Daniel Rowe was apparently enraged at the sight of a black man and a white woman kissing on the streets of Olympia, Washington, Tuesday night (US time). But police say he hid his violent intent behind a stony face until he was close enough to strike.
The attack happened about 8.30 pm in the state's capital city on Fourth Avenue, a downtown street busy with people going to a local movie theater or visiting bars and restaurants, Washinton Post reported.
Rowe had recently been released from Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, about 300 miles away. Police say he may have been among the ranks of the state's homeless, who flock to Olympia for help on their way to Portland or Seattle.
Rowe, 32, walked up to the couple and, without warning, yelled a racial slur and lunged with his knife, police say. The blade grazed the woman and went into the man's hip, according to a news release from Olympia police.
"The suspect is unknown to the victims and the attack appears to have been unprovoked," police said in the statement.
After the attack, Rowe ran off as stunned onlookers dialed 911. The 47-year-old male victim, not realising how badly he was injured, chased Rowe and "tripped him up," said Lt. Paul Lower, a police department spokesman. Rowe hit his head on the ground and was knocked unconscious.
No one involved had life-threatening injuries, but police said Rowe's behavior grew stranger as officers tried to wrestle him into the back of a patrol car.
"He tells them, 'Yeah, I stabbed them. I'm a white supremacist,'" Lower said. "He begins talking about Donald Trump rallies and attacking people at the Black Lives Matter protest."
According to court documents obtained by the Olympian, Rowe, who was unconscious when police encountered him, had tattoos that read "skinhead," "white power" and "hooligan." One tattoo showed the Confederate flag.
Rowe was arrested and booked into the Thurston County Jail on two charges of first-degree assault and possible malicious harassment, which in Washington state is a designation used for hate crimes. The investigation continues.
"This has all the hallmarks of a hate crime," Deputy Prosecutor Joseph Wheeler said at Rowe's court hearing Wednesday, according to the Olympian. "This black-and-white couple was simply expressing their love for one another."
According to the newspaper, Rowe had been imprisoned for a 2008 conviction for second-degree robbery.
Rowe told police he had come to Olympia in response to anti-police graffiti that had been written over the weekend. Police were still investigating who wrote the graffiti, the spokesman said.
As the capital city and seat of the Washington state government, Olympia has seen its share of protests on controversial national and local topics, Lower said.
A year ago, protesters organized several demonstrations after a police officer shot and wounded two black men accused of stealing beer. The Seattle Times described the protest:
"It all began Saturday night when 150 protesters, some wearing masks, marched through downtown to counter-protest a planned gathering of white supremacists, an Olympia Police Department spokeswoman said Sunday.
"Some vehicle windows were broken and car tires were slashed. A man was stabbed in the arm about 9:30 p.m. Saturday, although that incident was thought to be unrelated to the protest, police spokeswoman Laura Wohl said."
In 2014, the FBI reported 5,479 hate crimes across the United States, a 14.6 percent decrease from 2013.
Lower stressed that Rowe is not connected to any of the city's protest groups.
In fact, investigators aren't sure whether he is connected to anyone in the area, Lower said. And officers were scratching their heads at Rowe's comments about fighting Black Lives Matter during a Donald Trump rally. Neither had events planned in Washington this week.