Thursday, June 19, 2014

Brother of ‘Sovereign Citizen’ Who Reportedly Shot BLM Ranger Traces a Loved One’s Transformation

Brent Cole, right, and his brother Marc in Alaska
 [Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

The younger brother of Brent Douglas Cole, the far-right extremist who now faces federal assault charges after his shootout with law enforcement officers in the northern California woods, isn’t sure where and when his elder sibling slipped into the surreal universe of “sovereign citizens.” But he believes his descent into right-wing extremism happened during his long residence in the woods of Alaska.

“He’s been up living life on his own for so long that he just doesn’t see it – that there’s rules that the rest of us follow for good reason,” Marcus Cole of Woodinville, Wash., told Hatewatch. “He’s used to just taking care of himself, and doesn’t understand why anyone wants to keep him from doing as he likes.”

Brent Cole remains in the custody of the Nevada County sheriff’s office while recovering from his wounds at a medical center in Roseville, where he is listed in stable condition. The Bureau of Land Management ranger and California Highway Patrol officer who both were wounded in the confrontation on Saturday near Edwards Crossing in the Sierra Nevadas were treated and released.

The Cole brothers grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, the son of a nuclear engineer employed at what was then called the National Reactor Testing Station (later the Idaho Nuclear Engineering Laboratory). Brent Cole was one of the first graduates of the new Skyline High School in 1971, and promptly moved away – to the Sierra Nevadas, not far, his brother says, from the place where he got into the shootout.

Brent was married there a few years after high school, and the couple moved to Texas and had a son. They also shortly divorced, after which he moved to Alaska and took up life in the woods. He made his living through construction work.

“I visited him in Alaska in 1997,” says Marc Cole. “He was living in a cabin on the tundra and we had to hike a couple miles in across the swamp. I have a picture of him in his environment.  This is how he lived for 20 years, in a cabin far away from the modern world.”

Marc believes that the solitary lifestyle, combined with a contrarian and pugnacious personality, played crucial roles in shaping his brother’s radical political views.

“He got into this stuff because he has always liked being argumentative and contrary,” Marc said, adding that he doesn’t tolerate the radical talk when the two visit now. “But I figure, you know, he’s allowed to believe what he wants to believe. And he’s used to living in the outback and being that wild man.

“He’s frustrated. He’d like to think that his existence matters, like all of us do, and so he gets out there on these controversies thinking he’ll be like a beacon for the rest of us. He believes he’s going to do the world good. He thinks he’s going to save the world.”

Photo by Marc Cole of brother Brent working on a family home
Photo by Marc Cole of brother Brent working on a family home
Indeed, that kind of delusion of heroism is a theme running through much of Brent Cole’s online postings, including his page at the conspiracist United Truth Seekers site, where he declared that his purpose was to save the U.S. Constitution: “Let us document the breach of the terms of  that written contract, and seek redress, in international court if need be, against the United States (Company Corporation) for breach of the contract formed with the people .”

At another site, Cole declared himself a “sovereign American Citizen attempting to thwart the obvious conspiracy and subterfuges of powers inimical to the United States.”

Brent Cole moved back to the continental United States three years ago, after inflicting permanent damage on three of his fingers in a frostbite incident. His brother says he mostly lived by camping around the country in different locales during that time. In January of this year, he was arrested on weapons charges after sheriff’s deputies found a concealed gun in his pickup in a campground.

Cole responded by filing a series of classic “sovereign citizen” pseudo-legal filings. “I am being persecuted for being a gun owner, and for exercising my inherent Right by unwitting or unknowing accomplices of a seditious conspiracy against rights instituted by foreign powers inimical to the United States of America,” he wrote.

“Those postings make him look a lot worse than he really is,” says Marc Cole. He hosted his elder brother at his home this April for a couple of weeks, and Brent was instrumental in helping Marc fix a rotted deck in the back of Marc’s son’s home.

“Brent lives a simple life and doesn’t have many needs,” says Marc.  “If he could, he would spend all of his time surfing the Internet looking for causes to champion, and then go post about them, never leaving the house.”

He says that he isn’t aware of anything racist or anti-Semitic in his brother’s rantings, though in fact, as Devin Burghart detailed at IREHR, his Facebook postings are littered with anti-Semitic conspiracies and racist posts about President Obama.

“He isn’t a hateful person despite the causes he post about,” says Marc Cole. “He is looking to champion the little guy and fight the big corporations. In that he is quick to accept any conspiracy theory.”
Mostly, Marc Cole wants the world to know that despite it all, his brother isn’t a monster: “He still carries his guns like he was in Alaskan and is not sensitive to how tense things have gotten in view of all of the mass shootings and rhetoric. But he is not a terrorist.”

Photo taken in Idaho Falls in the mid-1970s. Brent Cole on the left, Marc Cole on the right, father and mother in between (ex-wife’s face blurred)He says none of it would have happened if his brother hadn’t gotten into trouble over guns with local authorities. “I don’t know if he would have even been in the area if he hadn’t had the earlier confrontation. He was charged with misdemeanor possession of a loaded firearm at a campground. I had to bail him out on that one.

