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Dec 1, 2018

Trial and terror (rebroadcast)

Co-produced with PRX Logo

President Donald Trump has used the threat of foreign-born terrorists to justify his travel ban – but since 9/11, nearly every terrorist attack in the United States has come from within. On this episode of Reveal, we investigate which domestic terror episodes get tracked and why.

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Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Today, we're re-airing a show from 2017 because, unfortunately, it's more relevant than ever. Remember this theme from Donald Trump's campaign?

 

Donald Trump: Radical. Islamic. Terrorism.

 

Al Letson: As president, it's also been his justification for banning people from majority Muslim countries.

 

Donald Trump: According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorist and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.

 

Al Letson: There's only one problem with that statement.

 

David Neiwert: It's just jaw-droppingly, astonishingly wrong.

 

Al Letson: That's David Neiwert. Reporter at the nonprofit news organization, The Investigative Fund.

 

David Neiwert: The vast, vast majority of terrorism cases committed in the United States are committed by American citizens.

 

Al Letson: Like Dylann Roof killing black church goers in South Carolina to start a race war back in 2015. Then the following year, Omar Martin, shooting up an Orlando night club in the name of ISIS. And in October, Robert Bowers opening fire and murdering eleven people in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

 

David Neiwert: But also many, many more that have just gone totally ignored.

 

Al Letson: Since 9/11, virtually every terrorist attack in the United States has been cooked up in the United States. From 2008 to 2016, David and his team at the Investigative Fund kept track of these domestic terror incidents. There were 63 cases where the terrorist claimed they acted in the name of Islam.

 

David Neiwert: In the same period, we have nearly a 120 cases of right-wing extremist terrorism.

 

Al Letson: We should note, though, right-wing terrorism killed slightly fewer people overall, and here's how many acts of terrorism were committed in that same time period by people born in the countries covered by President Trump's travel ban.

 

David Neiwert: Three.

 

Al Letson: That's 3 out of 207. The Trump Administration pointed to one of those three to make its case for the travel ban. It involved a Somali refugee who came here when he was three years old. Reveal's Stan Alcorn has been looking into that incident from 2010. He joins me now. So, lay it out for me Stan. What happened?

 

Stan Alcorn: Well, in downtown Portland, Oregon, there's this plaza in front of the court house and every year, the day after Thanksgiving, it hosts this holiday celebration.

 

Sam Adams: Happy Holidays! Glad you're here!

 

That was me.

 

Stan Alcorn: That's Sam Adams, Portland's mayor back in 2010. He was on stage as the MC.

 

Sam Adams: Yeah, let's do the first verse of Joy to the World.

 

And there's music and the crowd is shoulder to shoulder and it's a party atmosphere.

 

Speaker 7: We are ready to light the Christmas tree.

 

Sam Adams: Let them hear you.

 

Speaker 7: Of course, here's Santa Claus.

 

Sam Adams: Let them hear you.

 

Stan Alcorn: Santa Claus comes out and they start counting down ...

 

Sam Adams: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5.

 

Stan Alcorn: ... to the moment when they're gonna flip this oversized switch and turn on all the lights on this 75 foot Christmas tree.

 

Sam Adams: 4, 3, 2, 1.

 

Al Letson: And then?

 

Stan Alcorn: And then the tree lights up and everybody starts singing White Christmas. But after that, Sam Adams gets into his car and he gets a text from his police chief.

 

Sam Adams: That said, "Call me right away. Urgent." And I called him and he said, "I need you to come in for a briefing right away."

 

Stan Alcorn: He drives straight to police headquarters where officials brief him on what's about to be national news.

 

Speaker 8: Now, to a terror plot stopped in its tracks.

 

Speaker 9: FBI agents say a Somali-born US citizen was arrested Friday night after attempting to blow up a bomb in Portland, Oregon, during the city's Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

 

Speaker 8: The investigators fear that this had been months, even perhaps years in the making. That team telling police that he choose Portland as [crosstalk]-

 

Al Letson: It sounds like a really close call?

 

Stan Alcorn: Yeah, at first, it really did. Then more of the facts came out. Here's Sam Adams again.

 

Sam Adams: There was a lot of sort of clouds around this particular case.

