Hunting black men to start a ‘race war’

James Harris Jackson went to New York with a Roman sword and an apocalyptic ideology. He stabbed a stranger in the back and left him to die.

(Manhattan District Attorney's Office)


The man stumbled into the police precinct in Hell’s Kitchen late one night, staggering toward a tall reception desk painted black and blue. Before the desk officer could ask the man his business, he collapsed on a bench, dripping blood.

When officers pulled up his shirt, they found a series of deep stab wounds in his dark skin. As they struggled to stem the bleeding, they asked the man who had attacked him, but he could only groan. He died minutes later at a Manhattan hospital without saying a word.

Police scrambled to make sense of the March 20, 2017, slaying. A witness had seen the victim tussling with someone on the street half a block away. Surveillance footage showed a young white man with a black coat and neatly parted blond hair fleeing the scene.

But the motive was a mystery. And by the following evening, police still had no leads on the suspect — not even a name.

As two dozen officers gathered in Times Square — nine blocks from the crime scene — at midnight to continue the search, a solitary figure suddenly emerged from the stream of tourists. His flaxen hair was carefully combed.

“I’m the guy you’re looking for,” James Harris Jackson said, calmly slipping off his black jacket and setting it down in front of an officer. “There are knives in that coat.”

For the next five hours, in a videotaped interview that would later be entered into the court record, Jackson proudly told detectives how he had stabbed Timothy Caughman in the back with a Roman-style short sword simply because he was black.

James Harris Jackson is seen in a police photo after confessing to the March 20, 2017, killing of Timothy Caughman. (Manhattan District Attorney's Office) Timothy Caughman posted this photo of himself on Twitter on Election Day in 2016. (Family photo)

Caughman, the 28-year-old Army veteran explained, was “practice” for a bigger attack in which Jackson aimed to kill as many black men with white women as he could.

Timothy Caughman posted this photo of himself on Twitter on Election Day in 2016. (Family photo)

“I was looking to get black men scared and have them do reciprocal attacks,” he said, “and inspire white men to do similar things.”

If the detectives really wanted to understand him, Jackson said, they should read the manifesto he had planned on sending to the media.

“The Racial World War starts today,” it began. “God has ordered us to eliminate the Negro races from the face of the earth for the good of all mankind.”

A memorial to Timothy Caughman still stands near the site where he was killed in Hell’s Kitchen. (John Taggart for The Washington Post)

‘The numbers to win it’

The idea of race war is older than the United States, fueling the brutal treatment of Native Americans and enslaved blacks by white colonists fearful of uprisings. It has continued to inspire violence ever since, from decades of Ku Klux Klan lynchings to the massacre of nine black churchgoers four years ago in Charleston, S.C.

“It’s part of the intellectual milieu of hardcore white supremacy, this notion that there will be, may be or should be some sort of future race war,” said Mark Pitcavage, an expert on right-wing extremism at the Anti-Defamation League.

It stems from a basic white-supremacist belief: that whites are in imminent danger of being wiped out. Some adherents prepare for what they see as an inevitable cataclysm by stockpiling weapons and training for combat. Others go further, actively trying to spark racial strife while whites are still in the majority.

The Department of Homeland Security now considers white-supremacist violence as great a threat to the country as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, according to a report unveiled in September.

Cult leader Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment on murder and conspiracy charges in 1969. Manson directed his followers to kill to start a race war. (AP)

Fifty years ago, California cult leader Charles Manson directed his followers to commit murder to start a race war, or “Helter Skelter,” as he called it. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin committed a series of fatal shootings against blacks, Jews and interracial couples around the country for the same reason.

Franklin’s murderous rampage inspired neo-Nazi leader William Pierce to pen the novel “Hunter,” in which one man’s quest to kill interracial couples sparks an uprising. In another Pierce novel, “The Turner Diaries,” such an uprising leads to nuclear war and the annihilation of nonwhites.

“The Turner Diaries” has inspired generations of white supremacists, including the Order, a terrorist group that robbed banks, bombed a theater and a synagogue, and killed a Jewish radio host in the 1980s.

Avowed racist and convicted murderer Joseph Paul Franklin appears at a court hearing in 1997, where he was sentenced to death 20 years after he killed a man at a synagogue. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP)

“Everything the Order did was prepping for the race war, or kicking it off,” said Arno Michaelis, a former skinhead leader who is now a peace activist.

