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Sovereign citizen threat looms 5 years after Cicis Pizza attack

Hate fueled the 2014 ambush that killed two Las Vegas police officers and a man who tried to intervene.

Hate for the government. Hate for law enforcement. Hate for courts and hate for the system, authorities have said.

It came at the hands of married couple Jerad and Amanda Miller, who moved to Las Vegas from California just months before the June 8, 2014, attack. Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo were on their lunch break at a northeast valley Cicis Pizza when the Millers walked in, shot them and declared a revolution.

The attack continued at a nearby Walmart, where armed civilian Joseph Wilcox also was gunned down when he tried to stop Jerad Miller, not noticing Amanda. Jerad died in the store after a shootout with Las Vegas police. Amanda died in a hospital after she shot herself.

Jerad Miller’s hate was not a secret. He spewed it on his Facebook page, through video rants and status updates, the latter of which remained online as late as last week. His final post, a day before the attack, read: “The dawn of a new day. May all of our coming sacrifices be worth it.”

Authorities would come to associate the Millers with the sovereign citizens movement, a loose network of extremists who reject government and law enforcement, though the couple never publicly declared themselves as such. With no arrests, and no trial to follow, the attack faded from national view.

But nearly five years later, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford considers the movement that the Millers supported the “largest terroristic threat” the state faces.

Levels of threat

Ford said he reached that conclusion after conversations with local, state and federal law enforcement, each of which investigated sovereign citizen cases even before the Cicis Pizza attack. Metropolitan Police Department Detective Ken Mead told state lawmakers in May that about 500 people align with the movement in Clark County alone.

Experts say the 2014 ambush was an extreme example of escalated action. Sovereign citizens more commonly participate in “paper terrorism,” creating and issuing fraudulent documents such as IDs, passports, vehicle registrations and concealed carry permits, as well as court documents, according to Paul Becker, a University of Dayton professor who studies right-wing extremism.

Those efforts can escalate to harassment. Mead told lawmakers he has even received death threats.

“When you look at those types of actions, understanding why law enforcement in our state considers it the largest terroristic threat makes perfect sense,” Ford told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Ford backed a bill this legislative session that would make issuing fake court documents illegal, taking aim at paper terrorism. The bill has passed in both the Assembly and Senate, and awaits the governor’s signature.

Detectives like Mead continue to investigate sovereign citizen cases.

“Are thousands and thousands of people likely to kill? Probably not,” said Carole Gallaher, an American University professor who also studies extremism. “But there’s these kind of levels of threat: the threat of violence, which is real and ever-present, but there’s also this level of making it very difficult for government entities and employees to do their job and undermining state authority.”

Ford said another reason the movement is a concern is the proclivity of its members to be white supremacists.

Gallaher said the anti-government ideals of the movement itself are not racist, and Becker noted that many people of color are sovereign citizens, too.

Still, Gallaher said, the lines can blur. The extremist movement is broad enough that some of its members also associate with white supremacist groups, and in certain factions there are enough “code words and dog whistles” that racism is considered a rallying call.

Tragedy becomes training

The Cicis Pizza attack fell on a Sunday. Officers Beck and Soldo had taken a seat at a table next to the restaurant’s soda fountain shortly before the Millers walked in and made a beeline for them.

A surveillance camera captured a little girl in a pink dress filling up her cup as Jerad Miller drew his weapon just behind her and shot Soldo in the back of the head. The little girl froze, then lunged around Amanda Miller, whose weapon was drawn, and sprinted into her beckoning mother’s arms.

Beck tried to “engage,” police have said. But he didn’t have a chance. As witnesses bolted out of the store, the Millers shot Beck several times, then laid a Gadsden flag — a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words “Don’t Tread on Me” — on his body and headed to the Walmart.

The attack was the focus of an FBI documentary called “A Revolutionary Act.” It was produced in cooperation with the Metropolitan Police Department, and the FBI now uses it to train both local and federal investigators across the nation on violent extremism, according to Aaron Rouse, the chief of the FBI’s Las Vegas field office.

“The threat presents a unique challenge for law enforcement and our communities because extremists do not share a common profile, may be self-radicalized, self-trained and many believe violence is an acceptable solution to a perceived or actual grievance,” Rouse said in a statement. “Their experiences and motives are often distinct, increasingly unpredictable, and demonstrate a willingness to act alone — making them difficult to identify and stop.”

About a month after the Cicis Pizza attack, a 2014 study from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism classified the sovereign citizens movement as the highest-rated threat to local, state and tribal law enforcement.

Of the 364 officers surveyed, who worked for 175 different agencies at the time, 86 percent agreed that the movement was a serious terror threat. A similar study in 2007 ranked Islamic extremists the top concern to law enforcement.

Three years before the Las Vegas attack, an FBI bulletin also described the movement as a “growing domestic threat to law enforcement.”

On the fringe

Though Jerad Miller’s hate was well-documented, Amanda Miller’s Facebook posts didn’t raise red flags. They were mostly about work, the couple’s cats, their wedding, their move to Las Vegas.

Authorities never determined if Amanda shared in her husband’s hate or mirrored his actions out of devotion. But Gallaher said Amanda Miller’s silence is common in extremist circles.

“It’s a good movement for people who are introverts, paranoid and sort of suspicious of joining things and being parts of bigger things,” Gallaher said.

Perhaps because of the movement’s anti-government views, there is no national sovereign citizens organization. Instead, the movement operates in separate circles, allowing followers to wade from one group to the next or exist on the fringe without becoming entrenched, Gallaher said.

Still, there are national symbols, like the Bundy family, whose 2014 armed standoff with Bureau of Land Management officials made national headlines about two months before the Cicis Pizza attack.

The confrontation attracted militia members from across the country to take up arms at the family’s Bunkerville ranch, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The family believed the officials had no right, despite a court order, to round up Bundy cattle grazing on federal land. Jerad and Amanda Miller went out to the ranch, too.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

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