University of Maryland student Sean Urbanski was charged with fatally stabbing a black visiting student May 20 on campus. Credit: University of Maryland Police Department via AP, File

In this week’s report: Whether a Maryland stabbing is a hate crime might depend on a suspect’s digital breadcrumbs. Plus, going deep into a white supremacist religion and brewing troubles in America’s schools.

A University of Maryland student who allegedly stabbed and killed a young black man over the weekend could face federal hate crime charges for the attack. Additional federal charges would raise the stakes: 22-year-old Sean Urbanski could then face the death penalty.

That wouldn’t be the case under state charges, because Maryland has not had the death penalty since 2013.    

But establishing whether the allegedly unprovoked attack in the early hours of Sunday morning was motivated by hate is far from simple. Investigators say they’re looking into whether 23-year-old Richard Collins was killed because of a hatred Urbanski held for people of color, a possibility they base on his membership in a virulently racist Facebook group. Urbanski’s lawyer says his client’s judgment was impaired by alcohol and possibly drugs.

Police say Richard Collins III was stabbed and killed by Sean Urbanski, a white University of Maryland student. Police and the FBI are investigating the killing of Collins as a possible hate crime.
Police say Richard Collins III was stabbed and killed by Sean Urbanski, a white University of Maryland student. Police and the FBI are investigating the killing of Collins as a possible hate crime. CREDIT: U.S. Army via AP

University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell told a press conference this week that the Facebook group Urbanski visited, Alt-Reich Nation (which has since been taken down), was “despicable:”

It shows extreme bias against women, Latinos, members of the Jewish faith, and especially African Americans.

But Alex Goodman, one of the administrators of the Facebook group, told The New York Times that it was always meant as a farce. The group was meant, he said, to mock the movement known as the “alt-right.”

“Nothing is meant as true; we follow none of the beliefs,” Mr. Goodman, who described himself as pagan, said. “None of us believe in that philosophy. I condemn those who believe in white supremacy.”      

Of course, the investigation could still reveal plenty of evidence that Urbanski held racist views. But for the time being, the question is whether merely being a member of a racist Facebook group can be used as evidence in a hate crime prosecution.

That’s something Wired looked at in an explainer story on Tuesday, saying that these are questions the courts haven’t yet had to deal with:

But in Urbanski’s case, investigators, and eventually the courts, will have to carefully decide how much weight they can really put on a person’s online allegiances and whether mere membership in such a hateful online group constitutes evidence of intent to commit a hate crime.

One more snippet of information about Urbanski’s online life was uncovered by the Daily Beast this week, which reported that he had “liked” pro-white and pro-Trump memes on the meme-sharing website

White supremacist terrorism rooted in an ancient religion

When I started this beat, I wanted to understand why people turn to extremism. I read everything I could, and interviewed experts across the country. As I researched hate, I kept seeing references to a religion I had never heard of: Odinism.

The more I looked into this ancient religion, I began to understand that a small faction of self-described Odinists in modern America have hijacked this religion and are using it to incite impressionable young men to commit acts of atrocity.

And I found that since since 2001, there have been at least six cases in which professed racist Odinists have been convicted of plotting – or pulling off – domestic terrorism attacks.

Yesterday, we published the results of my research: An in-depth look into the murky world of white supremacist Odinists and the holy war some of these men believe they are fighting to save the white race.

Here’s a snippet:

Odinism is a perfect fit for a strain of white supremacists and neo-Nazis who think Christianity, like so many other institutions, has been corrupted by outsiders and weakened by passivity.

Today’s racist Odinists say it is the only pure religion for white people, one not “mongrelized” by the Jewish prophet Jesus. They see themselves as warriors, ready to reclaim America for the white race and fight against a white genocide, driven by Jews, that has left the greatest country on Earth in tatters.

I also appeared on the KQED radio show “Forum” yesterday to talk about the story. You can listen to that show, and hear some clips from inside an Odinist ceremony, here.

Inside the mind of a racist killer

Records from the psychological exams of Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, were recently made public. A lot of analyses and stories were written this week about those records, but perhaps the most enlightening was this one published in the Daily Beast on Tuesday.

The records show that Roof has several of the hallmarks of a classic “lone wolf” terrorist, the piece argues. And he harbored some twisted views about the future of America:

Roof may now cherish the belief, as his frustrated defense attorney told the court in order to illustrate his client’s bizarre thinking, that “there will be a white nationalist takeover of the United States within roughly six, seven, eight years, and when that happens, he will be pardoned. And he also believes it probable, although not certain, that he will be given a high position, such as the governorship of South Carolina.”

Like many another terrorist, this deluded – if not delusional – loser-turned-lone-wolf is sure that the future belongs to his cause.

America’s front line for hate incidents: schools

In the first five months of 2017 there have already been almost twice as many anti-Semitic incidents reported in schools in the San Francisco Bay Area as there were in the whole of 2016, according to an in-depth report from the Jewish News of Northern California.

Those records showed a spike in incidents at schools in nearly every county, from Marin to the Peninsula to the East Bay and beyond.

So far this year, 29 anti-Semitic incidents have been reported by more than 25 schools — compared with 25 incidents reported by more than 16 schools in all of 2016.

Meanwhile, across the country in Queens, New York, a 15-year-old student was arrested on Friday for allegedly spitting on a classmate, who is Muslim, and trying to rip off her hijab.

White supremacist loses his gym membership

White supremacist Richard Spencer might be looking a little less buff in future television interviews.

The founder of the National Policy Institute was reportedly kicked out of his local gym after he was confronted by a Georgetown University professor who called him a “cowardly Nazi.”

Spencer called the decision “unfair.”

“I’m really a model gymgoer. I don’t bother anyone. I don’t talk to anyone. I really just go and lift weights,” he told BuzzFeed.  

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Will Carless was a correspondent for Reveal covering extremism. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Asia and South America. Prior to joining Reveal, he was a senior correspondent for Public Radio International’s Global Post team based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Before that, Will spent eight years at the Voice of San Diego, where he worked as an investigative reporter and head of investigations. During his tenure in San Diego, Will was awarded several prizes, including a national award from Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has been a finalist for the Livingston Awards for young journalists twice in the last five years. He surfs, spends time with his family, travels to silly places and pretends he’s writing a novel.