“In April, he was here visiting me, and he went down to Texas with his son and visited his grandkids, and I doubt he would even have gone back to California except that they had his guns, and it was just a misdemeanor. And they offered to let him plead guilty to something and they’d give him his guns back, but he had this thing in mind that he was going to prove that their jury instructions were illegal or something.”

Marc Cole says he’s tried reading his brother’s “gobbledygook” filings and can’t comprehend them, let alone what his brother sees in them. For the family members of people drawn into the sovereign citizen movement, this is a common refrain.

Full disclosure: The author attended school with Marc Cole in Idaho Falls, from fourth grade through high school.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

‘Sovereign Citizen’ Wounded in California Campground Shootout with BLM Ranger, Highway Patrol Officer

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

A self-described “sovereign citizen” camping out in the woods of northern California was arrested following an armed confrontation with two law enforcement officers this weekend. All three men were wounded in the ensuing shootout.

The shootout began, according to news reports, when a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger contacted the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and asked for backup at a wooded campground near Nevada City, a few miles west of Lake Tahoe and the Nevada border, as part of an investigation involving vehicles at the site. As the two officers headed into the brush and began approaching a remote makeshift campsite, they were confronted by 60-year-old Brent Douglas Cole.

Brent Douglas Cole
Gunfire was exchanged, and Cole was hit by several rounds. The BLM ranger was wounded by a gunshot to his right shoulder, and the CHP officer suffered minor injuries. The two officers were treated and released at local hospitals; Cole remains in custody at Sutter Roseville Medical Center in Roseville, where he is listed in stable condition in the intensive care unit.

Cole, according to The Union in Nevada City, has had numerous run-ins with law enforcement, including several other weapons-related incidents. The most recent of these occurred on Jan. 26, when he was arrested by Nevada County sheriff’s deputies and charged with carrying a concealed weapon.

Cole also has a history of indulging in far-right conspiracies on the Internet. At one site, he described himself as a “sovereign American Citizen attempting to thwart the obvious conspiracy and subterfuges of powers inimical to the United States.”

On his Facebook page, he has posted a number of conspiracy-related stories, including pieces describing the so-called “Bilderburger conspiracy” to control the world and various “Federal Reserve” conspiracy pieces. Likewise, his Twitter account is full of posts with a similar conspiracist bent.

After his January arrest, Cole flooded the Nevada County Court clerk with a blizzard of nonsensical, pseudo-legal filings – a typical tactic of so-called “sovereign citizens.” In one of these, Cole spelled his name in lowercase letters and called himself “a natural born, flesh and blood, living man.”

Another of these documents claimed that his right to own weapons is guaranteed under the Second Amendment and that those rights nullify California gun laws.

“Officers acted without warrant or any probable cause to seize my person using a swat team style assault, and then started looking for something to charge me with,” he complained. “I was attacked and molested, unconstitutionally arrested, unlawfully incarcerated, repeatedly intimidated and coerced to plead guilty to having committed a crime, held in secret for five days, and my property and liberty taken from me since January 26, 2014. I am being persecuted for being a gun owner, and for exercising my inherent Right by unwitting or unknowing accomplices of a seditious conspiracy against rights instituted by foreign powers inimical to the United States of America.”

As soon as he recovers from his injuries, Cole will likely get to work on a new batch of “sovereign” legal filings.

Friday, June 13, 2014

West Virginia Klan Leader Claims Returning Military Will Help Them Train for ‘the Upcoming Battle’

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

A British television crew filming a gathering of Ku Klux Klansmen in West Virginia this spring recorded one of the group’s leaders discussing a plan to use returning military veterans to train KKK members in combat techniques for “the upcoming battle” – presumably the “coming race war” that the Klan and other white supremacists have long predicted.

The nine-minute video documentary by Barcroft TV is a striking portrait of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization based in Pelham, N.C., with chapters throughout the South, including this one in West Virginia. It includes some appalling insights into their children’s upbringing and their certainty about a looming social apocalypse.

But most disturbing is the segment in which the hooded Klansman leading the rally tells the crowd about the group’s future plans:

We’re looking at something a little different for probably the next couple of years, trying to get our men and women ready for the upcoming battle that we’re about to take upon us. And this is something that no Klan has ever done, and we’re going to start it. All our boys are finally coming back home from the military, which is good. And we’re getting a lot more military members joining, which is good, as we’re going to start doing a lot more military training.

Now that we got our Marines and our Army back, they’re going to start showing us how to skin, how to survive off the land. We’re going to try to move in another direction with the Loyal White Knights, and that is starting armed training, hand-to-hand combat, and stuff like that, just for the upcoming battle.

The Klansman is not correct, of course – this has been attempted previously by other KKK organizations. Indeed, the presence of far-right extremists within the military is a longstanding problem and frequently involves a Klan recruiter joining the armed forces.
The plan described by the Klan leader in the video is exactly the type of scenario that the Department of Homeland Security warned about in a 2009 law enforcement bulletin:

Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.