He first encountered the idea of “RaHoWa,” or racial holy war, as a teen through neo-Nazi punk music. Others are radicalized in prison, where the Aryan Brotherhood and other white-power groups flourish.

But the Internet — with its YouTube videos, social media memes, podcasts and chat rooms — has made it vastly easier for extremists of all types to spread their messages of hatred.

Neo-Nazi leader William Pierce, shown in 2000, wrote “The Turner Diaries,” an apocalyptic novel of racial annihilation that has inspired violent attacks by white supremacists. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

“Jihadists were the first to exploit social media on a large scale, but white nationalists were very close behind them,” said J.M. Berger, author of the book “Extremism.”

Websites such as the Daily Stormer, which has a timer counting down to when whites will supposedly be a minority in the United States, stoke a sense of crisis, added Keegan Hankes, an analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Dylann Roof was a regular commenter on the Daily Stormer before murdering nine African Americans at a Bible study in Charleston in 2015.

“I did what I thought would make the biggest wave,” he wrote from jail, “and now the fate of our race is in the hands of my brothers who continue to live freely.”

Dylann Roof appears at a bond hearing after killing nine worshipers at a black church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. He hoped to spark a race war. (Grace Beahm/EPA)

Roof has become a cult figure among white supremacists, especially those who espouse racial violence.

He was invoked by the gunman who massacred 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March with the aim of sparking racial conflict worldwide. A month later, another shooter attacked a synagogue in San Diego, killing one worshiper, after posting a manifesto on 8chan alluding to race war.

“If this revolution doesn’t happen soon,” he wrote, “we won’t have the numbers to win it.”

Jackson, who declined to be interviewed for this story, also idolized Roof before emulating him.

Yet the idea of race war could not have been more alien to his upbringing. His transformation — from Quaker school choir boy to self-described Nazi — would shock his liberal family, from whom he had hidden his hate.

But a trove of emails, text messages, Web searches and other documents obtained by The Washington Post show his descent was far from sudden. Instead, he struggled with racist thoughts and violent impulses for most of his life before sinking into an online world of white-supremacist propaganda, where his personal obsessions were sharpened to a lethal edge.

A bench at the Midtown South Precinct is covered in Timothy Caughman’s blood after he was stabbed half a block away and stumbled inside seeking help. (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

‘Not your typical white supremacist’

A wicker wreath in the shape of a peace sign adorned the front door of the Jackson home in the suburbs north of Baltimore. When a reporter knocked on a fall day, the peace sign swung back to reveal eyes the same shape and shade of blue as Jackson’s.

Two years after her son’s crime, Pat Jackson said it was still too painful to talk about. But the 60-year-old couldn’t help herself, turning off the soft rock emanating from the kitchen to tell her visitor that, although she would never excuse the “evil” her son had done, his case was more complex than people realized.

“He’s not your typical white supremacist,” she said.

Harris, as everyone called him, was the second of three boys born into an affluent family. His consultant father and teacher-turned-homemaker mother kept a Barack Obama “Hope” magnet on the refrigerator, he would later tell police. His grandfather had helped desegregate schools in Shreveport, La.

Jackson struggled with dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder as a child, so his parents sent him to middle school at Jemicy, a private academy for “bright students who learn differently.”

Years later, after his arrest, Jackson would claim he was sexually abused by an employee at the school.

Baltimore County police investigated the accusation when it came up during Jackson’s court case, according to Detective Sgt. Moe Greenberg. He could not comment on its outcome, he said, but stressed the difficulty of investigating decades-old allegations and their lasting impact on victims.

“It becomes this monkey on their backs that they struggle with all their lives,” Greenberg said. “They grow into some very damaged people.”

A school spokeswoman declined to comment.

It was at Jemicy that Jackson began to struggle with depression and dark thoughts, according to a suicide note written in 2013, when Jackson was in his mid-20s. The 7,000-word document was recovered by authorities from his computer.

“At a very young age I picked out a dog for my family,” he wrote in the note. “I spent the next several years loving her and occasionally torturing her by getting her to run very fast and then yanking the collar in the opposite direction extremely violently putting her in huge pain, nearly breaking her neck on several occasions.”

Soon, he began to think about hurting people, too.

“I discovered the Nazis whom I felt a strong kinship with for what seemed like obvious reasons in retrospect . . . the promise of absolute naked power.”

