No one knows exactly what triggered Jerad and Amanda Miller’s weekend shooting rampage that left two Las Vegas police officers, a Wal-Mart shopper and themselves dead.
But the couple acted out anti-government leanings in a horrific way in the aftermath of what is perceived as a victory within right-wing extremist circles — the April 12 armed showdown in Bunkerville that forced the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to stop removing rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle from federal land.
“I think you could say the Millers, doing what they did, came in an environment that was emboldened because of the success in Bunkerville,” said Ryan Lenz, a senior writer for the anti-racist Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama.
“They were staring down the barrel of a gun, and they got the federal government to suspend the rule of law. The next thing you know you have a young couple in Las Vegas shooting law enforcement officers and putting on their dead bodies symbols of the patriot movement and saying ‘this is a revolution.’”
Militia groups, sovereign citizens and tax protesters, who all share anti-government beliefs, make up the patriot movement across the United States.
Lenz, who was in Bunkerville as a Poverty Law Center observer, said the standoff has become “without a doubt” a major moment in the history of the anti-government extremist movement.
“There were hundreds of heavily armed patriots who decided they were going to stand against the federal government,” he said. “They were ready to fire if need be.”
Lenz, who is preparing a report on the Bunkerville showdown and its impact on the patriot movement, said he was surprised no bloodshed occurred.
“It was tense,” he said. “All it took was someone to make a mistake, and it would have gone south.”
The FBI has since launched a criminal investigation into threats made against federal and local law enforcement officers during the standoff.
Mark Pitcavage, a top Anti-Defamation League researcher, said he doesn’t consider what happened in Bunkerville a total victory for the anti-government extremists.
Not long after the standoff, racist remarks made by Bundy became public, tarnishing his position. Until then, a broad range of supporters had rallied to his cause, including mainstream conservative politicians and a Fox News television anchor.
And a San Antonio man said to have ties to the sovereign citizens movement tried to help Bundy in court, but a federal judge ordered him to stop filing frivolous court papers. Sovereign citizens have declared themselves above the government’s jurisdiction and not obligated to pay taxes. Occasionally, they commit acts of violence, but they are better known for clogging the courts with nonsensical documents.
Lenz and Pitcavage agree Bundy’s front-line supporters were drawn from the loose-knit patriot movement.
“There was a ragtag mix of conspiracy theorists, patriots and militia members, all of whom were influenced by the fear that the federal government was a tyrannical force seeking to undermine and tear down the constitution,” Lenz said.
Some of the nation’s biggest militia leaders, including Oath Keepers President Stewart Rhodes and West Mountain Rangers head Ryan Payne, traveled to Bunkerville. So did Arizona white supremacist David Pringle and anti-immigration extremists Robert Crooks, Greg Burleson and Timothy Guiney.
Also showing up was Richard Mack, who runs the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which is working to bring county sheriffs nationwide into the fold of the patriot movement. Mack, a former two-term sheriff in southern Arizona, has become a leading patriot voice.
Lenz and Pitcavage said dozens of militias were represented in Bunkerville. Among them were the Indiana Rangers, Massachusetts Fighting Wolves Militia Corp. and the Radical American Patriots of Georgia.
Writers for patriot websites, ranchers who share Bundy’s anti-government beliefs and people like the Millers, who weren’t known to be affiliated with any group but openly embraced anti-government ideology, all flocked to Nevada to be at Bundy’s side.
“It was the latest illustration of something we’ve known for a while — that there are a bunch of people in the anti-government extremist movement who are sort of itching for a cause,” Pitcavage said. “They’re kind of hoping there will be some sort of confrontation that will wake them up and spur them into action.”
Miller, a felon, might have been one of them. Bundy told the Review-Journal the Millers had been at his ranch but that he didn’t recognize them. The couple were among thousands of supporters who showed up and were asked to leave after making “radical-type” statements and because of Jerad Miller’s felony convictions.
Four days after the standoff with the BLM, Miller was interviewed by Al Jazeera America on the road to the Bundy ranch.
Dressed in Army fatigues and armed with a rifle, he told the television reporter: “All this gun control talk … The reason why we have our Second Amendment right is for what we did on Saturday, so we can stand up against tyranny and defend our country in case of invasion.
“If you disarm our population, you’re making it easier for another country to come in here and invade us. So therefore it is an act of treason.”
He also told the Al Jazeera reporter, “I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of being a slave. I’m afraid of living under tyranny.”
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ.