What is ‘Right Wing Death Squad’? Investigators probe Texas mall gunman’s ties to far-right extremism
The shooter who carried out the massacre at Allen Premium Outlets, outside of Dallas, was wearing a tactical vest emblazoned with the acronym “RWDS.”
The gunman who killed eight people before he was fatally shot by a police officer at a Dallas-area mall on Saturday was wearing a tactical vest with a patch that read “RWDS,” an acronym which stands for “Right Wing Death Squad” — a phrase that has been embraced in recent years by far-right extremists.
Law enforcement officials are exploring whether the shooter, identified as 33-year-old Mauricio Garcia, had expressed an interest in white supremacist ideology and neo-Nazi views as they look for a motive for the attack.
Here’s everything we know about the phrase and investigation, culled from our original reporting and trusted partners, including the Associated Press, NBC News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The origins of ‘RWDS’
According to the AP, the term “Right Wing Death Squad” originated in the 1970s and was used to describe Central and South American paramilitary groups who supported right-wing governments and dictatorships and opposed perceived enemies on the left.
Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, told the news service that “RWDS” reemerged in the 2010s among some right-wing groups, who used it on stickers, patches and in online forums.
“It essentially became a phrase that was co-opted to demonstrate opposition to the left more broadly by right-wing extremists,” Segal said.
Right Wing Death Squad was the name of the smaller groups that participated in the white nationalist Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.
A phrase popularized by the Proud Boys
According to Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, the Proud Boys — a neofascist group of self-described “Western chauvinists” — are largely responsible for popularizing the use of “RWDS” among the far-right.
Following the 2020 election, members of the Proud Boys joined supporters of then-President Donald Trump at rallies protesting the results.
Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and other leaders of the group were photographed wearing RWDS patches at those demonstrations.
Last week, Tarrio was convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Investigators eye ‘white supremacist ideology’
Given the RWDS patch worn by the Texas shooter, investigators quickly zeroed in on his social media accounts in search of a possible motive.
According to NBC News, a preliminary review revealed “hundreds of posts” that expressed interest in white supremacist and neo-Nazi views.
AP reports that posts made by Garcia on a Russian social networking site showed “a fascination with white supremacy and mass shootings, which he described as sport.”
And photos he posted showed what appeared to be large Nazi tattoos on his arm and torso, including a swastika and the SS lightning bolt symbol of Hitler’s paramilitary forces.
Other online activity suggests the 33-year-old had researched when the shopping center, located in one of the Dallas area’s most diverse suburbs, would be the busiest.
"The big question that we're dealing with right now is, what's his motive? Why did he do this?" Hank Sibley, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a press conference Tuesday. "We don't know, that's what the investigation is trying to find out. We do know that he had neo-Nazi ideation. He had patches, he had tattoos, even his signature, you know, verified that."
How the shooting unfolded
According to police, the shooting began around 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Allen Premium Outlets in Allen, Texas, about 25 miles north of Dallas, when a man armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and wearing tactical gear opened fire. Eight people were killed and seven others were injured before the gunman was fatally shot by a police officer who happened to be at the mall.
Among those killed were Christian LaCour, a 20-year-old security guard; Aishwarya Thatikonda, a 27-year-old Indian engineer; and three members of a Korean American family: Cho Kyu Song, 37, Kang Shin Young, 35, and their 3-year-old son.
The Texas Department of Public Safety later identified the gunman as Garcia, who lived in the Dallas area. NBC News reported that police recovered an additional handgun at the scene, more weapons and ammunition in his car, and the tactical vest emblazoned with the RWDS patch.
“Nobody is going to accidentally have a ‘Right Wing Death Squad’ patch,” American University professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of the school’s Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab, told the AP.
But extremists who adopt these terms and symbols often don’t fully understand their origins, Miller-Idriss said.
“Because of this whole meme culture, and generally the way that iconography is used to signal encoded speech or messages, they don’t always know exactly,” she said.