The suspect arrested following a mass shooting in Laguna Woods, California’s Geneva Presbyterian Church this weekend appeared in a local Las Vegas report holding up a banner against Taiwanese “demons” at an event for a group with ties to the Chinese government, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Tuesday.
David Chou (Chou Wenwei), is being charged with murder and attempted murder after opening fire at a Taiwanese luncheon honoring a pastor at the church on Sunday afternoon, injuring five and killing one person. Police later stated that they had found evidence in his car that the reason for his attack was his opposition to the existence of an independent Taiwan.
Taiwan is an independent country governed under a free and democratic system, but the Chinese Communist Party claims it falsely as a rogue “province” that it wishes to “reunify” with the “mainland.” Taiwan has never in its history been governed by any regime in Beijing.
Prior to the shooting, Chou, a 68-year-old alleged retired professor who the Taiwanese government confirmed is a citizen of that country, had participated in at least one event with a Chinese regime-linked group seeking the end of Taiwan’s sovereignty, RFA revealed.
“California church killer David Chou has close ties to a Taiwan ‘peaceful reunification’ group linked to the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department,” RFA noted, highlighting that the United Front office is an advocacy umbrella organization for the Chinese government. “The group … is a local branch of the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification (NACPU) under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s United Front Work Department.”
The name of the specific group identified is the Las Vegas Association for China’s Peaceful Unification; Chou appears to be a Las Vegas resident.
The Chinese-language LVNews website posted an article in April 2019, still published at press time, reporting on the group’s inaugural meeting. Chou appears in a photo from the event holding up a banner whose message RFA translated as calling for “eradication of pro-independence demons.” The caption on the photo identifies the man as Chou Wenwei, “a local retired professor.”
— 新‧二七部隊 軍事雜談 (New 27 Brigade) (@new27brigade) May 17, 2022
Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper similarly reported Chou’s membership in the group on Tuesday. It noted that the head of the “peaceful reunification” group, Gu Yawen, had “immediately distanced himself” from the suspected shooter in a Chinese-language interview with a publication identified as “China Review.” Gu reportedly confirmed that Zhou was present at the meeting where he was photographed but claimed that he had stopped participating in group events in late 2019. The onset of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 prompted the state of California to lock down, then heavily discourage mass gatherings, possibly a factor in his absence.
Gu described Chou’s ideas as “too extreme” for his group.
The U.S. Department of State designated the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification (NACPU), the parent organization of Gu’s group, a “foreign mission” of the Chinese government in 2020.
“The United Front Work Department (UFWD) is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) organ tasked with co-opting and neutralizing threats to the party’s rule and spreading its influence and propaganda overseas,” then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “The CCP regards this party apparatus as a ‘magic weapon’ to advance Beijing’s policies.”
Police revealed on Monday that Chou appeared to have chosen to attack the church due to his opposition to the existence of a Taiwanese state.
“We believe, based on what we’ve discovered so far, that he specifically targeted the Taiwanese community, and this is one representation of that Taiwanese community,” Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Don Barnes told reporters.
California reports are describing the attack as a “hate crime” against Taiwanese people, though the Orange County Sheriff’s Office has carefully omitted the word “hate” from its description of the event, stating only that officials believe Chou was “upset about political tensions involving China and Taiwan.”
The suspect in the Laguna Woods church shooting has been identified and additional details of the investigation have been released. Read the details below. pic.twitter.com/kDRHMrUgY7
— OC Sheriff, CA (@OCSheriff) May 17, 2022
The Los Angeles Times, citing law enforcement officials, stated that Chou had left notes in his car opposing the existence of the country of Taiwan.
The hesitance to describe the event as a hate crime may follow confirmation from the Taiwanese government that Chou was born in Taiwan himself and served in the Taiwanese military. Eyewitnesses said that Chou spoke to attendees of the luncheon he attacked in Taiwanese.
“Many of the 100 or so members of Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which rents space at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, are elderly Taiwanese immigrants,” the Los Angeles Times observed. “Some said that Chou spoke to them in Taiwanese before opening fire with a handgun at a luncheon to honor a former longtime pastor.”
Chou injured five people and killed a sixth, all between the ages of 66 and 92. The fatal victim, Dr. John Cheng, was a sports medicine professional and martial arts enthusiast who reportedly charged at the shooter to prevent him from killing others, losing his life in the process. Dr. Cheng’s intervention, witnesses said, made it possible for congregants to hog-tie Chou with an extension cord; police found Chou in that position when they responded to emergency calls.
“That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect,” Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock later said. “They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities. I think it’s safe to say that had people not intervened, it could have been much worse.’