At the time, the conservative media erupted in anger, wildly distorting the bulletin’s contents on one talk show after another, notably at Fox News. The reportage there – or more precisely, the shouting from their pundits – described the bulletin as specifically singling out veterans and targeting them for suspicion of far-right extremism; claimed that there was no similar bulletin regarding Islamist extremists from the DHS (there was); and said the report was based on nothing but speculation. Fox’s Bill O’Reilly said the report was “unnecessary,” cooked up by a bevy of myopic “far-left” bureaucrats who chose to ignore Al Qaeda while pinning the terrorism label on ordinary conservatives.

Eventually, the furor drove DHS to disavow the report and discontinue its task force assigned to monitoring right-wing extremism. In the ensuing years, the DHS bulletin has nonetheless proven to have been remarkably on-target, particularly in the wake of such domestic terrorism incidents involving former military members as the massacre at a Sikh temple in 2012 and the formation of the murderous “FEAR Militia” in Georgia, all of whom fit the bulletin’s profile perfectly.

The Southern Poverty Law Center first drew attention to the issue in 1986, and after a period during which the military subsequently clamped down on extremists within its ranks, the problem returned during the Iraq War, as a 2006 SPLC report explained in detail. A later report in 2008 explored how the problem was worsening with racist skinheads signing up for service overseas.

The FBI drew up its own assessment in July 2008, and pinpointed the potential danger then: “The military training veterans bring to the [white supremacist] movement and their potential to pass this training on to others can increase the ability of lone offenders to carry out violence from the movement’s fringes.”

As criminologist Brian Levin explains in his interview with the Barcroft TV reporters: “I think the real danger does not lie with the Klan being some kind of widespread army that has tentacles across the United States. That’s not going to happen. But what we do have to worry about is individuals, autonomous cells, or duos committing terrorist acts on their own because they get training, they get inspiration, and they get knowhow from being in the orbit of these hate groups,” Levin said. “Loose radicals coming out of that orbit represent a threat of continuing terrorism here in the United States.”

Near the end of the video, one of the Klansmen expresses his own hopes for what they all call “the upcoming battle”: “White people, we’re all getting tired of the government,” he says. “And pretty soon you’re gonna see the government collapse. And when the government keeps on sending their money over to Israel and it finally collapses, you’re gonna see the Klan take it back, and we’re gonna make this nation the way it needs to be.”

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Jerad Miller’s Posts at Infowars Included Speculation about Killing Cops


[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

In the wake of Sunday’s deadly attacks in North Las Vegas, at the hands of two antigovernment “Patriot” extremists, Infowars host Alex Jones warned his listeners that the media would soon start claiming that there’s a connection between his conspiracist media operation and the killers.

As a matter of fact, Jerad Miller – the 31-year-old Indiana man who led the attack, assisted by his 22-year-old wife, Amanda – liked to post on the Infowars member forum. And he constantly promoted Infowars on his Facebook page.

In one of his Infowars posts, Miller even speculated about whether or not he should kill police officers.

“The emerging narrative in the Las Vegas shooting now includes Alex Jones,” the Infowars site complained shortly after news of the shootings broke. In short order, Jones began calling the shootings a “false flag operation” secretly staged by nefarious federal government operatives who set it up to look like it was a crime committed by domestic terrorists.

“The incident is custom-made to demonize the patriot movement,” the Infowars site claimed. “The Southern Poverty Law Center has consistently attempted to forge a link between white supremacists and members of the patriot and constitutional movements.”

Jones became downright imaginative, explaining to his listeners, in one rant, how he would go about setting up the murders if he were a government agent, and then warning that the shootings mean that “civil war is coming”. He also began assigning responsibility for the “false flag operation.” In one rant, he accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of being behind the crimes. In another, it was the work of President Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Jones’ wild claims must be intended to distract from the fact that, as Media Matters reported, Miller avidly posted Infowars links on his Facebook page and urged his readers to the website – saying, in one such post, to “get informed or get stupid”.

What those claims fail to explain is why, beginning in May 2012, Jerad Miller became an Infowars forum member and began posting long pieces there. In all, he appears to have published five posts, though one of them titled “A Short Story About Protesting” is no longer available.

By far the most striking and disturbing of these posts is the May 28, 2012, post he titled: “The Police (to kill or not to kill?).” Most of it is devoted to him explaining at length that he’s mostly a law-abiding citizen who doesn’t steal from people, but police oppression over his marijuana business is driving him to think of violence: “I am like a wild coyote,” he wrote.  “You corner me, I will fight to the death.” He continued:

I feel that I have been violated and tread upon.  That the so called justice system has done me harm.  I do not wish to kill police.  I understand that most of them believe they are doing the right thing.  Yet, I will not go to jail, because I have not committed a crime!  I would rather die than be labeled as a criminal.  Let them call me a terrorist.  Let them label me as a fanatic, some nut job.  I know the truth, and so does God.  I’m sure our founding fathers were labeled as such.

It concluded with what appears in hindsight to be a conclusion:

So, do I kill cops and make a stand when they come to get me?  I would prefer to die than sit in their jail, when I have done nothing to hurt anyone.