James Harris Jackson

His violent impulses were fueled by a love of history, especially World War II.

“I discovered the Nazis whom I felt a strong kinship with for what seemed like obvious reasons in retrospect,” he wrote, especially “the promise of absolute naked power.”

In the fall of 2003, the 15-year-old began attending the elite Friends School of Baltimore, where his older brother had gone. The shady 34-acre campus shared the same values as his parents: diversity, tolerance and pacifism.

Six months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, “War Is Not The Answer” banners hung from the school’s stone buildings. At the heart of campus stood a peace pole, emblazoned with the phrase “May Peace Prevail On Earth” in a half-dozen languages.

The peace pole at Friends School of Baltimore. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

There were few signs at Friends that Jackson harbored any hatred, according to interviews with a dozen classmates, teachers and administrators. Most agreed to talk about Jackson only if they would not be identified because they did not want to be connected with his crime.

Although he was reserved, Jackson was on the edge of the popular crowd at Friends, attending parties where he drank and smoked marijuana, according to one of his closest friends from that time. He sang baritone in the choir, performed in a couple of theatrical productions and played on the golf team, though he rarely showed up to practice. His approach to class was similarly nonchalant, earning him B’s and C’s.

Ghani Raines, who taught Jackson history, said he never detected any racism in his pupil, though the educator was the embodiment of everything Jackson would eventually try to destroy.

“I was a black man married to a white woman, with mixed-race children,” he said. “I would sometimes bring my infant daughter to school. If he was mired in this hatred, then he must have hated me. And yet I had no idea.”

Ghani Raines, who taught Jackson history at Friends, now works at the Institute of Notre Dame in Baltimore. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

One classmate of color said she, too, had no inkling that Jackson was racist. Instead, they bonded over their love of history.

“I felt like he was the only one in the class who got me,” she said.

Jackson belonged to a small group of more conservative students who stood out on campus, she said.

“It was a really liberal school, so people shared a lot of assumptions,” she said. “He liked to challenge those.”

Friends prided itself on diversity, and groups such as the Black Students Union were active on campus. One year, Harris’s friends proposed creating a White Students Union.

“There was every other kind of union at Friends, but there was no white union,” the close friend recalled, adding that the idea was “a joke.”

Several other incidents around that time added to tensions on campus, however. The antiwar banners were torn down. A swastika appeared in the boy’s bathroom. The same Nazi symbol was even scrawled on the peace pole.

The close friend, who is Jewish, said he had nothing to do with the swastikas and doubted Jackson did, either.

“I think he came to Seder or Passover with me one year at my family’s house,” he said, adding that Jackson had black and Hispanic friends at the school and dated an Asian girl.

“I was a black man married to a white woman, with mixed-race children. . . . If he was mired in this hatred, then he must have hated me. And yet I had no idea.”

Ghani Raines, Jackson’s history teacher at Friends

But other classmates remember Jackson differently. His senior year, he was one of about 30 Latin students to travel to Italy during spring break. As the group toured ancient Roman ruins, Jackson turned to a student he barely knew and said that his grandfather had admitted on his deathbed to being in the SS.

“He always liked to say his grandfather fought for the Nazis,” added another classmate. “It was his claim to fame.”

Except, his family said, it wasn’t true. Both of his grandfathers served in the U.S. Army.

The Friends 2007 yearbook featured a page about Jackson, including quotes he chose, and his senior portrait. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

Jackson’s senior portrait in the 2007 Friends yearbook. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

‘A purpose and mission’

Jackson fought for the Americans, too.

After flunking out of Ohio Wesleyan University his first semester, he did the first of two things that would shock his former Quaker school classmates. In 2009, he enlisted.

“Kids from Friends don’t do that,” recalled his history classmate. “Going to West Point is one thing. But to go and just sign up?”

Jackson would later boast of getting a “freakishly high” score on the Army’s general technical exam, which enabled him to serve as an intelligence analyst in the country with which he had long been obsessed: Germany.

After more than a year in Baumholder, he and other members of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment were sent to Afghanistan just before Christmas in 2010. Jackson was assigned to assess routes for their risk of improvised explosive devices.

“Kids from Friends don’t do that. Going to West Point is one thing. But to go and just sign up?”

A high school classmate

While his reports were reliable, co-workers often had to remind him to finish them, according to a fellow soldier who spoke on the condition of anonymity. As a specialist, one of the lower ranks in the Army, he was passed over for promotion repeatedly but didn’t seem to mind.