 

Stan Alcorn: Yeah. Well, and I guess I wonder as a person who was responsible for the city of Portland, do you think that this case made the people of Portland safer?

 

Sam Adams: I'm not entirely certain.

 

Al Letson: Why would he say that? I mean, the FBI stopped a terrorist plot before it happened. I mean, it sounds like the definition of making people safer.

 

Stan Alcorn: Yeah. If they're really stopping a terrorist plot. But what if the FBI was creating the plot and the terrorist?

 

Al Letson: Creating them how?

 

Stan Alcorn: If you go back to a year before the Christmas tree lighting, the teenager they arrested was a freshman at Oregon State University. His name's Mohamed Osman Mohamud. I talked to one of his friends there.

 

Alyssa R.: My name is [Alyssa Rightinger] and I was roommates with Mohamed in college for about a year and a half.

 

Stan Alcorn: Alyssa says freshman year, that room was supposed to be for three people, but this overlapping group of best friends and boyfriends and girlfriends meant there were often six.

 

Alyssa R.: Yeah. We had two Indians, an Asian. I want to say he was Korean, and someone from El Salvador, who was Catholic. Myself, a white Christian, and then Mohamed.

 

Stan Alcorn: Mohamed was a tall skinny kid who, Alyssa says, was the life of the party. At frat parties, football games.

 

Alyssa R.: We just had a blast together and ... even go to each other's classes sometimes. We were that close.

 

Stan Alcorn: You'd just sit through a math class, just to?

 

Alyssa R.: Absolutely, yep. Yeah, I think it was mostly English because those were a little bit easier, but yeah. We would.

 

Stan Alcorn: In all of this, the FBI was seen, too. Agents were videotaping him in the cafeteria. They were reading his emails and his text messages.

 

Al Letson: Why were they doing all that? He just sounds like a typical college kid.

 

Stan Alcorn: Essentially, it's because of what he did on the internet in high school. What happened was, when he was 15, Mohamed went through what his dad called an identity crisis. His parents were splitting up and he started going to a more conservative mosque and got into what you might call the Jihadi internet. That's where he met the guy who started this magazine called Jihad Recollections. I actually have a copy of it. If you flip to, I want to say it's like page 22, I think you'll find his article. Do you want to read the title of it?

 

Al Letson: Yeah. Getting in Shape Without Weights. It has a picture of three guys. It looks like they're practicing karate or something. "Building your legs is the most important part of your body to prepare for Jihad." It almost seems like something you'd read in The Onion. Really, it does. It's a workout for terrorists.

 

Stan Alcorn: I've been thinking of it as Pilates for Jihadis.

 

Al Letson: Yeah. It is Pilates for Jihadis.

 

Stan Alcorn: I should say though, Mohammed wrote more serious articles, too. For instance, he wrote about why Europe is a more deserving target for attacks than the United States. Now by the time he got to college, he'd stopped writing for Jihad Recollections, but the government said these articles were one of the main reasons he was targeted. They were worried it was more than just words. That he was waiting to take action. This is really the question at the heart of this case. How do you distinguish someone who's all talk from someone who's waiting to act?

 

Mike German: One clue, to use some law enforcement terminology there, was understanding that it's very easy to get weapons in this country.

 

Stan Alcorn: That's Mike German. He's a former FBI agent who investigated and infiltrated domestic terrorist groups. He says there are hundreds of thousands of people who are talking about doing horrible things. If you want to find them, you can just visit an internet message board. But if you want to stop a bomb plot, he says you need to look for people who are trying to build bombs.

 

Mike German: It's very easy to obtain firearms. It's very easy to manufacture small explosives. These aren't activities that involve a lot of training or a lot of resources. This person can't be very dangerous if they've never actually attempted to obtain weapons on their own or engage in a plot on their own.

 

Stan Alcorn: In Mohamed's case, not only did the FBI find no evidence of him trying to buy weapons of engage in a terrorist plot, in emails and trial testimony, agents said Mohammed seemed to have left behind his radical thinking. They saw him as a manipulatable, conflicted kid, but they still decided to test him. First with emails from a fictional Muslim guy in Idaho, asking how to help rid the occupiers from Palestine. Then, when Mohamed didn't take that bait, the FBI did something more drastic. They intervened in his real life.