Some of the posts are typical conspiracy theorizing of the kind that Infowars specializes in, such as the post that wondered if children’s lung cancer could actually be caused by “chemtrails” from jets. They also are mundane – one complained bitterly about his difficulties obtaining dental care, in part because of his ongoing legal and employment difficulties.

One of the posts, titled “After the Event,” is a short story depicting a conversation between a father and son – who evidently are now capable of levitation – in a post-apocalyptic world, set in the year 2041. The father tells the son about “the event”, when the Earth’s population was decimated (in 2012) by a barrage of meteors and other calamities, while a handful of the wealthy prepared shelters for themselves underground and survived. In the intervening years, it seems, the handful of human survivors have developed tremendous psychic powers that enable them to fly and other things.

The father warns the son that there will be a war in the future with the people who went underground. “Us elders cant predict how long we will live, but we all understand how the world cant go back to the way it was,” Miller wrote.  “It is not the same place and we are not the same people.  We are all equal and nobody rules except the rules.  We are now a people of love and compassion and unity with the earth.  It is our responsibility [sic] to care for everything around us because its in our power to do so.  They would seek to destroy and exterminate and abuse.  They would taint the water as they did before.

“Son, I cant tell you how precious life is,” it concludes.


Las Vegas Shooting Suspect Jerad Miller Threatened Violence in Interview at the Bundy Ranch

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Footage shot by a Las Vegas TV news reporter covering the standoff between federal authorities and Cliven Bundy and his antigovernment “Patriot” supporters in mid-April shows Jerad Miller – the Indiana man who with his wife, Amanda, shot and killed two police officers and a bystander on Sunday in North Las Vegas – threatening violence against government officials.

After telling the reporter for KRNV-TV that “Minutemen” were supposedly ringing the scene of the standoff, he said: “So, you know, I feel sorry for any federal agents that want to come in here and try to push us around, or anything like that. I really don’t want violence toward them, but if they’re gonna come bring violence to us, well, if that’s the language they want to speak, we’ll learn it.”

The reporter was shocked: “Well, that sounds kind of like a menacing statement, I have to tell you,” she said.

Miller responded: “You know, the people here, that have come here to support Bundy, we’re not afraid,” he said. “You know, we know that in the past the government has used force against civilians, like Waco, Ruby Ridge. Alright, we’re not afraid of that.”

Miller was filmed wearing camouflage gear and a T-shirt promoting Brandon Martines, a conservative candidate for Clark County Sheriff. Martines recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Jerad and Amanda Miller had shown up at his campaign events and had offered to work on the campaign, but that when he had checked their background he discovered that Jerad Miller had an extensive criminal history, including DUI, assault, theft and mischief charges. Martines told them, “Look, I appreciate your support but I can’t be associated in any way, shape or form with you.”

“They were just trying to infiltrate,” Martines said. “They obviously had an agenda.”

At the Bundy ranch, Miller indulged in the paranoid fantasy-based strategizing that was typical of the “Patriots” on the scene there, who at one point began turning on each other over fears that a federal drone attack was about to strike the camp.

In the KRNV interview, Miller touted the upcoming “Operation American Spring” – the planned “Patriot” march on Washington, D.C., that was supposed to draw millions of people out to demand President Obama’s resignation but only managed to draw dozens – as a possible counterweight to any assault on the “Patriot” encampment and the Bundys.

“But with American Spring coming up, you know, a lot of their resources are in D.C.,” he told the reporter. “They can’t send the ATF and the FBI out here in full force. You know, and we know that.”

He also made clear that he, like many of the Bundy supporters, was deriving much of his inspiration from web-based conspiracist outlets. When asked to ruminate on the upside of the government’s capitulation in the standoff, he said: “It’s going to show a lot of people that the federal government isn’t Almighty God. You know, they can’t just go around pushing people around doing whatever they want anymore. We have the Internet, we have alternative media – you know, we, we pick up on things faster, we can get around, we can support each other.”

He also mentioned that friends whom he described as being even more prone to violence nearly came out to Nevada to join him: “I know personally a couple people that wanted to come out here, um, and join up, but they were afraid they might get a little trigger-happy, you know, and wouldn’t wait for them to fire the first shot,” he said. “So they were advised to stay home, we only need cool-headed people here that aren’t going to antagonize them, you know, and – pretty much make it to look like we fired the first shot, or had anything involved in any of that kind of thinking.”

Indeed, Miller insisted that he and his fellow “Patriots” were not going to take the initial steps to violence:

So we’re not instigating anything. We are here in response to their criminal activity, as we see it. Sure, they have “the law” [air quotes] on their side. But is it constitutional law? That’s the issue.
Now, another big issue is our definition of constitutionality differs from theirs. You know, we are a little more strict on following the Constitution in their opinion. But I am pretty sure if our founders were alive today, they would be rolling over in their graves, or picking up a gun and doing what we’re doing.

More likely, they would be rolling in their graves at the thought of having a man like Jerad Miller claim their names for inspiration.

