Las Vegas shooting

Las Vegas police and Wal-Mart employees near the store in which two right-wing extremists died. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images / June 8, 2014)

The details out of Las Vegas are chilling: Two extremists declaring a revolution gun down two police officers in cold blood, kill a third person at a nearby Wal-Mart, then kill themselves in an apparent suicide pact during a gun battle with other police officers. An isolated incident?

No. Just a few days ago a “sovereign citizen” — part of a movement whose members deny the legitimacy of the government — named Dennis Marx mounted a one-man attack on a Georgia courthouse, wounding a deputy before other officers killed him. His intent, police said, was to take over the Forsyth County Courthouse.

The Vegas couple held similarly extreme anti-government beliefs, and told neighbors they had spent time as part of the defense militia at Cliven Bundy’s ranch. Police said they found documents indicating that the couple — Jerad Miller, 31, and Amanda Miller, 22, from Indiana — also planned to attack a courthouse. While the motive for executing the officers as they ate lunch remains unknown, the killers covered the bodies with a “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag — the banner of many in the tea party movement — and a swastika, and left a note that read, “This is the beginning of the revolution.”

As Greg Mitchell asks at the Nation, isn’t it about time we started calling such right-wing extremists what they are: terrorists?

And no, there’s nothing to preclude left-wing extremists from doing the same thing (remember the Symbionese Liberation Army?). But the violence from the far right has surged and ebbed for two generations now. The sovereign citizen movement began among the white-supremacist crowd in the 1970s and blossomed in the 1980s before fading somewhat (Timothy McVeigh being a notable exception). It seems to be surging again; the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremist groups, lists 43 violent showdowns between police and extremists from 2009 through 2013.

“Of these 43 incidents, fully 39 of them involved extremists sporting some sort of extreme right-wing ideology,” the ADL says. “White supremacists took part in 21 incidents, while anti-government extremists were involved in 17 more. An anti-Muslim extremist was involved in one incident (the other four incidents included one with a left-wing extremist and three with domestic Islamic extremists). In these shooting incidents, the extremists shot 30 officers, 14 fatally. Many other officers sustained non-gunfire injuries during some of these encounters.”

The common factor, beyond a right-wing anti-government ideology? Lots and lots and lots of guns and ammunition. Which bears noting because many people who adamantly defend what they see as an individual’s right to bear arms argue that they need the weapons to protect themselves from a tyrannical government.

So how do we “non-sovereign” citizens protect ourselves from tyrannical neighbors? Arming ourselves isn’t the answer, as two dead Las Vegas police officers can attest. And as does the death of Joseph Robert Wilcox, 31, a Wal-Mart customer with a concealed-carry permit who confronted Jerad Miller but was gunned down by Amanda Miller.

We need to work at making this a safer, and less armed, society. I’ve posted about this before, and drew the predictable lambasting from gun lovers about better mental illness policies, etc.

Political extremism isn’t a mental illness (though it is often delusional). But you have to wonder about the sanity of a society so laden with fear, and weapons.