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When Political Violence Doesn’t Warrant Collective Blame
Claiming to be acting under the bloody “banner of Liberty and Truth,” Jerad Miller and his wife Amanda, entered CiCi’s Pizza in Las Vegas on Sunday right before noon and executed two local policemen on their lunch break. Authorities say Jerad approached one officer while he was refilling his soda cup and shot him in the head from behind, before he and Amanda opened fire on his partner.
While patrons scrambled to safety, one of the shooters reportedly shouted that the “revolution” had begun. The duo then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, and covered them with cloth that featured the “Don’t tread on me” Gadsden flag, which has recently been adopted as a symbol of the tea party movement. The couple also left a swastika on one of the officers.
Six days earlier, the right-wing shooter had posted a manifesto of sorts on Facebook where he announced “we must prepare for war.” Jerad Miller, who traveled to Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch this spring to join the militia protests against the federal government, declared that in order to “To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed.”
The Facebook rant was just one of many clues about the shooters’ radical political leanings. Jerad Miller “left behind social media postings that show his concerns over Benghazi, chemtrails, gun control laws, and the government’s treatment of rancher Cliven Bundy,” Raw Story reported. (One of the viral images Miller shared online carried the caption, “Jeez, it’s no wonder liberalism’s regarded as a mental disorder.”) The shooter had talked to his neighbor about his “desire to overthrow the government and President Obama and kill police officers,” according to NBC News.
After murdering two police officers, Miller and his wife, carrying large duffle bags, set upon a nearby WalMart, killed a shopper who attempted to confront the couple with his concealed handgun, exchanged gunfire with law enforcement, and then died in an apparent suicide pact.
The politically motivated ambush represents just the latest in a long line of recent far-right, anti-government acts of violence in America. From neo-Nazi killers, to a string of women’s health clinic bombings and assaults, as well as bloody assaults on law enforcement from anti-government insurrectionists, acts of right-wing extreme violence continue to terrorize victims in the U.S.
In fact, the deadly, and premeditated, gun rampage in Las Vegas came just two days after Dennis Marx, member of the “sovereign citizen” anti-government movement, tried to lay siege to a courthouse outside of Atlanta. Sovereign citizens are militia-like radicals who don’t believe the federal government has the power and legitimacy to enforce the law. The FBI has called the movement “a growing domestic terror threat to law enforcement.”
Arriving outside the courthouse in a silver SUV, Marx immediately opened fire on law enforcement, shooting a deputy twice in the leg, before being shot and killed by police, capping a wild three-minute gun battle. The shooter came supplied with an assault weapon, “homemade and commercial explosive devices,” as well as “a gas mask; two handguns; zip ties and two bulletproof vests,” according to the Associated Press.
The chilling details of Sunday’s Las Vegas ambush produced public shock and intense media coverage. One major news outlet seemed to lag behind, though: Fox News.
Primetime hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity both ignored the shocking cop-killer story last night, while Megyn Kelly devoted four sentences to it. (By contrast, the story covered extensively during CNN and MSNBC’s primetime.) Fox talkers on Monday were still far more interested in debating the prisoner swap of Bowe Bergdahl than they were examining the political ambush in Las Vegas.
For Fox News, the Las Vegas killing spree represents a toxic mix of guns, far-right insurrectionism, tea party implications, and the Cliven Bundy ranch standoff. For Fox News, the story about right-wing gun violence and the seeds of a bloody political revolution present all kinds of problems for the channel and its outspoken hosts, some of whom have previously championed limitless gun rights, insurrectionism, the Tea Party, and racist rancher Bundy.
In the 36 hours after the shooting, Fox News tread lightly around the Las Vegas story, producing regular news updates about the crime spree. But Fox provided almost no commentary, no context, and certainly no collective blame for the executions.
And that’s how Fox News deals with right-wing domestic terrorism in America, when it even bothers to acknowledge the killings and the crimes. (The channel barely covered Georgia’s courthouse siege last week.) At Fox, the deadly and disturbing events are treated as isolated incidents that are mostly void of politics. And more importantly, on Fox the perpetrators are always portrayed as lone gunmen (and women) who do notrepresent any cultural or political movement.
But when Fox covers breaking U.S. news events involving terror acts by Arabs or Muslims? Recall that in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing last year it was a Fox talker who suggested American mosques bebugged and other Constitutional rights for Muslims be eliminated. And it was on Fox that viewers were told, “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” It’s where there was a concerted effort to blame the larger Muslim community for the isolated event.
The obvious double standard is not only unfair but it’s misguided, as homegrown right-wing terrorists in America have proven to be a deadlier threat over the last decade. As CNN’s Peter Bergen reported earlier this year, since 9/11, “extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right wing ideologies, including white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists and anti-government militants, have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology.”
That fact may be one reason why the Department of Justice last week announced it is “reviving a law enforcement group to investigate those it designates as domestic terrorists,” according to Reuters.
Sadly, Fox has had too much practice in recent years looking the other way when right-wing radicals target American police officers.
On April, 2009, 22-year-old Richard Poplawski put on a bulletproof vest, grabbed his guns, including an AK-47 rifle, and waited for the police to respond to the domestic disturbance call his mother had placed. When two officers arrived at the front door, Poplawski shot them both in the head, and then killed another officer who tried to rescue his colleagues. He was convinced the government wanted to take away his guns, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
On May 20, 2010, two West Memphis, Ark., police officers were shot and killed by a father-son team of AK-47-wielding sovereign citizens during a routine traffic stop. The killers had ties to white supremacy groups and posted anti-government rants on YouTube.
Two months later, dedicated Glenn Beck fan Byron Williams strapped on his body armor, stocked a pickup truck with guns and ammo, and set off up the California coast to San Francisco in order to start killing employees at the previously obscure Tides Foundation in hopes of sparking a political revolution. (Beck had brought the Tides Foundation into the spotlight by routinely vilifying the organization on his Fox and radio shows.) Instead, en route to his target Williams got into a 12-minute firefight with California Highway Patrol officers.
The pressing domestic terror threat, CNN’s Bergen wrote, is obvious:
Today in the United States, al Qaeda-type terrorism is the province of individuals with no real connection to foreign terrorists, aside from reading their propaganda online. Given this, it becomes harder to explain, in terms of American national security, why violence by homegrown right wing extremists receives substantially less attention than does violence by homegrown jihadist militants.
That’s not a story Fox News wants to tell.