Domestic Far-Right Terrorism: What Las Vegas Police Killings Show About Evolving Sovereign Movement
On June 8, 2014, Jerad Dwain Miller, 31, and his wife Amanda Woodruff Miller, 22, entered a Las Vegas pizzeria and without any provocation or warning, shot and killed two police officers sitting in a booth eating lunch. The pair dragged the officers to the floor, took their weapons and ammunition, and draped a yellow flag over one of the bodies. They placed a swastika-stamped manifesto on top of the flag, and pinned a note on the other officer’s body that read, “This is the start of the revolution.”
The couple continued their spree in a nearby Wal-Mart. Jerad wore military-style clothing and body armor and he yelled to the Wal-Mart shoppers, “Tell the police the revolution has begun.” To emphasize his announcement, he fired a round into the ceiling, while Amanda shot and killed a brave bystander who tried to stop them. They engaged the police in a shootout for roughly fifteen minutes while hiding in a shopping aisle in the back of the store. Amanda aimed her weapon at her husband, but he had already been hit by a bullet from a police rifle, so she turned the gun on herself and pulled the trigger while the police watched the couple through a security camera.
Like so many their ages, the Millers led a very public life through their various social media accounts, and both the press and a curious public scrutinized every post, comment, video, and photo seeking an explanation for their murderous spree.
The couple had moved from Indiana to Las Vegas in January, enmeshed themselves in local politics, and in mid-April, had traveled to the Bundy Ranch to provide armed support to the rancher during his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. They were working as street performers in Las Vegas, but had sold everything they owned in order to join the standoff, only to be kicked off of the ranch a few days later.
Jerad had a lengthy criminal history ranging from stealing a car to dealing marijuana, and as a convicted felon, neither he nor Amanda was allowed to keep guns. Angry at this limitation, Jerad had posted numerous anti-gun control messages and videos.
The story above is bursting with clues about the killers, their objectives, beliefs, and participation in the rapidly expanding Sovereign subculture. Unfortunately, many press reports and pundits seem to be relying on outdated assumptions about the Sovereign movement that don’t take into account that the shooters were young.
Sovereigns do not participate in an organized group that has a membership list or annual dues; they simply share a list of common goals, methods, symbols, and influences which can vary significantly depending on their age group.
A 75-year-old Sovereign, for example, is likely to be an extreme right-wing, white man with military experience living in a rural community who was attracted to the movement in the 1970s or 80s, when white supremacist and paramilitary leaders recruited using Christian Identity and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Violent government confrontations like the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco attracted even more new adherents. While the older Sovereign may have self-identified as a white separatist before the 1990s, he has likely dropped that label in recent years, aware of the stigma of being called a racist.
A 50-year old likely entered the movement after falling for a tax or debt elimination scam. This groups is mostly male, with political beliefs that range from extreme right wing to Tea Party, mostly white, and has drifted from guru to guru in search of a legal scheme that works. He probably served in the military and does not consider himself a racist because he uses neutral terminology, “international banking family” instead of “Jewish conspiracy,” for example.
Jerad and Amanda, at 31 and 22, belong to youngest subgroup within the Sovereign world. This group is racially diverse, both male and female, urban and rural, and usually self-identifies as libertarians without actually agreeing with or even knowing the Libertarian party’s political platform. Having neither high income taxes nor mortgaged homes in risk of foreclosure, a person in this group likely entered the movement as an angry veteran who has recently left the military, as a child raised by Sovereigns, or through seemingly unrelated groups such as Anonymous, the 9/11 “Truth” movement, the Occupy movement, or the legalized marijuana community.
The Shooters’ Sovereign Markers
Each generation of Sovereigns has its own unique trends, a kind of checklist of red flags or markers to determine how embedded they are in the mindset and beliefs of the movement.
If the goal is to assess the potential violent risk a person poses, this set of age-dependent markers is key. While it might seem intuitive that those who check off the most boxes on the list of Sovereign traits are the most likely to resort to violence, it’s actually the outliers that pose the greatest risk. People who experience a strong sense of community have a shared outlet for expressing their anger, fears, and frustrations. Sovereigns who don’t are desperate for attention and inclusion in the club.