“I think he was one of those people who was good just floatin’,” the soldier said.

He never showed any signs of racism, according to the soldier, who said that Jackson got along with his unit’s black, Hispanic and Asian service members, including his direct supervisor, who was African American.

Jackson would describe his time in the Army as one of the happiest periods in his life.

James Harris Jackson, right, with U.S. Army colleagues in Afghanistan, taken circa 2011. (Courtesy of the Jackson family)

“During my deployment I never thought about killing myself for the first time in years,” he wrote in his suicide note. “I had a purpose and mission in Afghanistan, however preposterous that mission was.”

But when that mission came to an end in the fall of 2012 with an honorable discharge and a holiday in Italy, Jackson again found himself consumed by suicidal impulses.

As he sat in a hotel suite hot tub in Rome, he thought about cutting his wrists. When he walked over the Tiber River, he contemplated throwing himself in but couldn’t.

“As I got on the plane to come home,” he wrote, “I knew I had made a terrible mistake.”

Even after admitting to the murder, James Jackson was initially coy about his motive, directing detectives to his manifesto. But he eventually would relent. (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

A hate-filled YouTube binge

It was a few minutes after midnight, and Jackson was on YouTube again. As he sat in the Baltimore rowhouse he shared with his older brother on March 5, 2017, Jackson clicked on a video of a black supporter of President Trump mocking political correctness, according to the records of his online activity. Soon, he was watching a white-pride remake of a song from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” After about an hour, he clicked on an anti-Semitic video on Adolf Hitler.

As dramatic music played, conspiracy theories about the Rothschild family gave way to footage of the führer, Nazi soldiers and adoring crowds. The video ended by blaming Jews for World War II.

The Saturday night YouTube binge — which didn’t end until 6 a.m. — was nothing unusual for Jackson.

He had floundered since returning from his overseas stint in the Army more than four years earlier. His parents encouraged him to get a job, but he didn’t. He took online cybersecurity courses at what was then University of Maryland University College through the GI Bill but never got a degree.

“I have always had an inexplicable and instinctual murderous hatred of white women who sleep with black men.”

James Harris Jackson, in his suicide note

Instead, Jackson spent up to 18 hours a day on the Internet, where his personal obsessions over race and sex were honed into a plot to start a race war.

“I have always had an inexplicable and instinctual murderous hatred of white women who sleep with black men,” he wrote in his 2013 suicide note. At that time, however, he described the emotion as “utterly irrational” and perhaps caused by “spending too much time with the führer as a kid.”

“Again I stress that it only bothers me for a second and that I am not a racist, as I have African ancestors as do we all,” he wrote.

But by early 2017, his views had hardened amid a toxic digital deluge.

In the three months before his attack, Jackson visited websites related to white supremacy on 415 occasions — an average of nearly five times a day — according to the analysis later done by prosecutors. Like Roof, he frequented the Daily Stormer, where he read incendiary articles about black crime.

He visited sites about Nazism another 139 times during that period, reading conspiracy theories about how Germans were the victims of the “real holocaust” and watching a YouTube video extolling Hitler as a “human masterpiece.”

Added to this was a mixture of racial pseudoscience and a pornographic obsessesion with black men having sex with white women.

Finally, there was a fixation on the apocalypse, including dozens of articles about global warming.

As he sank deeper into this sick world, he also began assembling a small arsenal: a hunting rifle, a shotgun, two knives and a Roman-style “Gladius” sword purchased on Amazon for $56.

By March 5, 2017, Jackson was facing a crisis. After years of $1,000 monthly checks while he halfheartedly looked for a job, his parents were finally cutting him off. He began to talk about reenlisting.

But when he woke up after his YouTube binge, Jackson launched straight into videos of Roof. And as he read Roof’s racist manifesto and watched the news coverage of his massacre, another plan took shape in Jackson’s mind.

James Jackson described his family as liberals as he spoke to detectives. (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

‘Love being your dad’

A week later, Jackson stood in the departures area at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, hugging his parents. For weeks, he had been talking about how he had reenlisted and was headed back to Germany. Now it was time to say goodbye.

“Boarding,” he texted them a few hours later as United Airlines 932 prepared to take off.

“Auf Wiedersehen!” his father answered. “Love being your dad.”

