Domestic Terrorism Is No Joke
On June 8, Jerad and Amanda Miller decided that the time had come to launch a revolution against the U.S. government. Their first strike was not directed against the president or Congress, but against two Las Vegas police officers as they ate their lunch at a pizza buffet restaurant. The officers did not realize they had been selected as the first targets of the revolution until the Millers opened fire on them at point-blank range. By then it was too late to react and save themselves. After relieving the dead officers of their weapons and ammunition, the Millers reportedly pinned a note to an officer's body declaring that the revolution had started. According to the Las Vegas Sun, they also covered the bodies of the officers with a Gadsden flag and left a swastika on one of them. As they left the restaurant, witnesses heard the couple yell that the revolution had begun. The Millers did not fire at the other restaurant patrons; their beef was with the authorities.
From the pizza restaurant, the Millers walked across the parking lot to a Wal-Mart. Upon entering, Jerad Miller reportedly fired a shot in the air and ordered the customers to leave the building, shouting that the police were on their way to the store. A customer who was carrying a concealed weapon attempted to confront Jerad and end the threat, but the Good Samaritan apparently did not recognize that Amanda was working with Jerad, and she shot him dead.
Police dispatched to the scene then confronted the Millers and forced them into a corner of the store, where the attackers reportedly barricaded themselves behind shelving and goods. The Millers were wounded and outnumbered by police who had reportedly commandeered the store's video camera system to vector SWAT officers to the Millers' position. Amanda Miller reportedly shot Jerad several times and then shot herself in the head, thus ending their ill-fated revolution.
While some media profiles have described them as right-wing neo-Nazi extremists, a review of the Millers' histories and social media postings paints a more complex picture of their ideology and motivations. As seen from their social media postings and their appearances in the media, the Millers did participate in the well-publicized standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and armed protesters at the Bundy Ranch in Clark County, Nevada. Jerad Miller also posted items on his Facebook account relating to chemtrail and vaccination conspiracy theories and to a number of "patriot" issues such as a strict literalist interpretation of the Second Amendment. But at the same time, in a video posted to Jerad Miller's YouTube channel, "USATruePatriot," he posited that all government is evil. In other videos he explained that citizens should be able to use whatever drug they want to get high and "pursue happiness," and he admitted to being a marijuana dealer. Jerad Miller also posted a video to his YouTube channel in March 2013 complaining that the police had arrested him and then invaded their apartment to confiscate his wife's guns. (As a convicted felon, Jerad Miller is not legally permitted to be in possession of a firearm, and his wife's keeping guns she purchased under their mutual bed is considered a violation of that law in most jurisdictions.) On Amanda Miller's Facebook account, she had posted photos of Jerad and herself participating in the Nov. 5, 2012, Anonymous Million Mask march in Lafayette, Ind.
Rather than right-wing extremists, the pair came across more as anti-authoritarian, anarchistic libertarians who had a grudge against the authorities over both left-wing (drug legalization) and right-wing (Second Amendment) issues. In the items posted to YouTube and Facebook, Jerad Miller criticized the entire spectrum of the political establishment in the United States, to include both liberals and conservatives. He criticized Christians as well as "eco fascists." A review of Jerad Miller's posts makes clear that he wanted to launch a revolution to tear the entire system down. Because of this, it is likely that the swastika left on the dead police officer was meant to symbolize that the police were fascists, rather than to signify that the Millers held neo-Nazi beliefs.
A May 2, 2014, Facebook entry written by Jerad Miller summarized their motivation as follows:
There is no greater cause to die for than liberty. To die for that cause is easy, to live for it is another matter. I will willingly die for liberty. Death, in a sense is freedom from tyranny. Death, is the easy way out. Most notably is the "suicide by cop" routine. Yes, standing before despots is dangerous and most likely does not end well for you. I know this, my wife knows this. Soon they will come for us, because they don't like what we think, and what we say. They don't like the fact that we, simply will not submit to fascist rule. We don't have much, but we are willing to sacrifice everything.......for you, for your freedoms. Even if you wouldn't let us have ours. We know who we are and what we stand for, do you?
Most of Jerad Miller's YouTube videos are rambling screeds in which he appears to have been under the influence of drugs. From the sequence of events on June 8, it would appear that his plans for launching a revolution were planned and executed in much the same manner as his videos. It is not clear why the Millers believed they could hold out against the police for long inside a Wal-Mart without hostages. Perhaps their delusional beliefs grew out of excessive exposure to Hollywood action pictures or first-person shooter video games in which one or two people can hold off an army. Perhaps they felt that with food, water and ammunition they could withstand the police response. But whatever the reason for this misconception, things were not going to end well for the couple once they decided to engage police in a firefight and entered into a pact to commit suicide rather than surrender.
Yet despite their amateurish planning and execution, the Millers were able to launch a domestic terrorist attack that took the lives of two police officers and a civilian. Their attack serves as a reminder that domestic terrorism remains a persistent threat in the United States, even when the suspects seem a little unstable or delusional. (The June 4 killing of three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in Moncton, New Brunswick, shows that this sort of anti-authoritarian violence is not only a problem in the United States.)
The case is also a tragic reminder to law enforcement officers that they need to exercise good situational awareness when in uniform, even when they are on break.
Although domestic terrorism is a persistent threat, it tends to be a low-level one. Most perpetrators, no matter their ideological bent, tend to be like the Millers and operate either as lone actors or in small groups. They also usually lack the capacity to plan and execute sophisticated, spectacular attacks. Instead, they conduct low-level bombings or armed assaults against soft targets. Domestic terrorists who can conduct spectacular, high-casualty attacks like those orchestrated by Timothy McVeigh or Anders Breivik are the exception rather than the rule. Yet even the attacks conducted by those two men were not able to spark the revolutions they hoped would ensue.
Because of this, in many ways, the implications for domestic terrorist threats are essentially the same as they are for the grassroots jihadist threat. First, it is critical for police and the public to remember that terrorist attacks do not appear out of nowhere. Individuals planning an attack — no matter what their motivation or ideology — follow a discernable cycle, and that cycle contains points at which the attack can be detected and stopped before it is carried out. Indeed, it appears that the Millers conducted preoperational surveillance of the pizza restaurant before launching their attack, and it would not be a surprise if investigators eventually learn that the pair conducted a walk-through of the Wal-Mart to which they retreated. Media reports also indicate that they told their friend and neighbor of their plan, but she did not believe them and did not call the police. "If you see something, say something," is a principle that also applies to domestic terrorism, not only to the jihadist threat.
Due to his March 2013 arrest in Indiana, Jerad Miller was known to be a felon who was prone to carrying a weapon. We have not been able to learn the disposition of that case, or whether Miller's reason for leaving Indiana was to avoid prison time for the felon-in-possession arrest, but if authorities monitoring the Bundy ranch situation had run him for a criminal history, they should have been able to quickly identify him as a felon in possession of a firearm because of the weapons he was observed carrying there.
It is also important for everyone to understand that it is physically impossible for governments to protect all potential targets (even law enforcement officers) from every sort of attack. If potential assailants' preoperational activities go undetected, their chances of launching an attack and killing or injuring someone are high, even if they are untrained and their plan is not very well thought out.