On April 12, 2022, Frank R. James carried out a shooting in the New York City Subway, injuring ten people. James was arrested on April 13, 2022, and on January 3, 2023, he pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. To date, the motive for the attack remains unclear.
James claimed to be suffering from “a bad case of post-traumatic stress from all the things [he had] been through” and that he had undergone mental health treatment decades ago. In one of his early recordings, he also revealed that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. James had an extensive criminal record, ranging from arrests on low-level charges to a charge for making terroristic threats against a former workplace in the mid-1990s, following his termination. In the end, he was found guilty of harassment, a lesser charge, and sentenced to probation and counselling.
This Insight presents findings from James’ social media footprint, particularly his vast catalogue of videos. James’ videos have been taken down after the attack, but copies can still be found online. They constitute a manifesto of sorts, providing valuable insights into his worldview and his personality.
Social Media Prophet: Frank R. James’ Social Media Footprint
James began recording his thoughts in audio format in 2002, and in 2008, he started posting videos on various online platforms — YouTube, Facebook and Free Speech Avenger among others. Some of James’ numerous YouTube channels have been subject to ‘strikes’ due to the extreme nature of their content that violated the platform’s user guidelines. James’ last video was posted the day before the attack.
These hundreds of videos reveal a complex worldview drawing on themes often found in extremist narratives: accelerationism, eco-fascism, far-right ideas and conspiracy theories. However, James focuses particularly on the fate of African Americans, with ideological ties to Black nationalism and separatism. The following sections will provide an overview of each in turn.
James built his online persona as a misunderstood ‘prophet’ harbouring an inconvenient truth that no one wanted to hear:
I am the prophet of doom. […] That’s what I’ve been calling myself since I’ve been on YouTube. So, what do you want from me? Doomsday is actually about to be here! We’re actually about to experience doomsday!
Such is James’ mission statement, as he reminds his viewers one more time that the world is on the brink of destruction:
If you listen and you look very carefully, you can hear it and you can see it: there’s something building [up] in this nation and in the world. A major disaster, one that trillions of dollars can’t buy you a way out of. […] It means the death of millions, if not billions of people if these disasters, as I see them, take place.
Despite his dwindling number of viewers, James made it his duty to discuss the issues facing humanity in general and African Americans in particular. According to James, the human race will soon face extinction for many reasons, the first one being a global energy crisis caused by a shortage of fossil fuels, leading to a complete collapse of modern civilisation.
Secondly, since Vladimir Putin hinted at the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, James viewed the war as a prelude to a global nuclear conflict. A third World War which will be the very last:
Once those bombs start dropping — and I believe they will, as your prophet of doom — […] doomsday is right at our doorsteps.
Conspiracy theories about 9/11 are recurrent in James’ online musings. James considered the terror attacks to be “false flag operations” in which nuclear devices were used against the World Trade Center. And according to James, these are the same nuclear weapons that will be used in Ukraine.
Finally, James warned about hyperinflation, which could be an additional factor leading to the collapse. On the basis of these predictions, James insisted people should be “prepping” for “doomsday”, as survivalists do, whether it comes in the form of a nuclear war, hyperinflation or anything else. That would allow them to survive and avoid falling into the hands of tyrannical, murderous authorities. Prepping is a common practice among far-right extremists, anti-government militias and accelerationists. However, James himself didn’t seem to be taking any concrete steps towards becoming a prepper.
A New Kind of Accelerationism
Overall, James’ videos are more focused on the condition and the fate of African Americans, for whom he believed that there are only two possible outcomes: re-enslavement or genocide:
America has every intention of killing [you]. I am making that prediction as your prophet of truth and prophet of doom. That’s the ultimate goal: to kill you, because it has no f**king choice but to get rid of you. A large portion of the human population has to be gotten rid of, starting with [black people]. You’re gonna be the first one on the list to go.
James believed that African Americans had never truly been freed from slavery, and blamed them for relying on white people to this day, instead of seeking self-sufficiency:
We’re still slaves. We’ve never stopped being slaves. […] I don’t care about your degree; you’re still a feral slave. When we have a piece of land and we’re producing everything that we need for ourselves as human beings are supposed to do: food, clothing, shelter, spiritual beliefs and all that, then we can talk about [freedom]. But you were never set free. The white man can’t set you free. He took your freedom and can’t give it back to you.
However, should African Americans have a country of their own, it would quickly turn to chaos, James added, due to their inability to function as a community and their “unnatural” way of life.
We attack each other, then we want to cry and whine: black lives matter, police brutality, school-to-prison pipeline.
