On Sunday, a pair of Las Vegas police officers was shot to death while eating lunch at a local CiCi’s Pizza. The two shooters then proceeded to a nearby Walmart, where they murdered another person before killing themselves in an apparent suicide pact.
Many details are still sketchy – there are reports, for example, that the shooters exchanged gunfire with a civilian who was carrying a concealed weapon – but one thing is clear even from the early coverage: this was an act of political violence. After stripping the murdered cops of their weapons, the shooters draped their bodies in a Gadsden flag. They reportedly shouted “This is a revolution!” during their rampage; authorities are investigating anti-government literature and paraphernalia including swastikas found in their home.
Early reporting from the Las Vegas Review Journal also indicates that the attackers bragged about participating in the recent standoff between Cliven Bundy and Bureau of Land Management representatives in Bunkerville, Nevada. It’s unclear in what capacity they participated and under what circumstances they left; one allegedly told a neighbor that he had been “kicked off.” When reached for comment, Bundy’s wife Carol told the Review Journal: “I have not seen or heard anything from the militia and others who have came to our ranch that would, in any way, make me think they had an intent to kill or harm anyone.”
It’s easy to call out the ludicrousness of Carol Bundy’s statement by observing that, during the standoff, militia pointed their weapons at Federal Agents, blockaded an interstate, set up armed checkpoints, and announced that they were “willing to do whatever it takes,” which included dying in a gunfight with the Feds. The manifestly threatening dimensions of what happened at Bunkerville are clear, and were clear from the start.
It’s also not hard to imagine what the response to this most recent incident will be, particularly on the right. The undeniable political dimensions of the killers’ terrorism will be discounted – it will become a singular incident, the isolated act of a pair of lone wolves. Then their personalities will come under the microscope, and their connections to others downplayed: They were just a pair of crazy tweakers, totally deluded. And finally we’ll throw our hands up in the air and lament the senselessness, the incoherence of it all, consigning Sunday’s killings to the remote abstraction of an act of nature. What a tragedy. Nothing to see here; move along.
Over twenty years ago, another standoff between a group of zealots and Federal authorities drew a similar gaggle of militia-minded supporters. They stuck to the sidelines, didn’t draw their weapons on anyone, didn’t kill any cops. But they were there, they watched, they waited, and they planned. You’ve probably heard of this standoff, and of one of the folks who watched from the sidelines. It was at Waco, Texas, and that person was named Timothy McVeigh. He even gave an interview to a reporter while he was there.
“The government is afraid of the guns people have because they have to have control of the people at all times. Once you take away the guns, you can do anything to the people. You give them an inch and they take a mile. I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government…The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful, and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.” McVeigh went on to quote “the U.S. Constitution and said U.S. armed forces should not be used against civilians, yet they were used against Koresh and his followers…[he said that] the Koresh standoff is only the beginning and that people should watch the government’s role and heed any warning signs.”
Back in 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on domestic terrorism threats from right-wing extremists, the blowback was intense. John Boehner labeled the report “outrageous” and “offensive,” and demanded “an explanation for why [Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano] has abandoned using the term ‘terrorist’ to describe those, such as al Qaeda, who are plotting overseas to kill innocent Americans, while her own Department is using the same term to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.” In response to that backlash, the DHS withdrew the report, and Napolitano was forced to apologize.
Five years later, folks at the Bundy ranch proudly wore outfits identifying themselves as “Domestic Terrorists.” And now two people who were there have committed an act of political violence in a Las Vegas strip mall.
Sure, the affair in Bunkerville may have attracted a lot of different people, many of whom Bundy and some of his erstwhile high-profile supporters might not like to be associated with – especially since some of the latter have now distanced themselves from Bundy himself. Maybe even some of those people were downright crazy, and got kicked off (although watching this and this, it’s clear that bar would have to be set pretty high.) But let’s not kid ourselves. This wasn’t an isolated incident. Wolves roam in packs.