Texas gunman’s ‘RWDS’ patch linked to far-right extremists

How the term “Right Wing Death Squad” became a popular symbol among violent extremists.

(Jacquelyn Martin | AP file photo) People posing as members of the Proud Boys join supporters of President Donald Trump at pro-Trump marches November 14, 2020 in Washington. Two supporters in the center wear hats with “RWDS” written in red, which is short for Right Wing Death Squad. The gunman who killed eight people at a Dallas-area mall on Saturday, May 6, 2023 wore a “RWDS” patch. The phrase has been taken up in recent years by right-wing extremists who glorify violence against their political enemies.

The gunman who killed eight people at a Dallas-area mall wore a patch that read “RWDS” – short for “Right Wing Death Squad” – a phrase adopted by far-right extremists who have used violence against them in recent years glorify political enemies.

Authorities have not said what they think may have motivated 33-year-old Mauricio Garcia, who was killed on Saturday by a police officer who happened to be near the mall when Garcia opened fire.

Garcia’s posts on a Russian social networking site expressed his fascination with white supremacy and mass shootings. Photos he released showed large Nazi tattoos on his arm and torso, including a swastika and the SS Blitz logo of Hitler’s paramilitary forces.

Here’s a look at the term “Right Wing Death Squad” and how it became a popular symbol among violent extremists:

What is the history of the term?

The acronym “RWDS” is one of countless shorthand terms used by extremists. Others include “RaHoWa,” short for “Holy Race War,” and “1488,” an alphabetical code combining references to a white nationalist slogan and Adolf Hitler.

The term “Right Wing Death Squad” originally emerged in the 1970s and 1980s to describe Central and South American paramilitary groups formed to support right-wing governments and dictatorships and to fight perceived enemies on the left, Oren Segal said , Vice-President of the Anti-Centre on Extremism of the Defamation League.

It resurfaced in the 2010s among right-wing groups, who use it on stickers, patches, and online forums. Other far-right gear and online memes notably glorify General Augusto Pinochet, the brutal Chilean military dictator whose death squads killed thousands of political opponents.

“It essentially became a phrase that was co-opted to demonstrate broader opposition to the left by the far right,” Segal said.

Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said the Proud Boys, the neo-fascist group of self-proclaimed “Western chauvinists,” were largely responsible for inserting “RWDS” into far-right vernacular.

The group has sold patches and T-shirts adorned with the acronym celebrating Pinochet’s death squads. Proud Boys were photographed at rallies wearing “RWDS” patches and T-shirts that read “Pinochet did nothing wrong”.

Photos shared on social media appeared to show former Proud Boys national leader Enrique Tarrio and another former Proud Boys leader Jeremy Bertino among those who have worn such patches.

Tarrio was convicted last week of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol in what prosecutors have described as a violent conspiracy to keep President Donald Trump in power. Bertino, who was vice president of the South Carolina Proud Boys chapter, previously pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in the January 6 riots.

Which groups accepted it?

The Proud Boys aren’t the only right-wing extremists to adopt the term.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the “Right Wing Death Squad” was the name of the smaller groups that took part in the white nationalist “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. The rally turned deadly when a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman.

Facebook banned several hateful pages, including one dubbed the “Right Wing Death Squad,” following the bloodshed in Charlottesville, the New York Times reported.

“In recent years, it’s really become something that has far outstripped every single group,” said Jon Lewis, a research associate in the extremism program at George Washington University.

“It’s kind of become this rallying cry: This is what we want, to seize the levers of democratic power, as Pinochet did, and we want to use the power of the state to then effectively oppose violent genocide do whoever is against us,” he said.

Cynthia Miller-Idriss, an American University professor who is director of the school’s Research and Innovation Laboratory on Polarization and Extremism, said extremists who use these terms and symbols often don’t fully understand their origins.

“No one is going to accidentally have a ‘Right Wing Death Squad’ patch,” she said. “But because of this whole meme culture, and in general the way that iconography is used to signal coded speech or messages, they don’t always know exactly” what it means.

White racist groups have non-white members?

Far-right groups like the Proud Boys often point to their Black and Hispanic members to refute claims that they promote racism or white racist ideologies. For example, Tarrio, the former leader of the Proud Boys, is a Cuban-American.

The Daily Stormer, a leading neo-Nazi website, launched a Spanish-language edition in 2017 tailored to readers in Spain and Latin America.

Some Hispanics identify as white.

But those who don’t consider themselves white “can still be attracted to and support movements that are inherently or explicitly white supremacists,” said Miller-Idriss, author of Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right”.

“And in the same way, women can support patriarchal or male supremacist movements,” she added.

Tanya Hernández, a law professor at Fordham University and author of Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias, said Latinos are often viewed “as undesirable others” in the United States

“If you’re a Latino already affected by being seen as different and you’re dying to be part of the Club of the USA, there’s no better way to make a claim…than to be part of the enforcement, the monitoring.” of whiteness inside a white racist hate group?” she said.

Justin Scaccy

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