Furthermore, in a vitriolic diatribe, James held African American women responsible for the supposed dismal state of the community, because of their alleged tendency to raise their children in single-parent households. He insisted that a child should have both parents in order to grow into a normal and balanced adult, and considered single motherhood to be a major issue for African Americans; “a noose around [their] necks” as he calls it.
Another reason for James’ contempt towards African Americans is his claim that they have lost their identity and culture. He believes those who just identify as ‘black’ should be identifying with the African tribes (or what he calls “family groups”) they originated from, such as the Bantu, Zulu, and Maasai. To him, that’s a law of nature that applies to all animal species, and that should therefore apply to human beings.
James expressed ideas that overlapped heavily with Black nationalism, separatism, and an uncompromising rejection of white culture, stating that there should have been no such thing as African Americans in the first place.
Furthermore, James harshly criticised African Americans for their adherence to Christianity, which he considered to be nothing more than a “fairy tale” that was used to submit them as slaves:
If you believe that your soul is going to heaven and that it doesn’t matter what happens to you here on Earth, why shouldn’t you be a slave? Why shouldn’t you be picking cotton or cutting sugar cane?
Christians committed genocides against numerous indigenous peoples and destroyed their beliefs, says James. He believed that those peoples, whom the Christians called savages and heathens, understood the sacred nature of life, and their lifestyles fully reflected that understanding. Through their genocide, the Christians stripped the world of its mysteries and sacredness, paving the way to a mindless exploitation of Earth’s resources:
Our European brother has made us realize that in reality, we are [living] on a giant rock in the middle of nowhere. […] That’s all he’s given us. It’s this realization.
It appears that James’ identity as an African American plays a major role in his ideological constructs. James inverts far-right and white supremacist ideologies, all the while operating on a similar rationale, portraying the ‘other’ as an existential threat. Indeed, James accused white people of crimes against humanity and nature: slavery, the genocide of indigenous peoples, and the destruction of the environment. James further stressed the idea that African Americans are a mere commodity feeding a capitalist machine called America, and warned about white people being the potential perpetrators of future genocides against them. In that sense, James exhibits a new kind of accelerationism centred around the African American identity – a counterpart to the traditional accelerationist narrative of white genocide through immigration and other means.
Primitivism as the Only Way Out
Technological progress has brought mankind much more harm than good, said James, and mankind has no choice but to renounce it in order to put an end to the destruction of the environment. James also warned that global warming may render the Earth uninhabitable for human beings, who have nowhere else to go.
This aspect of James’ ideology relates to accelerationism in that he believes modern industrial society and technology will inevitably lead to a total collapse. That being said, James’ discourse is to be distinguished from militant accelerationism, which calls for violence in order to expedite this process.
James’ ideology is also in many ways akin to Ted Kaczynski’s (aka the Unabomber), displaying a similar eco-fascist and primitivist stance, calling for an end to the disastrous social and ecological consequences of modern industrial society. Rejecting anthropocentrism and advocating for deindustrialised self-sufficient communities, James argued that the only solution is to revert to a natural and sustainable lifestyle that will allow humans to survive, like other animal species that have managed to exist for hundreds of millions of years, despite how unsophisticated they are:
We have to reset. We have to go back to the beginning. We have to retrace our steps. We don’t want to because it’s difficult, it’s painful, it hurts. But that’s the only way we can be right again, that’s the only way we can be normal again, that’s the only way we can be fully human again: it’s to reclaim whatever heritage or family group that we can find, that we come from, or at least get close to it.
Currently, one can only speculate about the motivations behind Frank James’ shooting, which could be attributed to his ideologies and history of mental illness. Whatever the case may be, James’ videos portray him as a socially isolated man fuelled by hate and anger towards modern civilisation and America.
James’ ideology, which doesn’t exhibit any clear political or ideological affiliations, intersects with Black nationalist, accelerationist, conspiratorial, and eco-fascist narratives. This complex adherence to often contradictory views reflects a trend among extremists of idiosyncratic or composite ideologies, sometimes referred to as ‘salad bar’ extremism. James’ videos present an opportunity to understand how extremist actors thread disparate ideologies together.
James’ videos also demonstrate how extremist ideologies and hate speech still permeate mainstream social media despite the countermeasures already in place, posing a challenge in terms of moderation, fact-checking, and proper labelling of such content.
Khalil Boughali is a writer and software engineer. He graduated from the ENSEIRB engineering school of Bordeaux in 2006, with a master’s degree in Computer Science.