Authorities look at LAX shooter’s government view
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Federal investigators probing what motivated a gunman to shoot security checkpoint workers at Los Angeles International Airport are looking for connections to a long-circulated conspiracy theory that the U.S. government is preparing to oppress citizens under a totalitarian state.
The FBI got a warrant Monday to search the cellphone of alleged gunman Paul Ciancia for materials reflecting his “views on the legitimacy or activities of the United States Government, including the existence of a plot to impose a New World Order,” according to court documents.
Ciancia, a 23-year-old unemployed motorcycle mechanic, got a ride to LAX on Friday morning with a roommate, walked into the airport and began targeting Transportation Security Administration officers, according to authorities. By the time LAX police officers subdued him with several gunshots, one TSA officer had been killed and two others injured.
On Monday, Ciancia’s family offered sympathy to the family of slain TSA screener Gerardo I. Hernandez, who came to the U.S. from El Salvador as a teenager. In a brief statement read by a family attorney in Ciancia’s hometown of in Pennsville, New Jersey, family members also expressed shock at the rampage and hope for the recovery of the surviving victims.
One of those officers, Tony Grigsby, spoke for the first time publicly, saying he was trying to help an elderly man get to safety when the gunman shot him in the right foot. He hobbled with a cane outside his South Los Angeles home, where he fought back tears recalling Hernandez as a wonderful person who will be missed.
“Only now it has hit me that I will never see him again,” Grigsby said.
The other wounded TSA officer has been released from the hospital, the agency said, and on Monday the condition of high school teacher Brian Ludmer, who was shot in the calf, was upgraded from fair to good.
Why airport security officers apparently came to personify oppression to Ciancia is still unclear.
Both the assault rifle that Ciancia allegedly used and a handwritten note found in a bag he brought had TSA inspection stickers on them, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
The rant spoke of how Ciancia believed TSA searches were a violation of constitutional rights and he used a vulgar term to refer to Janet Napolitano, the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees TSA.
The screed also mentioned the “NWO,” an apparent reference to the new world order belief that holds that an international cabal of elites is planning to take away the guns and personal freedoms of Americans. Perceived masterminds behind the conspiracy have shifted over several generations, among them bankers, communists and the government itself.
The TSA does not regularly feature as a target of the theory’s ire, according to Mark Potok, who has studied extremist groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center. More typically, believers focus on another homeland security agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which according to the theory plans to build camps to detain resisters to the new order, Potok said.
Potok said he has seen no evidence that Ciancia was personally involved in hate groups.
The alleged gunman remained in critical condition Monday and any court appearance on charges of first-degree murder of a federal officer and committing violence at an international airport will depend on when his doctors say he’s ready, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
Associated Press writers Greg Risling in Los Angeles and Geoff Mulvihill in Pennsville, N.J., and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.