On Sunday a married couple with links to the anti-government extreme Right murdered two police officers in a Las Vegas pizza restaurant and a customer at a Walmart before killing themselves.
“There is no doubt that the suspects have an ideology that’s along the lines of militia and white supremacists,” said Kevin C. McMahill, assistant sheriff of Clark County, during a news conference Monday.
Police identified the shooters as Jerad Miller, 31, and his wife, Amanda Miller, 22. The couple shot and killed Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck, two Las Vegas police officers, inside a CiCi’s Pizza. They then went into a nearby Wal-Mart, where they fatally shot Joseph Wilcox, who was shopping in the store and tried to stop the attackers. After a firefight with police officers inside the store, the couple took their own lives.
While authorities said they believed this was an isolated, random act, they also said they were investigating the ideology of the two shooters. They believe that the fact that they placed a swastika on the bodies of one of the people they killed Sunday suggested that they equated law enforcement “with the Nazi movement,” McMahill said. Police also said they are investigating reports that one or both of the Millers went to the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy during a standoff with federal authorities earlier this year.
A neighbor told the Los Angeles Times that on Sunday morning, Jerad Miller had pulled out swastikas and an Army insignia and said he was going to put one on every police officer they killed. ”I’m thinking, ‘Right. They’re not going to do that,” Kelly Fielder said. “I should have called the cops. I feel I have the deaths of five people on my shoulders. The signs were there.”
Fielder described Jerad Miller as hateful of the government and of President Obama, while she said Amanda Miller was “a good girl who would do anything to make her man happy.”
The pair had numerous handguns, a shotgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition with them on Sunday. ”It appeared as if they were prepared for a lengthy gun battle,” McMahill said.
Jerad Miller shot and killed Officer Igor Soldo, 31, who was married with a baby, police said. Both Millers then fired multiple shots at Alyn Beck, 41, a married father of six. The pair then took the slain officers out of their booth and laid them on the ground, covering Beck with a yellow Gadsden flag that read “Don’t Tread on Me” and placing a swastika on his body.
I’m skeptical that the Millers had any direct ties to the Nazi movement. I suspect the placement of the swastika was meant to suggest that the police themselves were Nazis, although trying to making any logical sense of their ideology is probably a fool’s errand. The Gadsden flag, which was designed during the American Revolution, has come to be associated with the tea party and militia movements.
They also pinned a note to Salvo that read, “This is the beginning of the revolution,” McMahill said, and they repeated that phrase to people in the restaurant before leaving and heading to a nearby Wal-Mart.
Jerad Miller had posted a lengthy statement on his Facebook page last week writing that the country was facing oppression that could only be stopped “with bloodshed.”
The couple apparently was committed to an anti-government belief system typified by hatred of law enforcement and the notion that the federal government has no authority over them, said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.
“This isn’t the first attack from people who show these kinds of beliefs,” she said Monday in a telephone interview from the organization’s headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. “They come to see the government as the enemy. The fact that these two shot cops is right in that line of thinking.”
In 2010, a similar strain of anti-government rage resulted in two family members killing two police officers in West Memphis, Ark. That episode concluded in a Wal-Mart parking lot, as Jerry Ralph Kane Jr., and his 16-year-old son, Joseph, died in a firefight with law enforcement officials.
Earlier this year, a man plotted to kidnap and kill police officers in Las Vegas as part of the anti-government “sovereign citizen” movement, which believes that governments operate illegally. The FBI has called the sovereign citizen extremists a “growing domestic threat,” one that has had violent and fatal encounters with law enforcement officials.
There were 43 violent incidents between law enforcement officials and extremists, with 30 police officers shot and 14 killed, between 2009 and 2013, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Police said Monday they were investigating reports that one or both of the Millers went to Bundy’s ranch earlier this year. Bundy’s long dispute with the federal government became a national story in April when an armed group of supporters converged on his Nevada ranch as part of a standoff with Bureau of Land Management agents looking to seize his cattle. Jerad Miller had told people that he went to the ranch but was turned away because he was a convicted felon.
Ammon Bundy, Cliven Bundy’s son, told the Associated Press on Monday that the Millers were at the ranch for a few days before being told to leave because of their conduct.
Meanwhile, a video located by ThinkProgress on Monday showed a man identified as “Jarad Miller” being interviewed at the Bundy ranch. The Post has not confirmed that this is the same Miller named as one of the shooters in Las Vegas.
Bundy’s wife, Carol, said Sunday that the shooting and the standoff at the ranch were not related.
“I have not seen or heard anything from the militia and others who have came to our ranch that would, in any way, make me think they had an intent to kill or harm anyone,” she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Monday highlighted the reports saying the shooters had gone to Bundy’s ranch, saying that the rancher had “put our people in grave danger by calling in armed citizens from around the country.”
Since 2009 we have posted about a number of other violent attacks and would-be attacks in the US by anti-government extremists, antisemites and white supremacists (see here, here, here, here and here).
A few years ago Republican Congressman Peter King of New York held hearings on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”
Given King’s support for the Irish Republican Army during its violent phase in the 1980s, I wrote:
As I recall, and perhaps fortunately for King, nobody ever suggested holding Congressional hearings about “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Irish Community and that Community’s Response.”
More seriously, and given the pattern of targeting law enforcement officers, perhaps it’s time for Congressional hearings into the extent of radicalization of the anti-government community.
Update: I agree with Paul Waldman:
What I’m about to say will raise some hackles, but we need to talk about it. It’s long past time for prominent conservatives and Republicans to do some introspection and ask whether they’re contributing to outbreaks of right-wing violence.
Before I go on, let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that Republican members of Congress bear direct responsibility for everything some disturbed person from the same side of the political spectrum as them might do. I’m not saying that they are explicitly encouraging violence. Nor am I saying that you can’t find examples of liberals using hyperbolic, irresponsible words.
But what I am saying is this: there are some particular features of conservative political rhetoric today that help create an atmosphere in which violence and terrorism can germinate.
The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns. But that’s only part of it. Just as meaningful is the conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office. If you tuned into one of many national television and radio programs on the right, you heard over and over that Obama was imposing a totalitarian state upon us. You might hear that FEMA was building secret concentration camps (Glenn Beck, the propagator of that theory, later recanted it, though he has a long history of violent rhetoric), or that Obama is seeding the government with agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. You grandfather probably got an email offering proof that Obama is literally the antichrist.
Meanwhile, conservatives have become prone to taking the political disagreements of the moment and couching them in apocalyptic terms, encouraging people to think that if Democrats have their way on any given debate, that our country, or at the very least our liberty, might literally be destroyed.
In our recent history, every election of a Democratic president is followed by a rise in conspiracy-obsessed right-wing populism. In the 1960s it was the John Birch Society; in the 1990s it was the militia movement shouting about black UN helicopters, and during the Obama presidency it was the Tea Party. Some of those movements are ultimately harmless, but alongside and around them are people who take their rhetoric seriously and lash out in response. After these killings in Nevada, and the murders at a Jewish community center in Kansas, and the murders at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and multiple murders by members of the “sovereign citizens” movement in the last few years, it’s worth remembering that since 9/11, right-wing terrorism has killed many more Americans than al Qaeda terrorism.
And I promise you, these murders in Nevada will not be the last. It may be going too far to say that conservative politicians and media figures whose rhetoric has fed the deranged fantasies of terrorists and killers have blood on their hands. But they shouldn’t have a clear conscience, either.