Accessibility links

Breaking News

Comparing Shooters in the Dallas, Baton Rouge Police Attacks

File photo (L) obtained July 8, 2016 shows Dallas sniper Micah X. Johnson. Screenshot (R) taken from his personal website shows Baton Rouge shooter Gavin Long, also known as Cosmo Setepenra.
File photo (L) obtained July 8, 2016 shows Dallas sniper Micah X. Johnson. Screenshot (R) taken from his personal website shows Baton Rouge shooter Gavin Long, also known as Cosmo Setepenra.

U.S. officials and the public are scrambling to understand what kind of person targets and shoots police officers after two such incidents in less than two weeks. The answer to what drove the suspects may lie in their backgrounds, which local, state and federal investigators will be scrutinizing closely.

Here’s what we know so far about Micah Johnson, 25, the sniper who ambushed police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas July 7 and Gavin Long, 29, the shooter who killed three police officers in Baton Rouge on Sunday.

Both Johnson and Long were young black men in their 20’s. Both were divorced, and both were angry over the growing numbers of black men killed at the hands of police.

Neither Johnson nor Long finished college, and both sought careers in the U.S. military. Both had access to guns.

The two had very different military careers.

Johnson: Became a 'Hermit'

Johnson joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps while still in high school and enlisted in the Army Reserves after graduation. At age 22, he was deployed to Afghanistan as a carpentry and masonry specialist. But he returned home several months later in disgrace over a sexual harassment suit. Army friends told Dallas News he stopped socializing with anyone outside of his own race.

His mother told the Blaze he returned a very different man; once an extrovert, he became a “hermit.”

Attempts have been made to paint Micah Johnson as a black separatist, but this appears to be based solely on his having liked Facebook pages belonging to groups and his attendance at a couple of Black Power movement meetings.

Long: 'When an African Fights back, he's wrong'

According to Long’s own biography, at the age of 16, after self-educating himself on fitness, nutrition, and diet, he lost more than 80 pounds. He joined the Marine Corps in 2005 and earned the rank of sergeant as, he wrote, “one of the Corps most physically fit Marines.” He spent seven months in Iraq in 2008, which earned him three medals for good service and conduct.

He left the military in 2010, took a few college classes, then sold all of his possessions and went to live in Africa, his “ancestral homeland." It was a move he claimed was driven by “spiritual revelation.” There, he said, he traveled to several countries and was trained by native spiritual practitioners and elder holistic healers.

In 2015, Long legally changed his name to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra, claiming that he was looking to correct his name as a member of an indigenous group and may have belonged to the United Washitaw De Dugdahmoundvah Mu'ur Nation. Not to be confused with an American Indian tribe, the Washitaw Nation bills itself as a sovereign, indigenous tribe descended from blacks who settled the continental United States long before the arrival of the European settlers.

If Johnson returned from the military a hermit, Long was his antithesis: As Cosmo Setepenra, he wrote three books, including a nutritional guide for “melanated people,” a reference to the pigment melanin, which determines skin, eye and hair color.

He launched a website promoting himself as a spiritual and life coach, nutrition adviser and all-around guru of what he called “The Cosmo Way.” In a series of YouTube video chats, "Convos with Cosmo," he expounded on nutrition (“Eat lentil chips”), government conspiracies and black identity.

“When an African fights back, he’s wrong,” he said in a video recorded in Dallas July 10. “But every time a European fights back against oppression, he’s right,” Long/Cosmo said, suggesting that protests against police violence won’t have any effect.

“The only successful revolutions have involved bloodshed,” he added.

NOTE: In an earlier version of this story, Long was mistakenly identified as a member of the "Empire Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah Mu'urs."