The day that Jerad and Amanda Miller were forced to leave the Bundy Ranch standoff for being “too extreme” for the militia leaders’ agenda may have been a crucial turning point in their decision to lash out violently. Lone wolves are, by definition, excluded from the pack.
The following information comes from the various Facebook, YouTube, Google+, InfoWars, and press statements made by Jerad and Amanda, along with evidence released so far by the police in their investigation, and comments made by friends and fellow Bundy Ranch supporters.
Twisting the law to justify breaking the law: The most basic definition of a Sovereign is someone who tries to rationalize doing something illegal by manipulating the meaning of words, relying on fabricates or out of context quotes, and editing history itself. There are dozens of such examples of this on the Millers’ social media pages and videos, and it is the same technique used by Cliven Bundy to graze his cattle for free on federal land.
In an interview with a Nevada journalist, Jerad argues that Federal government is prohibited from owning land and recites the Enclave Clause of the U.S. Constitution without ever mentioning the Property Clause. He also channels the Founding Fathers to justify taking up arms against the Bureau of Land Management.
“What [the BLM] is doing is what’s bringing us here, so we’re not instigating anything at all. We’re here in response to their criminal activity as we see it. Sure, they have `the law’ on their side but is it a Constitutional law, that’s the issue. Another big issue is that our view of Constitutionality differs from theirs. You know, we’re a little more strict on following the Constitution in our opinion, but I’m sure if our founders were alive today, they’d be rolling over in their graves or picking up a gun and doing what we’re doing.” Jerad Miller on NBC News, April 15, 2014. The full-length interview filmed at Bundy Ranch is available here.
Political affiliation: The Millers had moved from Indiana to Las Vegas in early January to support the Independent American Party (IAP) candidate for Nevada Governor, David Lory VanDerBeek. The Nevada IAP was started by the family of a notorious tax protester as “the sovereign citizens of Nevada” and, with roughly 70,000 registered voters, is the third largest political party in the state. Cliven and Carol Bundy joined the IAP last month.
Introduction to the Movement: Prior to moving to Las Vegas, Jerad had significant legal issues. In addition to numerous other brushes with the law, he had gone to jail for dealing marijuana. As a convicted felon, not only was he prohibited from owning guns, his new wife Amanda was also restricted from keeping such weapons in their shared home. He railed about the unfairness of the restriction on YouTube under the name USATruePatriot, in videos he titled “Would George Washington use an AK?” and “second amendment logic.” Metallica’s “Don’t Tread on Me” plays in the background of the first video. Miller quotes the Constitution, and cobbles together a series of quasi-legal arguments and reinvented history to justify his opinion that he should be armed despite his felony record.
Million Mask March: Many younger sovereigns are fascinated with ideas of a youth revolution, anarchy, and hacktivism (a portmanteau of hack and activism), even though the majority of them are not particularly computer savvy. They often call themselves Anonymous and wear the mask and costume of the central character in the movie V for Vendetta. Both Jerad and Amanda belonged to such a group in Indiana, and participated in a “Million Mask March” in Lafayette. The event appears to have been small and peaceful, but several other such marches around the world have erupted in violence.
The Gadsden Flag: After shooting the two officers in the Las Vegas pizzeria, Jerad and Amanda draped a symbolic flag over one of the officers. The yellow Gadsden flag dates back to the American Revolution and depicts a snake on a yellow background with the words “Don’t Tread on Me” below. Many right-wing groups such as Sovereigns, the Tea Party, the Oath Keepers, and various militia organizations use this flag as a common symbol, to warn the government that if pressured, they will bite. By placing the flag over an authority figure they had just killed, the Millers sent a clear message: this is what happens when you mess with us.