Full transcript below:

MILLER: Hopefully, people will see that there’s people out there willing to put their lives on the line, or just their, you know, physical bodies out there and put them in front of the tasers, be beaten, and help stand up for people, you know. Because, if this stuff was happening to me, I’d want people to be there for me, you know. So I can’t expect that out of people if I’m not going to be willing to come out and support somebody else in their time of need.

REPORTER: Well, tell us though – it’s got to be a good feeling that this weekend, if you want to call it a victory – I mean, certainly the BLM blinked.

MILLER: I mean, we can’t feel good about something like that because we shouldn’t have to be out here in the first place. Sure, um, you know, it give us a lot more hope. It’s going to show a lot of people that the federal government isn’t Almighty God. You know, they can’t just go around pushing people around doing whatever they want anymore. We have the Internet, we have alternative media – you know, we, we pick up on things faster, we can get around, we can support each other.

And that’s the real important thing. We need to be backing each other up and we stand for our rights and our liberties, because we’re losing them at an alarming rate. And –

REPORTER: It was getting pretty tense. It seemed that there was definitely a – fear that it was gonna become violent.

MILLER: You know, the people here, um, that have come here to support Bundy, we’re not afraid. You know, we know that in the past the government has used force against civilians, like Waco, Ruby Ridge. Alright, we’re not afraid of that.

REPORTER: Well, this was the fear that it was gonna become another situation like that – until the government backed down.

MILLER: Yeah, but this is an entirely different situation than Ruby Ridge and Waco. They didn’t have the Internet back then, you know. Cliven Bundy has been involved for over twenty years dealing with these people. This isn’t something new. It’s just it’s escalated to this point, you know.

So, it’s not that Cliven Bundy escalated it to this point. It’s the federal government. They came down here and started abusing protesters and stuff. Sure they might have been getting in the way of a truck, but they were just curious about what was going on up there, because it is illegal to bury cattle out there in the desert, and they were breaking the law. You know, they had backhoes, dump trucks – why do you need that stuff if you’re rounding up cattle? I can understand helicopters, but as far as the heavy machinery? That was totally uncalled for. So they were just wanting to know what was going on.

REPORTER: Does this change your strategy going forward, that there has been – you know, put one in your corner, in your tally.

MILLER: Well, we don’t see it like that. OK? We know they’re just falling back to regroup. They’ll be back. This isn’t over. Um, the BLM is just right down the road. They didn’t leave.
But with American Spring coming up, you know, a lot of their resources are in D.C. They can’t send the ATF and the FBI out here in full force. You know, and we know that –

REPORTER: You don’t think that federal government can’t mobilize at a moment’s notice if they want to? Come on.

MILLER: Not without people getting a little, I mean, suspicious of what they’re doing. The more they bring out here, the more will come. Plain and simple.

You know – this week, you know, people can’t just take off work right away. People can plan for vacations and things like that. If they come back, and there’s a standoff for a couple weeks, people will make it down here.

You know, people are just – a lot of people are just waiting to see what would happen. I know personally a couple people that wanted to come out here, um, and join up, but they were afraid they might get a little trigger-happy, you know, and wouldn’t wait for them to fire the first shot. So they were advised to stay home, we only need cool-headed people here that aren’t going to antagonize them, you know, and – pretty much make it to look like we fired the first shot, or had anything involved in any of that kind of thinking.

The armed people here are just here to keep the peace. You know, certainly, we did have yesterday morning like a little armed confrontation with them. But yet the sheriff was there one our side – which he shoulda been here, you know, Day One. Telling them to get out – they have no right to this land. The Constitution only allows the federal government to own land for military bases, shipyards, arsenals, capital buildings and emergency shelters. I don’t see any of that out here. So are they literally declaring –

REPORTER: But the sheriff said he cannot supersede the federal government.

MILLER: Ah, that’s not what the Constitution says.


MILLER: Ah, there’s a lot of these guys that are self-set. And they’re really dedicated to freedom, that’s all they do, is they train, they go out, you know, and they protect our borders and things. Like that Minutemen are coming – and we’re just gonna be, uh – They’re out here. They’re out here right now. You don’t see ‘em. You know – that’s what they do.

So, you know, I feel sorry for any federal agents that want to come in here and try to push us around, or anything like that. I really don’t want violence toward them, but if they’re gonna come bring violence to us, well, if that’s the language they want to speak, we’ll learn it.

REPORTER: Well, that sounds kind of like a menacing statement, I have to tell you.

MILLER: Well, I mean, you hear this kind of rhetoric from the government all the time. We’ll put down citizens, we’ll put down protesters, we’ll beat you up, we’ll gas you, we’ll shoot you with rubber bullets. I mean, heck, down in New Mexico they shot and killed a homeless man out in the desert. You know. They shot and killed this man. Sicced a dog on him while he was laying there dying. And they caught this all on video.

REPORTER: On this issue, you’re saying you guys aren’t going away.

