Feds: Arizona man plotted mass shooting in Atlanta to spark ‘race war’

Federal authorities have accused Mark Adams Prieto, 58 of Prescott, Arizona, of plotting a mass shooting at a concert in May in Atlanta. Prieto, seen above in undercover photos by the FBI, allegedly hoped the shooting would spark a "race war" ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Credit: U.S. Department of Justice

Credit: U.S. Department of Justice

Federal authorities have accused Mark Adams Prieto, 58 of Prescott, Arizona, of plotting a mass shooting at a concert in May in Atlanta. Prieto, seen above in undercover photos by the FBI, allegedly hoped the shooting would spark a "race war" ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Federal prosecutors have arrested an Arizona man in an alleged mass shooting plot targeting Black Atlantans with the intent of sparking a “race war” ahead of the presidential election in November.

Mark Adams Prieto, 58, of Prescott, Arizona, was arrested last month after the FBI received a tip from a paid informant that he was planning to attack the May 14-15 concert by recording artist Bad Bunny at State Farm Arena.

According to court documents, the source told investigators that Prieto, whom the source knew from various gun shows, had made “suspicious and alarming comments, including advocating for a mass shooting” targeting Blacks, Jews and Muslims. Prieto wanted to spark a race war ahead of the presidential election in November, the source said.

Prieto allegedly told the informant and an undercover FBI agent at a gun show in January that he wanted to target Atlanta because he blamed African Americans for crime in the city and across Georgia.

“When I was a kid that was one of the most conservative states in the country. Why is it not now?” he said, according to an affidavit filed with the U.S. District Court in Arizona. “Because as the crime got worse in LA, St. Louis, and all these other cities, all the (racial epithet) moved out of those (places) and moved to Atlanta. That’s why it isn’t so great anymore. And they’ve been there for a couple, several years.”

Prieto allegedly said he wanted to target the concert because he believed there would be a large number of African Americans there. The FBI noted that Prieto carried assault-style rifles to the gun shows and sold two of them to an undercover agent in February and March.

“Prieto said he planned to leave confederate flags after the shooting to send a message that ‘we’re going to fight back now, and every whitey will be the enemy across the whole country,’ ” an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit.

The FBI informant knew Prieto from gun shows in Arizona where Prieto sold guns from his personal collection. Prieto allegedly told the source that he preferred dealing “off book” with cash sales to avoid interacting with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Prieto allegedly was interested in recruiting people to help carry out the plan, and he asked whether the informant was “ready to kill a bunch of people.” He allegedly told the informant and an undercover agent, both of whom he reportedly believed to be cooperating with his plan, that they should travel to Atlanta ahead of the concert to store weapons to be used in the attack and gave them instructions to avoid arrest.

According to the informant, Prieto believed that a mass shooting would prompt a declaration of martial law following the election. An affidavit filed with U.S. District Court in Arizona indicated that Prieto’s comments were secretly recorded by the informant.

While the Bad Bunny concert was his preferred target, Prieto also allegedly told the FBI informant that the attack might wait until June or July, but that it needed to be before the presidential election.

“If you wait till after the election, they might have everything in place you can’t even drive, you’ll be stopped,” he said. “I want to try to put the guns in place by then if we can’t do it before they put everything in place.”

How prepared Prieto was to carry out his plans is unclear. He allegedly told the FBI source that he had fought in Ukraine as a mercenary and “killed Russian soldiers,” but according to investigators, Prieto had no passport and there was no evidence of international travel.

Jon Lewis, a research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said the alleged plot resembles a common narrative forming around the 2024 presidential election in which the election is “stolen” from former President Donald Trump and is followed by a federal crackdown.

Lewis said this is different from four years ago when far-right domestic extremists were more confident because Trump was in power. Over the past four years, extremists have bought into a conspiratorial mindset in which a globalist, “inevitably Jewish deep state” controls everything, he said.

He said people like Prieto are evidence that extremists on the right fringe are trying to form coalitions to combat what they see as a “seemingly inevitable pending conflict.”

“They don’t expect to survive or be the ones to achieve victory,” he said. “But they think they can be the spark that lights the fire.”

At a gun show in April, the informant asked Prieto if he intended to go forward with the plan in May, authorities said. According to the affidavit, Prieto said that he wanted to push the plan to a later date to give him time to conduct reconnaissance in Atlanta.

Prieto was arrested May 14 in New Mexico while traveling east on an interstate highway, allegedly telling authorities he was going to visit his mother in Florida and not going to Atlanta. He acknowledged talking with the informant and undercover agent about a planned attack but said he did not plan to go through with it.

Prieto is charged with firearms trafficking, transfer of a firearm for use in a hate crime and possession of an unregistered firearm. Prieto was denied bond in a May 21 hearing in federal magistrate court in New Mexico.