 

When did you notice something change in him?

 

Alyssa R.: It was probably towards the end of our freshman year.

 

Stan Alcorn: That's Alyssa again. Her boyfriend, the Catholic Salvadoran roommate, was Mohamed's best friend. He'd arranged for Mohamed to come with him to Alaska for the summer to work in a cannery or on a fishing boat.

 

Alyssa R.: He was poor, so he was really excited to be able to not struggle so much. But then he got to the airport. He was all packed. To my understanding, he just couldn't go.

 

Stan Alcorn: Mohamed had been placed on the No Fly List. Instead of making money in Alaska with his best friend, he was left behind in Portland, where the FBI would contact him again.

 

Yusuf: [foreign language] my brother Mohamed, this is [Yusuf].

 

Stan Alcorn: Yusuf is an FBI agent posing as an Al Qaeda recruiter.

 

Yusuf: I'd like to meet up with you for ... I don't know, for a quick conversation.

 

Stan Alcorn: That first conversation was not recorded. FBI agents claimed they ran out of batteries but the FBI says Yusuf asked Mohamed what he wanted to do and, when he didn't answer, gave him some choices. He could pray, study, send money overseas, martyr himself, or become operational. Mohamed chose operational and when Yusuf asked what that meant, Mohamed said he was interested in a car bombing.

 

Al Letson: So, all of this is alleged by the FBI, because we have no tape to corroborate what they're saying.

 

Stan Alcorn: That's right. They didn't record it. Not only that, the agent who wrote the report about it destroyed his notes. But we do have grainy video recordings of the next meeting. Yusuf and Mohamed are sitting on the floor of a hotel room, opening bags of takeout food. The camera seems to be on a desk on the other side of the room so the audio's not great.

 

Yusuf: I don't want you to be nervous. I want you to eat, enjoy yourself. You have to be home at a certain time?

 

Mohamed O. M.: No.

 

Yusuf: You sure?

 

Stan Alcorn: The setup of this meeting is that Yusuf and Mohamed need to convince the third guy in the room, who's also an undercover agent, to give them explosives.

 

Yusuf: Tell him, if you don't mind, if it's okay ... tell him about your dream?

 

Mohamed O. M.: When I was 15, you know ...

 

Stan Alcorn: Mohamed describes a dream he had where he was leading 11000 fighters to conquer Jerusalem.

 

Mohamed O. M.: I had a lot of dreams when I was 15. At that time, I had a lot of trouble, everybody was making fun of me. My parents were saying, "This guy is crazy, an extremist." So I used to have a lot of dreams.

 

Stan Alcorn: 15 minutes in, the conversation turns from dreams-

 

Speaker 14: [inaudible]

 

Stan Alcorn: ... to reality.

 

Speaker 14: So what, what do you want?

 

Mohamed O. M.: I need you to help me, man.

 

Stan Alcorn: Mohamed asks for a truck with explosives. After that, the FBI takes over. They give Mohamed homework. He has to rent a storage shed, buy some AA batteries, and a toggle switch at RadioShack. But it's FBI agents who get the van and who build a fake bomb in it out of plywood and plastic barrels. It's the agents who drive and park that van near the Christmas tree lighting with Mohamed in the passenger seat.

 

Speaker 14: You ready?

 

Mohamed O. M.: Yeah.

 

Stan Alcorn: They even tell Mohamed the phone number to dial.

 

Speaker 14: You dial 1-

 

Stan Alcorn: That's supposed to detonate the bomb.

 

Speaker 14: You dial it again.

 

Stan Alcorn: Just before he's arrested.

 

Speaker 15: Get down. Get down. Get down.

 

Stan Alcorn: But, in the meetings leading up to that day, over and over the undercover agents give Mohamed what they called 'outs'. The government said these were opportunities for Mohamed to back out that show him choosing violence instead. Mohamed's attorneys said these were phony choices that show him trying to live up to expectations and his adolescent dreams. One of the dramatic outs happens in that first meeting.

 

Mohamed O. M.: So, I'm just in it ...

 

Stan Alcorn: After Mohamed casually suggests he could blow himself up in the van.