“Danke,” Jackson said, ending the message: “We have a great family!”

But Jackson was not on his way to Germany to reenlist. He was on his way to New York City to kill black men.

After his arrest, many of Jackson’s friends, family members and Army colleagues would wonder how they missed signs of his metastasizing hatred. But email and text messages assembled by investigators show the lengths to which Jackson went to hide his true feelings.

When his parents asked to see his reenlistment papers, Jackson spent days meticulously forging them, researching bases in Germany and even inventing the names and signatures of fellow soldiers.

As soon as they had driven away from Dulles, Jackson took a cab to a nearby hotel, where he texted them the next morning.

“At Frankfurt. On way to baggage claim then on to shuttle to Wiesbaden!” he wrote. “Feels good to be back!”

He boarded a bus at Union Station in Washington the following afternoon for New York City. For five days, he walked around Manhattan looking for black men to murder — a period he later described to police as “target acquisition.”

He listened to music on his iPhone as he hunted, at one point looking up the lyrics to the Alice Cooper song “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”

At night, in his hotel, he Googled: “How to stab someone in the heart?”

Evidence photos of the weapons Jackson was carrying the night of the killing, including the two-foot-long, Roman-style sword Jackson used to kill Caughman. It was found inside a trash bag in Washington Square Park. (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

Evidence photos of the weapons Jackson was carrying the night of the killing, including the two-foot-long, Roman-style sword Jackson used to kill Caughman. It was found inside a trash bag in Washington Square Park. (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

One of the two knives Jackson was carrying when he turned himself in to police. (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

The second of the knives Jackson was carrying when he surrendered. (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

All the while, he pretended to be in Germany to his family.

“Getting into the groove? Meeting any colleagues?” his parents texted on March 18.

“Settling in nicely,” he lied a few hours later. “I’ve met lots of potential colleagues but I won’t know who I’ll be working with on a day to day basis until next week.”

On March 19, his last night in a hotel before his savings ran out, Jackson sat down to type his manifesto. “Declaration of Total War on Negros,” he wrote in bold at the top underneath a swastika and a Templar cross, the symbol of Christian crusaders.

If white women didn’t stop “betraying” white men by having sex with blacks, he wrote in a two-page screed, “the total destruction of western civilization within a generation is guaranteed.”

He called on the governments of the United States, the European Union, Britain, Russia and China to exterminate blacks by using “genotype specific biological warfare agents.”

“Hail victory! Sieg Heil!” he signed off. “Sir James Harris Jackson.”

The next day, minutes before checking out of the hotel in Times Square, he snapped selfies in his underwear holding the Roman sword against his bare chest before recording a brief video.

“The time has come and we have no choice,” he said in the video, which was viewed by The Post. “This has been building for many years. And we’ve really been left with no options.”

“The planet is going down fast. And the best have to be saved. The weak have to die. It’s just that simple,” he continued, turning his face to the ceiling and exhaling loudly with his eyes closed. “This has to be God’s will. What other explanation could there be?”

Timothy Caughman, right, with his brother Rasool and uncle Casper Peek, on Thanksgiving sometime in the late 1990s. (Family photo)

‘We’ll see if I’m still lethal’

Timothy Caughman had spent his whole life in New York. At 66, he had held all kinds of jobs, from promoting concerts to finding work for poor teens. Lately, he had taken to Twitter, proudly posting photos of himself with celebrities or tributes to fallen stars.

“Standing on line waiting to vote,” he wrote under a selfie he tweeted on Election Day. “I love America.”

Unmarried and childless, he lived in a modest room at the Barbour Hotel on West 36th Street, where most of his neighbors were recently homeless. He was sometimes mistaken for homeless himself, collecting cans from the trash to pay for trips to Washington, where he enjoyed attending congressional hearings.

He was picking up cans when Jackson spotted him shortly after 11 p.m. on the first day of spring, hunched over a plastic bag on Ninth Avenue half a block from his home.

Jackson sank the sword into his unsuspecting victim’s back. But Caughman — who had been nicknamed “Hard Rock” as a young man in South Jamaica, Queens, for his boxing ability — fought back with strength that surprised his attacker. Jackson pulled the sword out and stabbed him again in his chest so hard that the tip went through him and broke on the sidewalk.

“What are you doing?” Caughman asked, Jackson would later tell police.

