Man arrested in cop shooting had history with extremism

Authorities allege Othal Wallace, 29, is responsible for shooting a Daytona Beach, Florida, police officer in the head on June 23, 2021. (Daytona Beach Police Department/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Authorities allege Othal Wallace, 29, is responsible for shooting a Daytona Beach, Florida, police officer in the head on June 23, 2021. (Daytona Beach Police Department/TNS)

Authorities say Othal Wallace, a Florida resident on the run for allegedly shooting and critically wounding a Daytona Beach police officer, was hiding out at a training ground for militant Black nationalists in eastern DeKalb County when he was arrested in an early-morning raid Saturday.

Wallace, 29, was sleeping in a treehouse outfitted with bunk beds, one of a number of ad hoc living quarters on the Smith James Road property, which included a modest house, at least two recreational vehicles and other more temporary structures.

“There were also two or three tents in the woods,” U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Frank Lempka said.

When he was arrested Wallace was found with two handguns, two rifles, body armor and stun grenades known as “flashbangs.”

“Nobody can buy flashbangs, only the police or military,” Lempka said, adding that authorities are trying to trace their origin and that the investigation continues.

That state and federal authorities zeroed in on Wallace’s location at a sleepy, semi-rural crossroads so quickly suggests they were aware of the property and his connection to it.

But it’s unclear what the property is used for.

Lempka said a woman living in the main house said Wallace had been to the property before for “training.”

“They conduct some kind of survivalist and sustainability training there,” he said.

Lempka said two other men were on the property — one in the house, another in the woods — but they were not detained and had no outstanding warrants.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contacted the homeowner, Georgia Starrad, but she declined to answer questions about Wallace or the property.

“They are all lying,” she said before hanging up.

Wallace moved between groups

Amy Iandiorio, an investigator with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said it makes sense that Wallace went to such a place to hide out.

“The idea of a compound and training center is pretty consistent with a lot of these Black nationalist groups that place a lot of emphasis on training,” she said.

Iandiorio said Wallace had a long history with extremist Black nationalism, including participating in some demonstrations by a Black militia group called the Not (expletive) Around Coalition or NFAC.

NFAC leader Grand Master Jay (John Fitzgerald Johnson), seen here on his Instagram channel, faces federal weapons charges in Kentucky and has adopted a lower profile while he awaits trial.

Credit: Instagram

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Credit: Instagram

NFAC made national headlines last summer by turning out hundreds of black-clad, armed Black men and women in demonstrations around the nation, including a spontaneous parade in Stone Mountain last July. The group centered around the leadership of John Fitzgerald Johnson, a Cincinnati-area resident who goes by the name Grand Master Jay.

Last fall, federal authorities charged Johnson with aiming his assault rifle at police in a demonstration in Louisville, Ky., over the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor.

Iandiorio said various factions of NFAC continue to be active around the nation, but Johnson was the group’s “guiding force” and the group has been less active as he awaits trial.

Wallace also has associated with the New Black Panther Party, which the ADL labels a hate group for its racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

“From some of our investigations we’ve been able to see he was coordinating with other individuals in the Black nationalist space,” she said.

Republican Brian Kemp tweeted this picture of members of the New Black Panther Party campaigning for Democrat Stacey Abrams while carrying firearms in 2018. The group has been vocal in its support for Othal Wallace.

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Wallace appears to have floated between groups with similar philosophies before establishing his own group earlier this year called “Black Nation,” while maintaining contacts in the broader Black nationalist movement, Iandiorio said.

The group appears to combine the militancy of NFAC with ideology of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a century-old religious sect which teaches that their people are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites, she said.

Although media coverage of the shooting and the manhunt associated Wallace most closely with NFAC, Iandiorio said it appears he had a falling out with the group at some point.

The future of Wallace’s own, nascent Black Nation is unclear, Iandiorio said. But she said Wallace’s arrest could impact the Black nationalist movement where he is seen as a political prisoner.

“He could become a bit of a martyr,” she said.

Wallace waived extradition in a hearing in DeKalb County Tuesday and will be returned to Florida to stand trial for shooting Daytona Beach officer Jason Raynor, who responded to a call of suspicious vehicle, police said. Raynor remained in critical condition Wednesday.

Wallace’s two-day flight from the law and his subsequent arrest have already made him into a cause célèbre in a fringe wing of the broader Black power movement that advocates revolution and violence against law enforcement.

“He is a warrior. He is a freedom fighter for the Black nation,” Krystal Muhammad, national chairwoman of the New Black Panther Party, said in a recent YouTube video. “The pigs and the white media are doing a slam campaign on our brother because he had the courage to stand up and not allow himself to be slaughtered by two pigs that approached him.”

In another video uploaded Monday, a separate YouTube activist stood outside the DeKalb County Jail and defended Wallace, saying he had stood with him in March in a demonstration in Douglasville over the death of Stephen Styles, a Black man, who was found hanged to death from a tree in February in a rural area of the county in what was ruled a suicide.

The YouTuber said he believed Wallace was protecting himself and warned that white authorities were trying to disarm Black people.

“I don’t advocate violence. Never have, never will. But I do advocate self-defense, with lethal, deadly force if need be,” he said. “They have been killing us wholesale for hundreds of years.”