White Supremacist Pleads Guilty to Killing Black Man in New York to Start a ‘Race War’

The New York Times/January 23, 2019

By Jan Ransom

He hated black men. He wanted to kill one, and he did.

In a videotaped confession, James Harris Jackson, a white Army veteran from Baltimore, told investigators that he spent several days two years ago stalking black men in Manhattan before he spotted a 66-year-old man sifting through trash for recyclables.

And in an undeniable testament of his hate, Mr. Jackson said he pulled a short sword from his coat and repeatedly stabbed the man, Timothy Caughman.

The killing, Mr. Jackson said, was “practice” for a larger attack he had planned for Times Square where he intended to murder young black men who were with white women because he loathed interracial dating.

Mr. Jackson, 30, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to rare state charges of murder as terrorism and murder as a hate crime, accepting what is certain to be a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. His dramatic plea to all counts against him came four months after the video of his interview with police was presented at a pretrial hearing in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

Mr. Jackson, who walked into the courtroom on crutches, wearing black slack pants and a white button-up shirt, made no speech and expressed no remorse. He answered a series of questions from Justice Laura A. Ward in a matter-of-fact tone. The judge asked him if he had stabbed Mr. Caughman because he was black and hoped the attack would incite “a racial war.”

“Yes,” he said.

The murder of Mr. Caughman came at a time when hate crimes were rising throughout the country and in New York City. While New York has continued to be one of the safest big cities in the country, the number of reported hate crimes increased by 5 percent last year.

Prosecutors in Manhattan say the number of cases in the borough has increased steadily since the 2016 election of President Trump, whose rhetoric is often divisive.

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said Mr. Jackson’s conviction was the first of a white supremacist on terrorism charges in New York, and one of a few in the country. Mr. Vance had intended to try the case himself.

“This is an incredibly disturbed young man and he brought tragedy to Manhattan and he certainly showed Mr. Caughman no mercy and I don’t think this office should show him any,” Mr. Vance said during an interview at his office. “It was a cruel and completely planned attack with a broader political goal.”

A family friend and a cousin of Mr. Caughman looked on as Mr. Jackson entered his guilty plea.

“The pain is still there,” said Mr. Caughman’s longtime friend, Portia Clark, 66. “I’m grateful he pleaded guilty to all of the charges and they can take him back and throw the key away.”

Ms. Clark, standing outside of the courtroom, addressed Mr. Jackson: “And no — I don’t forgive you for what you did.”

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On St. Patrick’s Day in 2017, Mr. Jackson boarded a bus in Washington, D.C., and rode it to New York City. He said he thought about going to another city, but settled on New York because he believed his attack would receive the most media attention there: “I wanted to basically influence the national conversation,” he said.

“I was planning on doing basically as many as I could in Times Square,” he told detectives during a two-hour interview following his arrest. He said he had planned to send an email to The New York Times or CNN to explain the motive behind his “terrorist attack” or what he described as “an amateurish, slipshod version” of one.

After arriving to the city, Mr. Jackson checked into a hotel on West 46th Street. He spent three days hunting victims with a short sword and two smaller knives tucked into his coat.

Security cameras filmed him as he followed a black man whom he later told investigators he decided against attacking because there were too many people around. He said he followed 10 to 15 black people or groups with the intent of killing them, but hesitated each time.

Then, at about 11:15 p.m. on March 20, Mr. Jackson spotted Mr. Caughman rummaging through trash on West 36th Street near Ninth Avenue. Mr. Caughman was a recycler who lived nearby in a room at the Barbour Hotel, which now houses formerly homeless people transitioning to permanent housing. (In earlier reports about the murder, Mr. Caughman was inaccurately described as homeless.)

Mr. Jackson told investigators he stabbed Mr. Caughman in the back. Mr. Vance said the sword struck several of Mr. Caughman’s organs, causing him to bleed out. Mr. Caughman screamed and asked Mr. Jackson, “What are you doing?”

Mr. Jackson responded by stabbing Mr. Caughman several more times in the chest before fleeing. He broke the tip of his sword during the attack and tossed it in a garbage can in Washington Square Park.

Bleeding, Mr. Caughman walked a block to a police station on West 35th Street, where officers called an ambulance, the police said. He died at Bellevue Hospital.

Soon Mr. Jackson’s image from security cameras appeared in news reports. A day after the attack, Mr. Jackson turned himself in at a police substation in Times Square.

At the time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio strongly condemned the killing. Mr. de Blasio, who spoke at Mr. Caughman’s funeral, called the attack a racist act of domestic terrorism. Mr. Vance agreed and charged Mr. Jackson with “murder in the first degree as an act of terrorism.”

“I looked at this as no different than an Islamist Jihadist coming into the city and attacking a synagogue or attacking a non-Muslim for ideological or political purposes,” Mr. Vance said. “That’s exactly what James Jackson did, except it was based on a bias of white supremacy.”

Mr. Jackson joined the Army in 2009 and served at various locations in the United States, working in military intelligence. He was deployed to Afghanistan between December 2010 and November 2011. Afterward, he was stationed in Baumholder, Germany, before being discharged in August 2012.

Mr. Vance said that after Mr. Jackson left the military he became “self-radicalized” and, in a “twisted way, he saw himself as a key element in starting a worldwide racial war.”

During his interview with detectives, Mr. Jackson said he intended the murder of Mr. Caughman to be a “declaration of global war on the Negro race,” and that he wanted to “inspire white men to kill black men, to scare black men and to provoke a race war.”

He told a detective that he felt no remorse. He said his goal was “a global policy aimed at the complete extermination of the Negro race.”

“I was going for something a bit bigger,” he said.

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