MILLER: No, we’re not going away, but we’re not firing the first shots, either. We will defend ourselves, if it has to come to that. But we’re hoping that, you know, our show of force yesterday is enough to get them to go, ‘Hey, this is a sensitive subject, this is a sensitive area, perhaps we should leave it alone.’
Because any further involvement with the federal government is just going to be seen as instigating. Alright, if they come back here – ‘cause the only reason we showed up here is ‘cause they were here doing what they were doing. It’s not like we came here to get their attention and they came. No, they came here and got our attention, and we came. So it’s what they’re doing is what’s bringing us here.

So we’re not instigating anything. We are here in response to their criminal activity, as we see it. Sure, they have “the law” [air quotes] on their side. But is it constitutional law? That’s the issue.

Now, another big issue is our definition of constitutionality differs from theirs. You know, we are a little more strict on following the Constitution in their opinion. But I am pretty sure if our founders were alive today, they would be rolling over in their graves, or picking up a gun and doing what we’re doing.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Suspected Las Vegas Shooter Jerad Miller’s Paranoid Video Rant about Drones, Courthouses

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Jerad Miller, the Indiana man who with his wife, Amanda, shot and killed two police officers and a bystander Sunday in North Las Vegas before dying in a suicide pact at a Wal-Mart store, posted several videos at YouTube in the past year that revealed his paranoia and antigovernment views.

One of the videos contains an extended soliloquy by Miller on government drones that turns into a quasi-philosophical rant about the nature of courthouses as centers of “authoritarianism.”

The latter is noteworthy in light of a report by the Las Vegas Review-Journal that among the documents found at Miller’s apartment was a carefully laid out plan to attack an unidentified courthouse building in Las Vegas, taking it by armed force and then executing public officials inside.

The video begins with Miller pulling out a conspiracist magazine devoted to government drones, titled “Drones: Are They Watching You?,” which was published in 2013 under the auspices of magazine publisher Source Interlink – a company that changed its name earlier this year. Miller waxes paranoiac about the likelihood that people like himself are under surveillance by them.

After complaining at length about the ankle bracelet he was forced to wear as a result of being placed on house arrest in 2013 (according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Miller was accused of violating his in-house arrest twice that year), he turns his attention to the local courthouse near his home, which is within view of his window:

A beautiful building, even though it is a monument to authoritarianism. It’s just a big concrete building a … thing … that people have to go to, or else they go to jail. You gotta go get your marriage license, you gotta go get gun permits – whatever it is, you have to go down to that big stone structure monument to tyranny, and submit, crawling, groveling, on your hands and knees: ‘Oh, give me permission to do this, give me permission to do that.’

I dunno. Sounds a little like Nazi Germany to me. Or maybe Communist Russia. ‘Where are your papers? Do you have the authority to be here? Do you have the right to be here? Where are you going? Where are you coming from? Who’s in your car with you? Can I search your car? Can I stick my finger up your butt? No, oh, that’s probable cause, you probably got drugs up there.’ Because that’s what they’re doing now. They’re sticking fingers up people’s butts – lookin’ for drugs. Big scary drugs.

Really, people? It’s time to wake up. This is getting ridiculous.

Other videos that Miller posted on the channel suggested that he was emotionally devastated by his conviction and sentence for marijuana possession in 2013. In a couple, directed to Amanda Miller, he weeps bitterly as he soliloquizes about how much he will miss his wife while he is in prison, saying she always makes him smile, “no matter how crabby of a mood I’m in because of the New World Order and shit.”

In another video, he frets briefly about the possibility of something monumental happening while he is behind bars: “I pray to God that this Sunday is not the last time I ever see you again,” he says. “I swear to God that they better not fucking do this shit while I’m in jail. I’m pretty sure they won’t. Pretty sure it’s not happening that fast.”

This kind of paranoia is common among antigovernment “Patriot” movement followers, particularly the reliance on conspiracist publications for information. It’s also reflected, with greater intensity, in the Facebook post that Miller published on June 2:

We must prepare for war. We face an enemy that is not only well funded, but who believe they fight for freedom and justice. Those of us who know the truth and dare speak it, know that the enemy we face are indeed our brothers. Even though they share the same masters as we all do. They fail to recognize the chains that bind them. To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed.

It appears that in the space of the intervening year, Miller’s paranoia graduated from weepy-eyed frustration to boiling hatred. The combination of radical antigovernment views with personal problems has driven others to commit violence in the past, and Miller appears to be the latest to fall into this downward spiral.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Man and Woman with Alleged White Supremacist Ties Kill Two Las Vegas Police Officers, Bystander before Killing Selves

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

A man and a woman who neighbors say were militant white supremacists walked into a North Las Vegas mall pizza shop on Sunday and, shouting declarations about the “start of a revolution,” opened fire on two Metro police officers eating lunch there, killing both men. The two then walked into a neighboring Wal-Mart and ordered everyone out, though not before shooting one bystander to death. The two then shot themselves after exchanging gunfire with police inside the store.

According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, police found swastikas in the couple’s apartment, and the couple’s neighbors described them as “militant” people who talked about conspiracy theories, killing police officers, and “going underground”.

