On Sunday, James Wesley Howell was arrested in Santa Monica, California, with a car full of weapons, ammunition, and chemicals that can be used to create improvised explosives. One day later, we know much more about the suspect but far less than we thought about his intentions.
Shortly after Howell was arrested, Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks suggested on Twitter that he had told one of her officers that his plan was “to harm” the L.A. Pride festival scheduled for that day. Given the timing—authorities were still counting bodies in Orlando, Florida, where Omar Mateen had opened fire in a crowded LGBTQ nightclub—Seabrooks’ tweet sparked worries that Howell’s plan was somehow related to Mateen’s. It now appears as though it was not, and that Howell may not have been targeting the L.A. Pride event in the first place.
Later Sunday, Santa Monica police announced that Seabrooks was misinformed and that Howell never actually said that the festival was his target, only his destination—a clarification that has circulated far less than the original claim. “He did indicate that he was planning on going to the Pride festival but beyond anything as far as motives or his intentions that statement was never made nor did any officer receive that statement,” Lt. Saul Rodriguez said. Comments one of Howell’s friends made to the Los Angeles Times cast further doubts on what the suspect planned to do with his arsenal. Joseph Greeson, in the paper’s words, said that his friend “harbored no ill will toward gays and lesbians and added that Howell was bisexual.”
For now, then, it remains a mystery exactly what Howell planned to do with the cache of weapons. What we do know is that the 20-year-old had previously pleaded guilty to using firearms to intimidate others. The Associated Press cited Indiana court records showing that Howell was twice accused of threatening people in the state with a gun last year—“the first incident involved [his] boyfriend last October and the second involved a neighbor four days later,” according to the AP—and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor intimidation charge this past April. As part of his plea deal, Howell was placed on probation for one year, during which he agreed to forfeit all of his weapons and request permission if he wanted to leave the state—conditions he appears to have ignored.
The rest of what we know about Howell comes largely from what is believed to be his Facebook page, which included photos of the white Acura he was arrested in. According to the Times, which got a look at the page before it was deleted, the account suggested Howell attended high school in Louisville, Kentucky, and lives in Jefferson, Indiana, where he works for an air filtration company:
A car enthusiast, Howell posted numerous photographs of the Acura along with a couple of videos taken from inside cars. Another 10-second video includes gunfire, with shots striking grass. The site includes political posts, including one in which he compares Hillary Clinton to Adolf Hitler. In another, he repeats conspiracy theories that the government was behind notorious terrorist attacks, including Sept. 11, 2001. That post shares a video claiming that last year’s terror attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a hoax and attributable to the “New World Order.”
Santa Monica police say they arrested Howell on Sunday after officers responded to reports of a suspected prowler at about 5 a.m. They found Howell sitting in his car, which contained three assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, and explosive chemicals.