 

Yusuf: You're talking like this like you're eating an ice cream.

 

Stan Alcorn: Mohamed is still sitting on the floor.

 

Speaker 14: It's not easy, Mohamed.

 

Stan Alcorn: And he keeps looking down at his food while he talks. While Yusuf towers over him, gesturing with his hands.

 

Yusuf: You're gonna push that button. Are you sure?

 

Mohamed O. M.: Yeah, brother. I won't lie.

 

Speaker 14: Well.

 

Yusuf: Mohamed, I need you to look me in the eyes. How long you been thinking about this?

 

Mohamed O. M.: I told you-

 

Yusuf: Mohamed.

 

Mohamed O. M.: Yeah?

 

Yusuf: Look at me in the eyes.

 

Mohamed O. M.: [inaudible]. Since I was 15. Since I was 15. I thought about all these things before.

 

Stan Alcorn: This video, played a critical role at Mohamed's trial. I talked with juror, [Alicia Thompson] and she was on the fence until she re-watched it.

 

Alicia Thompson: Yeah, that's what made me finally decide to say he was guilty.

 

Stan Alcorn: What was it about that clip that helped you make that decision?

 

Alicia Thompson: Because he said he been thinking about it since he was 15. He's been thinking about it and he acted on it.

 

Stan Alcorn: What do you think 'it' is?

 

Alicia Thompson: To kill Americans.

 

Stan Alcorn: After a 13 day trial, they found him guilty of the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction in less than seven hours.

 

Al Letson: The question I still have is ... I don't know, did all of this make people safer?

 

Stan Alcorn: That depends on what you think Mohamed would've done without the FBI leading him along, but it also depends on what you think those FBI agents could've done. That's something former agent Mike German pointed out to me.

 

Mike German: That's the flip side of this. That these undercover operations are very high resource investigations. This means you're not doing something else. There's plenty of crime out there. The government shouldn't be in a position of inventing it.

 

Al Letson: How often does that happen? How often do we put resources into taking somebody who's susceptible, but not actually doing anything, and put them away?

 

Stan Alcorn: Well, a lot more often if you're Muslim. In our domestic terrorism database, nearly half of those cases involved stings, compared to 12% of right-wing cases. Also, prosecutors charge Mohamed with attempted use of a weapon of a weapon of mass destruction. That's a terrorism charge. They added to that a terrorism sentencing enhancement.

 

David Neiwert: Terrorism charges bring with them substantially higher penalties, longer sentences, and yeah, harsher terms.

 

Stan Alcorn: That's reporter David Neiwert again.

 

David Neiwert: And for good reason. They cause greater harm than your ordinary underlying crimes.

 

Stan Alcorn: Mohamed got 30 years in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release. When he gets out of prison, he'll have to ask a probation officer before he uses a computer.

 

David Neiwert: Those kinds of charges and sentences and prosecutions are very common among Islamists. Whereas with a lot of right-wing extremists, there's a lot of ... I think there's a lot of wrist-slapping that goes on.

 

Stan Alcorn: In fact, prison terms for a right-wing terrorist are less than half as long as sentences for terrorists who say they're acting in the name of Islam. Case and point, something that happened the night after Mohamed's arrest.

 

Speaker 17: Breaking news that we've been following this morning. Fire crews responded to an arson fire at a mosque in Corvallis around 2:15 this morning. It happened at the Salman Alfarisi [crosstalk]-

 

Stan Alcorn: In, what seemed to be retaliation for the Christmas tree bomb plot, somehow had broken a window and started a fire in the Corvallis mosque where Mohamed sometimes prayed.

 

Al Letson: Okay, so what happened with the Christmas tree bomb plot was just that. It was a plot that never actually turned into a terrorist attack. But what happened here at this mosque, that's a terrorist attack right?

 

Stan Alcorn: Absolutely, it's ideological violence to intimidate a group. By the FBI's definition, that's terrorism but it wasn't treated like terrorism.

 

Al Letson: How was it treated? That part of the story when we come back. This is Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

The best way to get all of our stories without anything in between is just an email in your inbox. Our investigations change laws, minds and ... sure, we like to say it ... the world. Be among the first to read them. To sign up, just text newsletter to 63735. Again, text the word newsletter to 63735. I'll see you in your inbox.

