A Decapitation May Have Roots in Far-Right Border and Immigrant Paranoia

Investigators have not mentioned a motive for the alleged decapitation, but Mohn was formally charged early Wednesday morning with first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse, and possession of an instrument of crime with intent. Police said in a statement posted to Facebook that they were alerted to the incident when Mohn’s mother called 911 and said she had come home to find her husband’s decapitated body on the floor of their bathroom. Mohn was arrested 100 miles away on Tuesday evening when he was discovered armed and wandering around a Pennsylvania National Guard training center at Fort Indiantown Gap, AP reported.

Multiple experts believe that extremism and conspiracy theories could still be at the root of what happened. “Some have been quick to write Mohn off as mentally unwell and while this may be accurate, this incident illustrates the threat of anti-government extremism and conspiracy theories, which have become all too common since the 2020 election,” Katherine Kenealy, the head of threat analysis at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, tells WIRED. “He was so steeped in anti-government beliefs that he not only viewed his father as a ‘traitor’ because of his purported job, but selected him as a target because of it.”

Following the alleged murder, far-right figures immediately began boosting conspiracies about the beheading being a false flag in favor of the Democrats—something that has virtually become a reflex action among far-right figures following major news.

One of the main narratives shared was a claim that the Democrats were behind the incident as a way of boosting support for the Preventing Private Paramilitary Activity bill currently making its way through Congress. One of those pushing this narrative was Laura Loomer, a close ally of former president Donald Trump.

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“Justin Mohn sure looks like the perfect Democrat Patsy for the sake of demonizing people who call out the invasion on the border, and for the sake of getting support to ban militia,” Loomer wrote on X, adding: “Just another ‘coincidence.’”

“False flag and ‘psyop’ conspiracy theories have rapidly spread online since the incident,” Kenealy tells WIRED. “These narratives detract from the severity of the incident and attempt to minimize the threat posed by anti-government ideologies.”

But despite a long history of Mohn expressing his disturbing views on platforms like Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, as well as publishing music on YouTube, Spotify, and Deezer, experts say that it would have been virtually impossible to identify him as a threat before his alleged beheading of this father this week.

“It’s more or less impossible to track this stuff in advance most of the time,” Orr tells WIRED. “We can make an educated guess about what will happen when politicians are putting out inflammatory rhetoric that has incited violence previously, but it’s extremely hard to identify who is going to be the one who responds to the ‘call.’”

As the convoy heads toward the border and rallies are organized in Eagle Pass, Texas, Republican lawmakers, including former president Donald Trump, continue to push violent rhetoric. These kinds of actions, experts say, could lead to potential violence.

“It’s hard to determine when acts of violence like this will occur, but given the panic being spread about the border, it’s highly likely that more will act on these narratives,” Samantha Kutner, an extremism researcher and CEO of counter-terrorism company GlitterPill, tells WIRED. “Not everyone who gets exposed to conspiratorial worldviews and beliefs and theories about the border wall engages in violence, but the proliferation of disinformation and conspiracy theories does impact certain subsets of the population who are perhaps more vulnerable to that messaging than others.”

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