Frank R. James, the ‘Prophet of Doom’ Who Carried Out His Threat on the New York Subway

The alleged perpetrator of the shooting that on Tuesday left 23 people injured, a man of erratic existence and angry character, warned on YouTube of his intentions to shoot randomly and “make the blood flow.”

The federal court in Brooklyn, New York, ruled this Thursday that Frank Robert James will be held without bail. James, a 62-year-old African American, was arrested as the alleged perpetrator of Tuesday’s shooting, which injured 23 people, 10 of them by gunfire, on a subway car in the city. The court justified its decision by stressing that James’ presence on the streets poses a “severe and ongoing danger” to the public. He will be prosecuted for a terrorist attack against a mass transportation system and, if convicted, may be sentenced to life in prison.

What led James to shoot passengers with a 9 mm Glock pistol is something that can only be determined by the investigation, including the psychiatric assessment of the suspect that the defense has requested. He is an erratic person, like so many others — the B-side of the American dream, the nightmare — whose biography includes various crimes (theft, robbery, sexual harassment) and disorderly conduct.

The videos he had posted on YouTube in recent years generated even more concern than his background. His YouTube profile remained available until 24 hours after the attack, when it was closed for “violating the guidelines” of use. The content of the videos was disturbing: deranged, sometimes aggressive, political rants, many of them directed against the mayor of New York, Eric Adams; delusions of persecution; and messages in which he presented himself as being “full of hate, full [of] anger and bitterness” and a “victim of your mental health program in New York City.” In addition to outbursts of homophobia, misogyny and racism — mostly against Black and Hispanic people, but also against white people — James denounced the presence of homeless people in the subway, a sad reality that Adams aims to eradicate. He expressed, not without controversy, his desire to grab a gun and shoot at random, no matter at whom. Especially shocking was his anger at African Americans — like him — victims of violence, since he accused them of deserving it.

His sister, Catherine, told The New York Times that she was “surprised” to see him in the headlines. “I don’t think he would do anything like that” the woman pointed out, after stating that she had not heard from him for a long time.

In recent years, James had been a personal and social black hole that ended up coming to the surface as a burst of anger. Cinema often turns that into art (Joel Schumacher´s “Falling Down,” for example), but in real life, it just feeds the spiral of violence. His erratic life took him from city to city, without a known trade, although he presented himself as a driver, wandering from apartment to apartment, where his neighbors remember him as a rude man, distant and likely to lose his temper; often quarrelsome.

In the crowded subway car that could well have become the scene of a massacre (most of the wounded have been discharged, and there is no fear for the lives of the rest) the police found traces of James’ disorderly lifestyle: a varied arsenal of bullets, smoke bombs, firecrackers, flares and an axe, in addition to the Glock 17 pistol that the alleged aggressor had legally purchased in Ohio in 2011, according to police. Also, the keys to a U-Haul van and his credit card, which might suggest that he was leaving those tracks on purpose in order to be found, as if he wanted to speed up an end to his escape. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the suspect alerted the police of his presence at the scene of his arrest, a street in the East Village.

Regarding the weapon that sent 10 people to the hospital, despite the attempts of the Biden administration and the majority of the population being in favor of greater gun control, the Glock 17 was legal for all purposes, thanks to the Second Amendment of the Constitution. In his Philadelphia apartment, police also found a magazine for a semi-automatic rifle, much more lethal than the gun that was used, and a propane gas tank in the rented and then abandoned van.

Joe Biden faces criticism from Republicans and the powerful arms lobby embodied by the National Rifle Association for trying to stop the proliferation of firearms on the streets, a phenomenon that the White House calls an epidemic. Mayor Adams is also trying to stop this bloodshed. After the good news of James’ arrest, Adams had to speak about the multiple shootings — more than a dozen — that had shaken the city in the last 36 hours. “No one is safe,” a Brooklyn cop told the New York Post about another incident, unrelated to the subway attack. A good recap.

Loose ends still remain, as do questions and theories. Many U.S. cities have more effective subway surveillance systems than New York, even though the Big Apple is the country’s global showcase. The cameras in Brooklyn’s 36th Street station did not transmit, although they had been checked only two days before the shooting by New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority workers, since the police had complained of not receiving footage from the station. The cameras were working, according to union sources, but the sending of images by fiber optics failed. Just another proof of malfunction in the New York subway, and therefore the city.

In the videos he posted on YouTube, James described himself as a “prophet of doom.” “There will be blood, a lot of blood,”* he advised in his delusions, warning that the population should be reduced. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re black or white.”* In one video, published on March 23, he warned of future interracial wars, the possibility of a third world war, and the racism he experienced as he wandered across the country. “We live in very dangerous times, I think, very uncertain times.”* Many New Yorkers agree with that today as they walk down the subway stairs and onto the platforms.

*Editor’s Note: These quotes, though correctly translated, could not be verified.

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