 

From The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Before the break, we heard about back-to-back terrorists incidents in Oregon. In an FBI sting operation, a 19 year old Somali-American named Mohamed Osman Mohamud got 30 years in prison for trying to set off a fake bomb. The night after the bomb plot, there was an arson at Mohamed's mosque. Reveal's Stan Alcorn has been looking into the arsonist story. So, who did it? What happened to him?

 

Stan Alcorn: Well, he was a white, Christian, 24-year-old named Cody Seth Crawford. He pleaded no contest in 2016 and David Neiwert of the Investigative Fund was in the courtroom for the sentencing.

 

David Neiwert: It was really strikingly different from what you would usually see in a typical terrorism case.

 

Stan Alcorn: He says, even though Cody insisted he was innocent and didn't show any remorse, the judge was smiling at him as she imposed her verdict. Five years probation, no prison time.

 

Al Letson: So, Mohamed gets prison time for a fake bomb, but Cody got no prison time for a real fire. How does that happen?

 

Stan Alcorn: It fits with a larger pattern we know from that domestic terrorism database we put together with The Investigative Fund. Prison terms for terrorists who target Muslims tend to be about half as long as for terrorists targeting the general public. In this arson case, I called the prosecutor and he told me Cody got off so lightly because at the time of the sentencing, he was in Oregon State Hospital, the mental hospital where One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was filmed.

 

What happened was, after the arson, Cody had a series of episodes involving alcohol and what a psychiatrist diagnosed as Brief Reactive Psychosis. One found him at a gas station, ranting at the customers that he was a Christian warrior and telling a police officer, "You are going to burn in hell like the other Muslims." The one that landed him in the mental hospital started at his mom's house.

 

Cody Crawford: Here's my mother's piano.

 

Stan Alcorn: He videotaped himself holding up a giant wrench in front of a little upright piano.

 

Cody Crawford: Right here.

 

Stan Alcorn: And then smashing it down. In a video he shot later that night, he delivers a monologue in his mom's backyard with shards of the piano burning in a bonfire behind him.

 

Cody Crawford: I did burn my mom's piano, but I did not burn the stupid (bleep) Islamic Center. You know what, those Islamic Center (bleep), they can go burn in hell for all I care, because I didn't do (bleep) to them.

 

Stan Alcorn: While the piano burned, his mom called the police. Officer Casey Gibson was the first on the scene.

 

Casey Gibson: He got to the door and was able to just lock the door as I was grabbing the door handle, and he yelled from inside the house that he had a gun and he was gonna shoot me.

 

Stan Alcorn: Casey pulls out his gun and at this point Officer Todd [Fenk] shows up.

 

Todd Fenk: And I see Cody leaning out the window and he's got a flashlight in one hand and he brings his other hand up in what looked to me like a shooting position. I dropped to my knees behind the engine block of my police car and, at that point, I realized he didn't have a gun in his hand. He's got a slingshot.

 

Stan Alcorn: Both officers said Cody came very close to being shot that night. Cody was ultimately charged with unlawful use of a weapon, a felony, and found guilty except for insanity, which is how he landed in the mental hospital. He'd been there nearly two years when he was finally sentenced for the mosque arson.

 

Okay, so I'm driving over to the Corvallis mosque where I'm going to meet with Mozafar Wanly. I wanted to talk to Mozafar because the prosecution memo about the lenient sentence named one other factor in addition to Cody's mental illness. It said they picked the verdict with great deference to the leaders of the mosque. Mozafar is one of those leaders, so I wondered what role he had in that sentencing.

 

Mozafar comes out of the mosque wearing a khaki vest with too many pockets. He's got a trim white beard and little round glasses. He looks like a grandfather. The night of the fire, he showed up at 3:00 AM while it was still burning.

 

Mozafar Wanly: Yeah, I saw that it's black and fire inside and this window, it was broke here.

 

Stan Alcorn: Mozafar said the prosecution kept the mosque leaders informed, but as far as consulting them about the sentence? Telling them, "We're not gonna seek to put him in prison."

 

Mozafar Wanly: No, no, no, they didn't.

