremony in 2019.
Ms. Gu said after talking to Mr. Chou she found him “too radical” and has not been associated with him. Mr. Chou did not attend any events of the group since the second half of 2019, she said.
A spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney’s office declined to comment on Mr. Chou’s affiliations. “It’s an ongoing investigation,” she said.
Mr. Chou made a brief video appearance in court Tuesday and will be formally arraigned on June 10.
On Monday, Orange County Sheriff Donald Barnes said Mr. Chou was motivated by anger over political tensions between China and Taiwan. He did not elaborate.
China in recent months has engaged in military provocations aimed at coercing Taiwan. The activities have included warplane flights near the island, warship passages around the island and information operations aimed at pressing the Taipei government to accept Chinese rule.
The Orange County District Attorney’s office said in a statement Tuesday that Mr. Chou, was charged with “special circumstances murder.” He faces the death penalty if convicted.
During the church attack on a group luncheon meeting, Mr. Chou, 68, entered the church with two 9mm guns, a backpack with ammunition, and four Molotov-type cocktail petrol bombs.
One of the churchgoers, Dr. John Cheng, fought against Mr. Chu but was shot and killed. According to witnesses, after the shooter’s gun jammed, several other parishioners attacked the shooter and were able to subdue him until police arrived.
The attack took place at the lunch meeting of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church held at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif.
“This monster crafted a diabolical plan to lock the church doors with his victims inside in order to lead what he thought were innocent lambs to slaughter,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer.
The investigation into the shooting is being conducted jointly by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI, and could include hate crime charges.