In a city of thousands of security cameras, only one captured the struggle, the murder reduced to two dark shapes reflected in the murky water of a Manhattan bike lane.

James Harris Jackson attacked Timothy Caughman, a 66-year-old black man, in Hell’s Kitchen on March 20, 2017, in the hope of sparking a race war. (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

As Caughman stumbled into the police station, Jackson zigzagged through the city, stopping at a McDonald’s bathroom, where he tried to wash the blood off his clothes. He made his way to Washington Square Park, where he pulled the damaged sword from his pants and dropped it into a trash can.

He slept for a few hours in Penn Station before Googling “NYC stabbing” and discovering surveillance photos of himself as a “person of interest.”

As Jackson roamed the now-crowded morning streets, the knives still in his pocket, he messaged his family as if in Germany.

“Such an awesome country!” he texted his dad. “Feels like second home.”

In an email to his older brother that afternoon, he complained that there were “Muslims everywhere in the city centers” before bringing up his marksmanship.

“I’ll be hitting the range soon so we’ll see if I’m still lethal!” he said. “Love you bro!”

He spent the afternoon in a public library, where he read a book about ancient Greek government and news about the murder. Then he wandered to a mall on the edge of Central Park. It was closing time, and as he looked down from the top floor, he thought about leaping into the atrium, he would later tell police. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Instead, he tried to muster the courage for the mass attack in Times Square. But as he stalked the neighborhood of neon lights and blinding billboards in search of interracial couples, he spotted so many that he became overwhelmed.

“It was just really demoralizing,” he told investigators later. “Maybe it’s just too far gone.”

Police were gathering inside the Times Square substation to look for him when he approached the officer at the front door. He cleared his throat and told them their hunt was over.

After murdering Timothy Caughman, James Harris Jackson turned himself into police on March 22, 2017 (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

‘Shockingly indifferent’

Detective Joseph Barbara took a seat across from Jackson in an interview room in the Midtown South Precinct, where Caughman had stumbled 24 hours earlier. A second detective, Thomas Schick, sat to the side.

Between them, the veteran officers had 50 years of experience investigating everything from mass shootings to child murders. But neither one of them had ever caught a case like this.

“I know you want some coffee,” said Barbara, the last word soaked in a Staten Island accent.

Barbara called Jackson “bro” and complimented his boots — anything to establish a bond and get him talking. The detectives had no idea if Jackson would confess, let alone why he might have committed the crime.

“It was like a chess game,” Barbara recalled later.

After reading him his rights, Barbara asked if Jackson would be willing to answer some questions.

“Yeah, let’s see what happens,” Jackson answered. “Why not?”

Detectives Joseph Barbara, left, and Thomas Schick in front of the Times Square police substation where Jackson turned himself in. (John Taggart for The Washington Post)

“So, you basically went to a substation,” Barbara began. “What was that about?”

“I saw a news article that said that I stabbed a guy and that he had passed away,” he replied matter-of-factly.

When they asked him about his knives, he volunteered that he also had brought a “Roman short sword,” holding up his hands to show its size.

“A Roman short sword?” Barbara repeated, trying hard to hide his disbelief.

“Straight blade,” Jackson explained. “Stabber.”

He said he had thrown the sword away because it had bent on the pavement.

“When did you hit that on the pavement?” Schick probed.

“Uh, I guess the third or fourth time I stabbed him,” Jackson said.

As James Jackson became more comfortable with the detectives, he offered to show them how he had killed Caughman. The footage of the reenactment would make it hard for Jackson to claim insanity in court. (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

For the next five hours, over buffalo wings and a glass of milk, Jackson told them everything. At one point, he jumped up from his seat to demonstrate how he had killed Caughman, acting out his victim’s part by putting up his hands to beg for mercy.

“But after you did it you just felt, you didn’t feel bad, you didn’t feel guilty?” Barbara asked.

“I felt very indifferent. Shockingly indifferent,” he said. “I mean, it was just like taking out the trash, almost.”

Though he called himself a “Nazi” and a “domestic terrorist,” he said he hoped being a “seemingly normal-looking dude” would make people think about what he had done. Jackson had chosen New York because it was the “global capital of media,” where an attack would command the most attention, he said. His only regrets were that he had killed an old guy instead of “successful black men in suits . . . the guys who can pull high-quality white women” and that he didn’t launch his final killing rampage.

