The Wall Street Journal By ERIN AILWORTH and DAN FROSCH
HOUSTON—After he returned home from an Army tour in Afghanistan in 2014, Micah Xavier Johnson floated around the fringes of various black nationalist groups in Texas, a solitary figure who would appear at different events but seemed to vanish just as quickly.
The extent of his affiliation with such groups after leaving Afghanistan is still unknown. But it appears his interest in them grew as the issue of police brutality gained prominence with several high-profile deaths and protests.
People associated with activist organizations that interacted with him during this time described Johnson, who killed five police officers in Dallas during a shooting rampage last week, as introverted. And they said he expressed a burning anger toward law enforcement as well as black leaders he felt weren’t doing enough to address police brutality.
Roughly two years ago, he spent about six months as a member of the New Black Panther Nation in Houston, according to Quanell X, who runs the group.
After leaving that group, Johnson also began exploring radical black empowerment movements in Dallas, a city that has long been home to a prominent activist community born out of the city’s history of racial divisions.
Investigators are still scouring Johnson’s background for clues about why he told police in the final hours of his life that he wanted to kill white officers.
Those who knew Johnson in high school and during his military service said he had a racially diverse social circle, and don’t remember him expressing frustration with police.
According to Quanell X, Johnson had sought out his particular group beginning in 2014, traveling from Dallas to attend meetings. At one point, he said, Mr. Johnson told the group he wanted to harm some black mega-church preachers because he considered them to be more interested in money than God. These statements made the group “extremely concerned,” the activist said, and led it to bar him from its functions.
Quanell X said he never reported the incident to police because Johnson never made any specific threats. He said he was contacted by the FBI this week to discuss his interaction with Johnson.
Houston police said they met with Quanell X and other community activists Tuesday to talk about police-community relations. Quanell X said the group discussed the Dallas shootings and Black Lives Matter, but that he didn’t raise Micah Johnson’s onetime involvement in the New Black Panther Nation.
Houston police deferred all questions related to the Johnson investigation to the Dallas Police. A Dallas police spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of its investigation into Johnson.
Johnson was sent home from Afghanistan in 2014 after a sexual harassment allegation against him and was discharged last year. In an interview with online media site The Blaze, his mother, Delphene Johnson, said her son was disappointed with his military experience, and became a “hermit” after his service ended.
He “liked” several groups on his Facebook page, including several deemed hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights organization that tracks extremist groups.
The New Black Panther Nation isn’t listed as a hate group by the SPLC, nor is Quanell X classified as an extremist by the organization, according to its online database.
Kendrick Colston, a photojournalist in the Dallas area, said he remembered seeing Johnson at a demonstration in the city held by several black nationalist groups in April to counter a white militia group that traveled to Dallas to protest at a mosque.
On May 14, Johnson attended a ‘Black Power Block Party,’ an event sponsored by a group called the Black Women’s Defense League and held in a North Dallas park, said Mr. Colston, who shared with The Wall Street Journal pictures he’d taken of Johnson at the event. The group isn’t listed as a hate group by the SPLC.
Mr. Colston said he introduced himself to Johnson, watching him try on a dashiki, a traditional West African tunic, which he eventually bought. The two struck up a brief conversation.
“He was real quiet and soft-spoken,” Mr. Colston said. “He said that police couldn’t keep murdering our young black men and women, and being slapped on the back and told they were doing a good job. He said that it was unfair and something had to give.”
Photos of the event portray a festive scene of smiling families and young people, listening to speakers, chatting and posing for pictures.
Johnson, though, appears solemn and serious in several photographs, his fist raised while donning his new garb. In one photo, he sits by himself staring at the ground.
Two weeks later, Johnson attended an event in honor of Malcom X’s birthday at an African-American bookstore in Dallas that serves as a gathering place for local activists. A photo also taken by Mr. Colston shows him wearing the same purple and gold dashiki he had bought several weeks earlier.
Yafeuh Balogun, co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, a group that advocates that African-Americans arm themselves for protection against police brutality, said he met Johnson briefly last year. The group also isn’t listed as a hate group by the SPLC.
Mr. Balogun said they met at a demonstration in support of Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore in 2015 from a broken neck sustained while being transported in a police van. Mr. Balogun said the conversation was simply an exchange of greetings, and that Johnson wasn’t a member of his group.
“We didn’t have any type of connection,” he said, nor did they speak again after.