The Call for Revolution: According to witnesses, one of the shooters said, “Tell the police the Revolution has begun,” or a phrase similar to this, and they pinned a note on a deceased officer that said, “This is the start of the revolution.“ Sovereigns fervently believe that a Second American Revolution is inevitable, where the tyrannical government will fall to a heavily armed citizenry in a violent uprising. Various Patriot leaders and gurus have spent more than forty years warning others to prepare by accumulating weapons, ammunition, food, and supplies. A few take it one step further by initiating violence in hopes of acting as a catalyst for this war. Timothy McVeigh’s goals, for example, weren’t just to murder 168 people, bring down a symbolic building, and punish the government for its role in the standoffs at Waco and Ruby Ridge. He wanted to make his mark in history by providing the Patriot movement with the spark that would light the fires of revolution. Ironically, the Sovereign movement is made up of highly paranoid people who tend to believe that every violent act in recent history is a “false flag” operation set in motion by the evil government, so the odds of such an event triggering a Revolution are quite slim.
Fascination with Armed Standoffs: When news of Cliven Bundy’s stand against the Bureau of Land Management spread in early April, the event was labeled the next Waco by Bundy. The IAP candidate for Nevada Governor, David Lory VanDerBeek, wrote a call to arms to his supporters entitled “Why the Bundy Ranch Will Be Waco-Slaughter II.”
Jerad parroted these statements on his Facebook page.
“I will be supporting Clive Bundy and his family from Federal Government slaughter. This is the next Waco! His ranch is under siege right now! The federal gov is stealing his cattle! Arresting his family and beating on them! We must do something, I will be doing something.” Jerad Miller, April 9, 2014
Racism: When the police first announced details about the Las Vegas shooting, they characterized the killers as “white supremacists” and continue to paint the Bundy standoff in such terms.
“There’s a lot of people that were attracted to the Bundy Ranch for a variety of reasons. That was a significant event in our history here. There were a lot of people with a lot of ideology. There were a lot of people that were self-described militia, white supremacists, and sovereign citizens.” Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill, April 11, 2014
While there are a significant number of Islamophobes within the Bundy support groups, as evidenced by the endless flow of anti-Muslim propaganda posted on Facebook communities such as Stand With the Bundys, there have been no white supremacy issues discussed. The most egregious, overtly racist comments made in the last two months involve a couple of doctored photographs of President and Mrs. Obama holding watermelons. (Bundy Ranch is a melon farm.) Compared to what you find on white separatist websites, characterizing this group as white supremacist distorts the situation.
Even Cliven Bundy’s now-famous “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro” speech is likely an indication of his ignorance rather than racial animus. Like many Sovereigns, Bundy has bought into a number of “alternative” histories, including one espoused by Cleon Skousen who believed that tales of slavery conditions were greatly exaggerated. The copy of the annotated Constitution that various Bundy family members carry around and distribute was published by Skousen.
On their social media accounts, Jerad and Amanda showed no signs of racism at all. Jerad expressed nothing but contempt for racists and “that swill that comes out of their mouths.” He also posted a picture on his page saying, “You’re not a white, black, yellow or brown. You’re an American. Start acting like it.”
Nazi Comparisons: When Jerad and Amanda Miller left a pamphlet stamped with a swastika on the deceased officer’s body, they were labeling the officer as a Nazi, not promoting neo-Nazism. Had the couple been part of the older generation of Sovereigns (70+), the message would have been quite different, but for the youngest generation of them, Nazis are evil. The message the Millers sent is: “I am labeling you as a jack-booted Nazi thug.” Comparing authority figures such as the Bureau of Land Management employees and local law enforcement involved in the standoff to Nazis has been one of the most common memes throughout the various Bundy support groups. This is a fairly new trend and seems to have trickled down from the hyped-up rhetoric used by some Tea Party leaders in recent years.
For example, in his call for Bundy support, the IAP Candidate for Governor compared the officers holding Tasers at the Bundy protest area to Nazi officers.