One of their neighbors said the man told him he had come out to Nevada to participate in the recent standoff with federal authorities over rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. He also told the neighbor that he had been kicked off of Bundy’s ranch property, though Bundy’s wife said
she was unaware of any such person having been on their ranch.

The neighbor described them as “weird people” and said he suspected they used methamphetamines.

Sunday’s nightmarish scene in Las Vegas erupted shortly before noon at the Cici’s Pizza restaurant near the Wal-Mart in North Las Vegas on Nellis Boulevard. The man, described as a tall, bald white man with a scruffy beard, and the woman walked in and opened fire. According to witnesses, before opening fire, they shouted that “this was the start of a revolution.” The woman reportedly walked up behind one of the officers and shot him in the head at the soft drink stand. They then took the officers’ guns and ammunition.

The Review Journal reported that they then draped a Gadsden Flag – the yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” banner long popular with antigovernment “Patriot” movement followers, and more recently adopted by the Tea Party – over the corpses of the two officers.

The slain officers were identified as Alyn Beck, 41, and Igor Soldo, 31.

The pair then emerged from the shop and headed toward the nearby Wal-Mart, telling other bystanders to “tell the cops it was a revolution.” Shortly after entering the Wal-Mart, the man fired his gun at the ceiling and began ordering everybody out, upon which a scene of mad panic ensued as people fled the store. At some point during this, one of them shot and killed a female customer at the store. Her identity has not yet been released.

Then the pair retreated to the rear of the store and, as police arrived, began exchanging gunfire with police. At some point, the couple proceeded with what police described as a “suicide pact”: The woman shot the man first, and then shot herself.

According to Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, Beck leaves a wife and three children, while Soldo is survived by his wife and a baby.

“It’s a tragic day,” Gillespie said at a news conference at which he was visibly shaken. “We have lost two officers with young families.”

Gillespie said the reports of “revolution” talk were still unconfirmed, and added that his office was still working on uncovering a motive for the killings.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Why and How SeaWorld Lost the Roundtable Debate Badly

Finally, SeaWorld decided to talk.

It did not go well for them.

After months of debate over orca captivity stirred up by the documentary Blackfish, and months of the world's largest keeper of captive killer whales refusing to participate, the company was finally persuaded to sit down at a table and engage the issue with their critics, in the form of a remarkable roundtable discussion sponsored by Voice of San Diego and titled, "What SeaWorld and 'Blackfish' Mean for San Diego."

The roundtable, which was held Thursday in San Diego (you can watch the entire discussion here), featured SeaWorld veterinarian Todd Robeck, a senior animal trainer at SeaWorld named Kristi Burtis, former UC San Diego professor Susan Gray Davis, who has analyzed the park's business model, and Dr. Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute, a veteran orca biologist. It was hosted by Scott Lewis and Lisa Halverstadt of Voice of San Diego.

Getting them to even engage in an open debate was an achievement. When Blackfish aired on CNN last year, SeaWorld refused to even come on air to discuss the film and its contents. Rather than expose itself to open questions, it chose to counter the film with an in-house spin campaign that revolved around a dishonest website it titled, "The Truth About Blackfish."

But more recent developments -- including pending legislation now in the backrooms at the California Legislature that would outlaw orca performances in the state and require SeaWorld to begin returning its orcas to the wild -- seem to have had their effect, and so when Voice of San Diego suggested this forum, SeaWorld finally deigned to open up and finally deal with the debate.

The company probably regrets this now. If you break down the hour-and-a-half discussion, it becomes fairly evident why SeaWorld has so assiduously avoided an actual debate over the facts with their critics, because whenever their representatives tried to make some kind of factual point, they either were blown out of the water by their critics' tart factual counters, or they wound up looking foolish as they fumbled about with charts and graphs.

They fumbled about when confronted with a question about the negative health effects of captivity for orcas. They had to admit that they had published misleading material. Their claims to offering "education" to children and substantive research in the scientific community were exposed as shams. 

In the end, the best they could muster was a strangely emotional appeal to their audience's children and the ostensible benefits that SeaWorld offers them, marking an odd nadir in the debate. It seemed particularly ironic, given that SeaWorld is prone to accusing their critics -- who were resolutely fact-oriented throughout the discussion -- of relying on emotional appeals.

Moreover, on the really central questions in the debate, SeaWorld came off as incompetent and dishonest. The apotheosis of this came when Robeck -- who is chief of SeaWorld's breeding program -- evaded the seemingly softball question: "Is it really your contention that there are no health effects to being in captivity?" [The video atop the post features this moment.] Robeck first attempted to deflect disingenuously, and then spent the next several minutes pulling out charts and graphs that he claimed proved that, with their improvements in the care for the animals, their orcas lived as long as orcas in the wild now -- all of which Rose deftly punctured in a brief and devastating retort.

There were many other telling moments in the debate. Another key question -- SeaWorld's claim that its "animal ambassadors" provide a unique educational moment for children -- came fairly early in the discussion, and what was revealing was how shallow and facile SeaWorld's claims were in the face of hardnosed academic findings that their "education" was really just a facade for marketing the park and its experience, while the truth about animals such as orcas and dolphins is distorted and sometimes outright false.

