A Baltimore man's inexplicable path from Quaker school to Army to Rikers Island cell

In retrospect, the message James Harris Jackson wrote to his parents in the 2007 Friends School yearbook seems particularly poignant.

"Mom & Dad," he wrote, "I will never be able to express how thankful I am for always having you guys there to support me no matter what."


But last week, a lawyer told a judge that David and Patricia Jackson are no longer going to pay for their son's defense as he faces murder, terrorism and hate crime charges in the death of a 66-year black man in New York.

Police say Jackson, 28, took a bus from Baltimore last month and spent days stalking black men. On March 20, shortly before midnight, police say, Jackson came upon Timothy Caughman picking through trash for recyclables on 9th Avenue in Manhattan. Police say Jackson stabbed Caughman multiple times with a 26-inch sword.


Jackson, who was raised in Towson and lived in Hampden, turned himself in to police just over 24 hours later. He pleaded not guilty last week.

"Mr. Jackson regarded the killing as practice prior to going to Times Square to kill additional black men," the detective who interviewed him said in charging documents. Jackson "was angered by black men mixing with white women," the detective said.

The claim became more shocking when it emerged that Jackson had graduated from Friends, the 233-year-old private school on North Charles Street that embraces the Quaker principles of non-violence and equality.

"The Friends school community has been shocked and deeply saddened by this news," Head of School Matt Micciche told The Sun. "First and foremost, of course, there is a deep sense of grief for Timothy Caughman and his friends and family."

After learning of Jackson's arrest, he alerted students' families and alumni. "We are a very close-knit community, and we felt it was important that they hear this terrible news from us."

Little is publicly known about Jackson, who went on to become a military analyst in the Army, that would begin to explain how he came to harbor racist sentiments — much less act on them.

While his family and friends have largely declined to comment, Jackson himself gave a jailhouse interview to a New York newspaper in which he said he had grown up in a liberal household but had his first racist thought at age 3 and rejected the Friends message of peace.

"I guess it's like anything — if something gets pushed on you too much, you reject it," Jackson told the Daily News.


He told the reporter he shared his views only with like-minded people online, in venues such as the Daily Stormer neo-Nazi website that is believed to have been frequented by Dylann Roof, the man convicted and sentenced to death for the racially motivated murders of nine parishioners at a black church in Charleston, S.C. in 2015.

The internet researcher credited with discovering Roof's website and manifesto said he has found Jackson's YouTube channel. The channel has no original content, but it subscribes to multiple white nationalist channels, and has liked racist videos with titles such as "Is It Time For Whites To Start Voicing Their Displeasure With Black On White Crimes?"

Jackson chose to travel to New York specifically because it is "the media capital of the world," District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in announcing the indictment against him.

Jackson grew up in Towson, the middle of three sons. His parents issued a brief statement in the aftermath of their son's arrest, extending condolences to Caughman's family, expressing horror and heartbreak and requesting privacy.

In the Daily News interview last month at Rikers Island jail, where Jackson is being held in protective custody, he described his family as being "as liberal as they come ... typical liberal Democrats."

He referred to a grandfather in Louisiana who was "very pro-integration" and had crosses burned on his lawn. His mother's father, the late Ernest Merklein Jr., was a member of the Caddo Parish school board who led efforts to integrate schools there, The Shreveport [La.] Times reported after Jackson's arrest.


Jackson attended the private Jemicy School in Owings Mills, which serves students with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences, and graduated from the middle school, a spokeswoman said.

He went on to Friends, where photos in the 2007 yearbook depict a grinning, towheaded youth. He sang bass with the concert chorale and played on the varsity golf team, according to the yearbook.

In a section predicting where the graduates would be 20 years hence, classmates imagined Jackson would be "directing his own show on the History Channel."

He captioned his senior picture with a quote from the Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca: "It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult."

On his personal page, Jackson included several photos, including one of him as a young child digging in the sand on a beach and another with his family. The page includes quotes from Alexander Hamilton, John F. Kennedy and The Quran.

He tells his parents: "I love you guys more than you know."


Former classmates contacted by The Sun have declined to speak about Jackson. Micciche, the head at Friends, also would not speak specifically about him, but said "the terrible news" has reinforced the school's commitment to values of peace, diversity and equality.

Micciche quoted a note he received from an alumnus, who wrote: "I am confident that this person's actions can be used ... to highlight how truly antithetical they are to what Friends School stands for."

