Screenshot by NPR/AwakeTheRapper
In the thousands of posts, photos, videos and songs posted online by Robert Crimo III, the 21-year-old suspected of opening fire during a Fourth of July parade in suburban Illinois, one conclusion is clear: Crimo was exceptionally interested in violence.
At least two of his music videos depict some sort of gunfight. On Discord, he shared a photo of Budd Dwyer, a politician who killed himself during a live press conference. And he has 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 an online history of glorifying and fantasizing about violence, and to me that sends a red flag upon a red flag,” said Jared Holt, a member of the Atlantic Council who is investigating domestic extremism.
Officials are reviewing Crimo’s online activity, Chris Covelli of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office said at a news conference Tuesday. When asked if anyone had ever called the local police to be concerned about Crimo’s online content, Covelli said no.
Under variations of the name “Awake” – the same word tattooed above his left eye – Crimo regularly posted on YouTube.
On Spotify, Crimo’s rap music had been listened to millions of times before the service deleted it after filming. For fans of his music, he hosted a Discord server, where subscribers shared memes and links to his songs.
Holt described Crimo’s online footprint as being in line with movements that try “to appear very intense and very violent in order to accumulate some evil influence among other people in the same online spaces”.
“There are parts of the internet that pride themselves on this fetishization of violence, of being as offensive as humanly possible,” he said.
Among the most disturbing is what appears to be Crimo’s activity on a forum called Documenting Reality, where people are sharing photos and graphic videos that show the consequences 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 played footage of shootings and other real violence.
He posted there so often that other forum users recognized his face when police posted a photo during Monday’s manhunt. “Always knew there was at least one murderer on this site, and I’m not convinced he was the only one. But woke up? Wow,” one user wrote.
Screenshot by NPR/AwakeTheRapper
Crimo’s fascination with violence also showed in his music, which he released on Spotify and YouTube as Awake the Rapper.
Roughly animated video shows a young man with tactical gear and an assault rifle shooting at people before police appear to apprehend and shoot him – while repeating a refrain: “I’m living the dream, nothing is real. I just want to scream “damn”. this world.'”
And another clip 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.
One difficult thing to determine from Crimo’s online footprint is whether the shooting may have been ideologically motivated. Authorities say they have no indication the shooting was racially or religiously motivated.
After Monday’s shooting, some images of Crimo spread quickly on social media, including a photo in which he carried a Trump flag on his shoulders and another at a Trump rally. Video released 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 isn’t enough to indicate any sort of political leaning or right-wing extremism. “I haven’t seen anything yet that definitely puts this in the bucket of politically motivated violence,” he said.