“Should have gone for it,” he muttered to himself when the detectives left him alone during a break. “Could have been the champion. The champ.”

James Jackson’s only regret was not killing more black men. Alone in the interview room, he chided himself for not following through with a second, larger attack. (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

‘The afterlife’

Jackson’s arrest made front-page news across the country. But prosecutors were surprised at how quickly the story faded.

“The coverage of the case was not as extensive or as deep as I thought it would be, given all that was going on in America at time, and its outrageousness,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who charged Jackson with murder as a hate crime and murder as terrorism. “Had he come from ISIS and hunted Jews and then killed a Jewish man, I think there would have been much more attention.”

Two months after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the nation was still trying to understand the so-called “alt-right” wave that had helped propel him to office. It would be another five months before hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville for the “Unite the Right” rally — a gathering that would end in violence and expose the alt-right for what it really was.

Jackson is escorted out of the Midtown South police precinct by Detective Joseph Barbara, right, and another detective. (Seth Wenig/AP)

In online chat rooms, some white supremacists hailed Jackson as a “hero.” But others mocked him for killing just one person.

From his cell on Rikers Island, Jackson initially planned on going to trial. It would be a chance for him to broadcast his message to millions of people.

But over the phone from their home in Baltimore, his mother begged him not to, according to Dafna Yoran, the lead prosecutor.

Yoran, whose paternal grandparents were killed in the Holocaust, found herself prosecuting a modern-day Nazi.

“That was beyond my wildest dreams,” she said, adding that it would have been “karmic” to put the same murderous ideology on trial.

Instead, after his parents pulled funding for his attorney, Jackson finally agreed to plead guilty.

Two years after the murder, he was sentenced to life without parole.

“Had he come from ISIS and hunted Jews and then killed a Jewish man, I think there would have been much more attention.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

In court that day was Detective Barbara, who no longer had to hide his disgust at Jackson.

“I wanted to see him,” Barbara said. “Because of what the case was about, what he wanted to do here in New York.”

Detective Schick considered the crime a window into the growing problem of white supremacy in America.

“We need to know where this train of thought is coming from, how it’s being perpetuated in these hate groups,” he said. “It’s the same thought pattern used back by the Ku Klux Klan.”

At their 10-year reunion, Jackson’s classmates decided to hold a Quaker meeting for worship.There, in the meeting house Harris used to attend with them, the young professionals wondered if there were warning signs they didn’t see, or if the school’s progressivism had somehow helped push Jackson toward violence.

“There is clearly something that was missing from our high school or our experience that didn’t allow him to speak about these feelings sooner,” one Friends graduate said.

Jackson appears in criminal court during his arraignment in New York on March 23, 2017. (Steven Hirsch/AP)

Raines, Jackson’s former history teacher who now works at another private school, said he brought up the case this fall during an assembly. The virulence of white supremacy should not be ignored.

“You see these trends, these forces, resurging,” he said. “You need to take action if you can.”

Jackson’s family declined to speak at length for this article. But nearly three years after New York police officers first knocked at her door, his mother looked no less bewildered as she tried to explain what her middle child had done.

“Right now there is a photo on our fridge showing our son in Afghanistan, standing next to an African American colleague,” Pat Jackson said, gesturing over her shoulder toward the kitchen. Whatever racism he harbored, she said, “was in his head and on his computer until he lost his mind.”

She and her husband have gone to visit him several times in prison in Upstate New York, where the progressive suburban couple found themselves surrounded by prisoners with swastika tattoos. Harris didn’t seem to belong there, and yet he did.

“He calls this ‘the afterlife,’ ” she said, of everything since the crime.

It’s a kind of afterlife for them, too.

Not long after his arrest, she recalled, she received her regular copy of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine, the Intelligence Report, in the mail.

“I opened it and saw my son, looking demonic, looking —” she said, trailing off shortly before closing the door. “That’s not my son.”

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Joseph Paul Franklin’s murder spree was the inspiration for William Pierce’s “The Turner Diaries.” Franklin inspired Pierce’s novel “Hunter.”

Michael E. Miller

Michael E. Miller is a reporter on the local enterprise team. He joined The Washington Post in 2015 and has also reported from Afghanistan.

About this story

Editing by Lynda Robinson. Copy editing by Matt Schnabel. Photo editing by Mark Miller. Video editing by Amber Ferguson. Design and development by Junne Alcantara.