Micciche said the school would redouble its efforts to equip students "to fight against racism and violence, and to bring about a better world."

"Communicating those values to our students, and encouraging them to reflect on and practice them is a critical part of everyday life at our school," he said. "It always has been and it always will be."

Nearly all Friends graduates go on to college, Micciche said. Jackson joined the Army in 2009.

"It's not a path that a large number of our students follow," Micciche said. "But it's not at all unheard of."


Occasionally, he said, students will attend one of the military academies, or enlist after college.

The Army said Jackson was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in the Ozarks of Missouri from March to June of 2009. He then moved to Fort Huachuca in southeast Arizona, home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and several technology commands.

In October 2009 he was assigned to Baumholder, Germany. In December of the following year, he began what was a nearly year-long deployment in Afghanistan. He achieved the rank of specialist in February 2011.

Jackson appears to have posted a resume on LinkedIn that details his Army work. The resume says he was an analyst in Kabul and Parwan provinces, writing and disseminating daily intelligence summaries and helping in the fight against improvised explosive devices. The resume said he also served as security manager in Baumholder, managing security clearances and overseeing computer security.

The Army would not confirm Jackson's specific duties, or specify the reason he left the service in August 2012.

Jackson took courses at University of Maryland University College in 2013, said Bob Ludwig, a spokesman for the online school. Jackson's resume on LinkedIn said he was working toward a bachelor's degree in computer networks and security, but Ludwig said he had not received a degree. Ludwig said privacy rules prevented him from disclosing the courses Jackson took.


Jackson lived in an apartment on Read Street in Mount Vernon in 2014 and 2015 and said he was studying to be a lawyer, a neighbor told The Sun. Spokesmen for the University of Baltimore and University of Maryland law schools say he was not a student at either school.

After seeing news reports about Jackson, an internet researcher who goes by the pseudonym of Henry Krinkle began doing some online sleuthing. Krinkle first drew widespread attention when he was credited with uncovering Dylann Roof's website and manifesto.

Krinkle will say only that he is in his early 30s and lives in northeast Ohio. He says he uses an alias to avoid harassment and the notoriety that could harm employment prospects.

Krinkle found the LinkedIn profile for a James Jackson, with a resume that matched details reported of Jackon's military service and included an address in Hampden where he had been living and an email address.

Googling the email address led to a Russian site in which hackers appear to dump account information of people who played online games, Krinkle said. Jackson's email was associated with a user name, "barris417," who had played Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, he said.

By plugging "barris417" into the url, he found a YouTube channel belonging to a James Jackson. The page showed that its owner had "liked" a couple of racist videos. He also liked an exercise video and, two years ago, a Royal Family Channel showing celebrities meeting Prince William.


Among the page's subscriptions are channels of the National Policy Institute, which is run by white separatist Richard B. Spencer; several devoted to Hitler; others allied with the anti-feminist movement MGTOW, or Men Going Their Own Way, and one belonging to conspiracist Alex Jones of Infowars.

"I feel that a white supremacist who stabs a random man on the street simply for being black needs to have his wretched beliefs and motivations examined and put on the public record," Krinkle said.

YouTube did not respond to a request for comment.

Jackson has been charged in New York with first- and second-degree murder as an act of terrorism, second-degree murder as a hate crime and weapons possession.

In both New York and Baltimore, demonstrators joined marches and vigils to mourn Caughman and denounce the racist sentiments that Jackson has expressed.

A vigil in Hampden drew Nell Fultz, 30, who had grown up on the same block in Towson as Jackson. The paralegal and law student said she hadn't seen him in years, but had heard that Jackson and his brother had moved to Hampden and thought she might run into them.


She never did, and was shocked when she heard the news that the Hampden man who had been arrested for the stabbing death in New York was Jackson.

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She recalled growing up on the block that backs up to the campus of Towson University.

"There was a lot of playing outside," she said.

The Jacksons, she said, "were a really nice family. They were great neighbors to have."

Sam Talkin, a New York-based criminal defense attorney withdrew from his representation of Jackson last week, telling a judge that the suspect's parents were no longer funding his defense.

Talkin, a Baltimore native and graduate of McDonogh School and the University of Maryland law school, was replaced by another New York attorney, Patrick Brackley, who was assigned to serve as Jackson's public defender.


Brackley declined to comment.

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.