Similarly, SeaWorld's oft-touted claims that it conducts research that benefits orcas in the wild too (see Sam Lipman's superb debunking for more on this) was trotted out, and promptly became a fiasco when Rose pointed out that, for a company that holds the largest collection of captive orcas in the world (not to mention one that is awash in money), a mere 50 research papers in 50 years' time is an output that can only be described in one word: "pathetic."

The sharpest illustration of the dubiousness of SeaWorld's claims came during the discussion of orca dorsal fins. SeaWorld has claimed [see No. 42] that "Nearly one-quarter of adult male southern resident killer whales in the wild have collapsing, collapsed or bent dorsal fins." Yet anyone who has studied the southern resident killer whales -- here's a complete catalog, so you can see this for yourself -- knows that not a single one of these whales has a collapsed fin.

The study that SeaWorld cites, in fact, is a study by Dr. Ingrid Visser of a single small population found in the waters of New Zealand, and who are not even remotely related to southern residents. And even then, as Melissa Cronin at The Dodo explained, it grossly misinterpreted that dataset: "Only one orca had a collapsed fin in the study, but SeaWorld confused fin abnormalities with collapsed fins in an attempt to make the public think that dorsal fin collapse is normal among orca whales. The park also neglects to use updated research that has been published in the years since by Visser and others."

Appropriately, Visser was outraged at the misuse of her research: “I hope, that as a scientist yourself and as the Director of Research at SeaWorld,” Visser wrote in an e-mail to SeaWorld's research Dr. Judy St. Leger, “you can see how wrong this misrepresentation is – not only to inform the public by distorting the facts but also misrepresenting the data by not presenting it in context.”
/> And sure enough, in Thursday's roundtable, Todd Robeck -- at the end of a robust discussion of orca dorsals in which the veterinarian also mistakenly claimed the fins are made of cartilage, then retracted that when called on it -- acknowledged directly that this information was "misleading," and appeared to suggest that SeaWorld regretted making the claim.

Yet even though Robeck acknowledged directly that the claim by SeaWorld was false and misleading (and also indicated an astonishing ignorance of the wild orca's natural history), the claim remains up on the SeaWorld site. Anyone visiting "The Truth About Blackfish" even today (being June 7) will still read this false claim in the "Blackfish Analysis" (not to mention the risible assertion that there's no evidence wild orcas live with their mothers their entire lives -- see No. 24).

Finally, the debate became truly telling when the debate turned to the question of "water work" displays in which trainers get into the water with orcas -- something that SeaWorld is currently forbidden from doing, per the order from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration that followed the death of Dawn Brancheau, the focus of Blackfish.

This included a brief moment of hilarity when Burtis, at the end of an enthusiastic rant about how totally awesome it is to work for SeaWorld, because everyone always asks how they can get her job, cluelessly opines: "I don't know too many jobs where people are asking, 'Hey, how do I get a job writing for Voice of San Diego?'"

To which host Scott Lewis quickly retorts: "All the time." The audience bursts out in laughter.

Then, Burtis' enthusiasm is turned on its head, offered as evidence that, indeed, SeaWorld really is not about education by Dr. Davis, who offers some keen insight into just how important these shows are to SeaWorld's entire business model.

As she explains, the shows with trainers are the essence of SeaWorld's brand, not any "education" or "research" or "animal rescue" fig leafs (worth noting: SeaWorld has never yet participated directly in the rescue of a wild killer whale, except when it was taking one captive). What SeaWorld is selling is not an understanding of the animals, but a spectacle -- the jaw-dropping sight of seeing a relatively tiny human mastering these gigantic creatures and seemingly controlling them.  

After all these telling blows accumulated, the SeaWorld spokespeople were only left, in the end, with an emotional appeal. And even that failed.

It came at the closing, as everyone gave their final thoughts. As they had throughout, Rose and Davis were calm and thoughtful and referenced the science and business acumen behind their positions. But when Burtis and Robeck took their turns, it was get-out-your-hankies time.

First, Burtis referenced the plight of one of her admirers whose fragile health and well-being were bolstered by her visits to SeaWorld and the time she spent with killer whales, suggesting that the animals had special healing qualities (something we thought only the hippies and psychics believed). And then Robeck became severely choked up as he tried to explain how special SeaWorld is to children -- pulling out a picture of his 9-week-old son on his iPhone at one point -- and then asserting, in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary (not to mention a paucity of substantiating evidence), that the knowledge gained from keeping orcas captive would be critical to helping wild orcas survive.

It was all strangely maudlin. But in the end, it was probably fitting. Because that was the best SeaWorld had, and it remains probably the only card they have left to play.

At some point, the heart-tugging narratives are going to have to contend with the cold reality coming their way. As Dr. Rose noted, "The market will speak." The truth is getting out, and no amount of tears or smears will change that. SeaWorld can either come to terms with the reality coming their way, or they can crawl back into their hidey hole and watch as their brand name goes the way of the Edsel.