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Highland Park suspect's online history reveals a fascination with violence

In the thousands of messages, photos, videos and songs posted online by Robert Crimo III, the 21-year-old suspected of opening fire on a Fourth of July parade in suburban Illinois, one conclusion is clear: Crimo was unusually interested in violence.

At least two of his music videos depicted some kind of shooting. On Discord, he shared a photo of Budd Dwyer, a politician who killed himself during a live press conference. And he apparently posted thousands of times to an online forum dedicated to sharing violent photos and videos of people dying.

"It was pretty clear that this suspect had a history online of glorifying and fantasizing about violence, and to me that sends a red flag on top of a red flag," said Jared Holt, a fellow at the Atlantic Council who researches domestic extremism.

Officials are reviewing Crimo's online activity, said Chris Covelli from the Lake County Sheriff's Office at a Tuesday press conference. Asked if anyone had ever called local police with concerns about Crimo's online content, Covelli said no.

Crimo's music had been listened to millions of times

Under variations on the name "Awake" – the same word tattooed above his left eye – Crimo posted regularly to YouTube.

On Spotify, Crimo's music had been listened to millions of times before the service removed it after the shooting. For fans of his music, he hosted a Discord server, where followers shared memes and links to his songs.

Holt described Crimo's online footprint as in line with movements that try "to make themselves seem very intense and very violent to accumulate a certain amount of perverted clout among other people in the same online spaces."

"There are portions of the internet that pride themselves on this fetishization of violence, of being as offensive as humanly possible," he said.

Crimo apparently posted in an online forum for sharing graphic photos

Among the most disturbing is what appears to be Crimo's activity on a forum called Documenting Reality, where people share graphic photos and videos that show the aftermath of violence.

There, a user named "Awake47" shared photos of Crimo and posted a 21st birthday message that matches information released by the FBI. The user regularly passed footage of shootings and other real-life violence.

He posted there so often that other forum users recognized his face when police published a photo during the manhunt on Monday. "I always knew there was at least one murderer on this site, and I'm not convinced he's the only one. But Awake? Wow," wrote one user.

Crimo's fascination with violence also appeared in his music, which he published on Spotify and YouTube under the name Awake the Rapper.

One crudely animated video depicts a young man with tactical gear and an assault-style rifle shooting people before police appear to apprehend and shoot him – all while a refrain is repeated: "Living the dream, nothing's real. I just want to scream 'fuck this world.'"

And another music video opens with Crimo sitting alone in a classroom. Halfway through the song, he reaches into a backpack – then the video cuts to Crimo wearing a helmet and tactical vest.

Any ideological motivation by Crimo is unclear

One thing that is difficult to ascertain from Crimo's online footprint is whether the shooting may have been ideologically motivated. Authorities say they have no indication that the shooting was racially or religiously motivated.

After the shooting Monday, some images of Crimo spread rapidly on social media, including a photo in which he wore a Trump flag across his shoulders and another at a Trump rally. A video posted by Crimo shows him among a crowd waiting outside an airport for Trump to land nearby in Air Force One.

But Holt says a handful of photos are not enough to indicate some sort of political leaning or right-wing extremism. "I haven't seen anything that really definitively places this in the politically motivated violence bucket just yet," he said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.