Days before the July 4 parade massacre in Highland Park, posts with anti-Semitic, anti-Black and anti-Asian messages were posted online by “Awake47” — who appears to be Robert E. Crimo III, the man charged with killing seven people and wounding 48.
I am well aware the Highland Park community is grieving and on edge. I was at the parade, visiting from Washington, D.C.
Everyone wants to learn more about Crimo, who will appear Wednesday in a Waukegan courtroom, facing 110 charges of murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery.
I’ve looked at videos Crimo made, and they are disturbing. But toxic online behavior offers clues in this case, not conclusions about motive.
Experts on extremism, such as the Anti-Defamation League, caution against jumping to a judgment based only on the four vile posts I describe below.
Unlike other mass shootings, the Highland Park killer did not leave a manifesto or pick a target with unquestionable implications — such as the October 2018 slaughter at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where the shooter murdered 11 people and the authorities labeled it an anti-Semitic attack.
While Highland Park is heavily Jewish, the parade-goers included people from neighboring Highwood, home to a substantial Hispanic and Italian American population.
Crimo has very distinctive tattoos on his face and neck. “Awake47” posted on a site called DocumentingReality. In May and June, there are pictures posted under “Awake47” of a man who appears to be Crimo.
On June 25, 2022, “Awake47” posted, “the math is all screwed, the logistics of 6m jews doesn’t make sense, but I’m just retarded.” On June 28, “Awake47” posted, “I say we just get rid of the blacks all together.” On July 2, “Awake47” posted twice — first a note saying “retarded jews” followed by “orientals should be gassed then washed.”
Site administrator Christopher Wilson told me: “The site has been and is currently cooperating with authorities, beyond that I am unable to comment further.”
I looked at screen grabs of these posts captured by a private investigator — who started looking for Crimo’s Internet trail as soon as his name became public on July 4.
The posts have been taken down. She turned over what she found to the FBI, she told me.
Writing in The Forward, a Jewish publication, Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, explained why the “ADL doesn’t yet see a clear extremist connection in Highland Park.”
Segal wrote: “Our assessment of the Highland Park shooter’s online footprint suggests there is no clear evidence —at least, not yet — that he adhered to any political, extremist or hate-driven ideology.
As for the “Attack47” hateful posts, Segal wrote: “Assuming those posts were not doctored — a possibility about which we always need to be mindful — there is nothing in them that, in our interpretation, can be clearly connected to the shooting.”
Other clues about Crimo can be gleaned from his behavior — at times aggressive — at four pro-Trump demonstrations in Highland Park, Deerfield and Northbrook in 2020. That’s according to Rachael Wachstein, a Highland Park resident, marketing professional and human rights activist who saw him at pro-Trump events.
After Crimo’s photo was made public on July 4, Wachstein said she recognized him, from his tattoos, as the man who had acted strangely at these rallies and at one, “got up in the faces of two of my friends, one of whom was the founder of Black Lives Matter Lake County and the other a former Highland Park High School student, both of whom were African Americans.”
She shared photos of Crimo at a Sept. 7, 2020, pro-Trump rally in Highland Park in front of the Veterans Memorial on Central Avenue a few months before the presidential election.
As it happened, I was in Highland Park that day and covered and took pictures at that rally, reporting for future stories. The Trump protesters were from the Trump MAGA wing, organized by a group billing itself as being associated with the Lake Bluff “militia.” I was struck by the threatening, raw, vocal hostility of the group. One person held a flag that said “NRA Stand and Fight.”
Wachstein was one of the counter-protesters across the street, some holding signs protesting racism and others signs that said, “Hate has no home here.”
Wachstein had photos of Crimo — in a red-and-white “Where’s Waldo” costume in Northbrook on Sept. 24 or 25, where Trump supporters and progressives turned out. At the same location, near Shermer Road and Walters Avenue — Crimo was at a similar demonstration on Nov. 2.
After Donald Trump lost the election, Crimo was at a Dec. 7 Trump “Stop the Steal” demonstration countered by Wachstein’s “Protect the Vote” group.
And as it turns out — that Sept. 7 MAGA Trump demonstration in Highland Park in front of the Veterans Memorial — it now is also the home to one of the city’s tributes to the July 4 wounded and dead.