“p.s. in the video below shot by radio host Pete Santilli you can see the Nazi brown shirts in action.” David Lory VanDerBeek, April 9, 2014
Miscellaneous Sovereign Markers: The Millers kept multiple social media pages filled with dozens of other clues about their Sovereign ideology. There are pages on tax protest theories, redemption schemes, popular (and sometimes fabricated) quotes from founding fathers, erroneous legal theories, jokes about being labeled a domestic terrorist just like Jefferson and Washington, and hundreds of examples of heavy-handed, Sovereign rhetoric. More than half of the posts, comments, and shared articles focus on examples of abusive police officers and conspiracy theories ranging from “chem-trails” and fluoride to fake 9/11 evidence and false flags events.
From Ideology to Action
Jerad and Amanda Miller had moved to Las Vegas to support IAP candidates and meet like-minded people. They started frequenting political functions and gatherings and volunteered to help out. In February, they attended both an Oath Keepers monthly meeting and a sheriff’s debate hosted by the Nevada Libertarian Party, where Jerad had former Sheriff and Bundy supporter Richard Mack sign his copy of Orwell’s 1984.
When the Bundy standoff started, the Millers sold everything they owned, and drove to Bunkerville, eager to join the cause. After only a few days at the Ranch, they were expelled, and based on their social media posts, Jerad grew angry and despondent. It is unclear what the actual circumstances were for the removal; ever since the identities of the shooters were made public earlier this week, four different people have claimed responsibility for removing them from the standoff. Bundy supporter and former Las Vegas detective Gordon Martines also says that he had asked them to stay away from his political campaign for County Sheriff. Jerad’s drug and criminal history could harm Martines’ reputation.
By the end of April, the couple was completely broke, unemployed, and effectively exiled from a community they had given up everything to join. Jerad reached out to some of the other local voices in the movement, but found that most such activists were big on words, minimal on action, and did little more than post anti-government pictures and rants on the Internet.
On May 1st, word spread among the Bundy supporter community that the FBI would be investigating and prosecuting those who had provided armed support or threatened local businesses.
On May 2nd, Jerad’s posts took a dark turn:
“This cop needs to be shot and then displayed for all others to see. Time to let these Nazi thugs who really runs the show here in this country. We need to string all of them up and make an example for the next generation that these acts will not be tolerated. They answer to us, not the other way around. Time we start asking the hard questions and lay the hammer down on those who truly deserve it.” Jerad Miller, May 7, 2014
Later on the same day:
”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.” Jerad Miller, May 7, 2014
He posted more purported abuse cases from the Cop Block Facebook page, and then on May 7th and 8th, he asked his friends for guns in three different posts.
“So, if anyone can send me a rifle to help stand against tyranny, let me know. Revolution is coming and we are not prepared! Help!” May 7, 2014
One friend responded that he thought he could help, but that person has since changed his name on Facebook and deleted the offer. Later on May 8th, a local news channel ran a detailed report about the threats that had gone on in Bunkerville paired with promises from law enforcement that arrests would be made.
In mid-May, Jerad expressed interest in a massive protest that a retired military man had scheduled for May 16th in Washington, DC. The organizer bragged that he had confirmation that at least 10 million angry Americans had committed to attend. It was called “Operation American Spring” and the stated goal was to remove federal officials by any means necessary and replace them with freedom-loving leaders. Roughly 500 protesters showed up, and they were a strange mix of elderly veterans, middle-aged people carrying Gadsden flags, and young people wearing V for Vendetta masks. Much of the live video feed showed people edging their way before the camera to pitch their favorite conspiracy theories and hundreds of tourists taking pictures of the strange group.
On June 2nd, Jerad posted a manifesto that was heavy on emotional rhetoric but had little substance. By this point, the only people responding to or “liking” his posts were his wife, a couple of family members and friends, and the campaign manager for David Lory VanDerBeek. No one suggested that Jerad seek help. No one called to warn the police. The day after the shooting, the campaign manager deleted a photo of the Millers posing with her and the candidate.
The police investigating the triple murder will presumably release additional information that sheds a brighter light on the Millers’ motive. Jerad’s drug use may be a factor, for example. But with a crime that is clearly motivated by political ideology, the movement that has provided context for this couple cannot be ignored.