 

Stan Alcorn: They didn't?

 

Mozafar Wanly: They didn't.

 

Stan Alcorn: Oh, okay. Because one of the things-

 

Mozafar Wanly: Because I said from that [inaudible], I said, "Do whatever you want, you feel that's right. We'll accept it. We are with you." I will say, the people, they will feel that's not fair between what's happened with Mohamed Mohamud and what's happened with him.

 

Stan Alcorn: Then I told Mozafar something he didn't know. A few months after Cody was sentenced for the mosque arson, a medical panel at the mental hospital decided he didn't have bipolar disorder after all. They diagnosed him with personality disorder and substance abuse disorder. The way they interpret the law, they couldn't hold him for that. They released him, even though they concluded there was evidence he was substantially dangerous.

 

And the fact that they said he is dangerous and yet we're letting him out seems-

 

Mozafar Wanly: I don't think they did good job if he's dangerous and let him free. I don't think that's right.

 

Stan Alcorn: I drove straight from talking to Mozafar at the mosque to meeting Cody outside a Walmart.

 

Cody Crawford: One-man broadcast team, huh?

 

Stan Alcorn: He's wiry, with a graying red beard and a tie-dye sweatshirt. From the moment I meet him, he's talking non-stop about videos he's made, visiting his mom in the hospital. He tells me all about the homemade bike he rode here on.

 

Cody Crawford: A battery pack, 36 volt.

 

Stan Alcorn: Oh, so this thing's electric.

 

Cody Crawford: Yeah, I don't want to have to peddle. All the components are Chinese.

 

Stan Alcorn: It takes more than a day before I can sit him down in a quiet place and ask him about the things I want to talk about, the mosque arson, which he still denies starting despite DNA evidence, and what he said about Muslims during his psychotic episodes.

 

They quote you saying, "Watch out for your red eyes, that's how you know if you're standing front of-"

 

Cody Crawford: So, like I said, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

 

Stan Alcorn: Are you saying though that-

 

Cody Crawford: I'm saying I acted crazy. I wanted a middle ground where I got convicted, but I didn't have to do a lot of years in prison, I didn't have to pay any money, where I didn't have to say I did it. I consider what happened in my case a total victory for me.

 

Stan Alcorn: It does seem like you ... you're out, you have a life.

 

Cody Crawford: I kicked the federal government's ass in court, either way you look at it, with what I started with. Whether I did it or not.

 

Stan Alcorn: But later I press him on the details. The police say they talked to your sister and she had said that your sister, your mother, and-

 

Cody Crawford: What do you want me to say? Just admit that I actually am a (bleep) nutcase and like go back on Social Security and be a leech on society? Or do I pick myself up by the bootstraps, tell everybody I lied through my teeth, look cool, like Jack Nicholson maybe. People think I'm guilty anyway. It's much more employable to be thought of as a crook and a liar than as a bipolar crazy guy.

 

Al Letson: What was your take on him?

 

Stan Alcorn: My take is that it's really hard to tell what Cody actually believes versus what he wants you to think he believes, because one minute I'd be talking to him and he'd say ...

 

Cody Crawford: Muslims are amazing people. I have friends that are Muslims.

 

Stan Alcorn: Then the next minute he'd say something like this:

 

Cody Crawford: There's no other religion that just calls for your death under so many different circumstances if you aren't on their side.

 

Stan Alcorn: Since he was released from the mental hospital, he hasn't done anything like the mosque arson. But he did drunkenly drive over a mailbox and a fence, and then flee the police, he wrecked his mom's car while driving on a suspended recently, and more recently, he spat on an officer. But he just keeps getting second chances. Last I checked, he's not in jail.

 

Al Letson: Meanwhile, for the Christmas tree plot, Mohamed Mohamud is in a medium security federal prison.

 

Stan Alcorn: Yeah, and Cody is very conscious of how their two cases are intertwined. At first he said he didn't think Mohamed should ever get out of prison, but then he also said this ...

 

Cody Crawford: There was never mental health stuff mixed in the Mohamed case. I know that there has to be though because nobody can be that angry and upset at everybody, unless they're deeply, deeply disturbed. If anything, there should have been a role reversal. Mohamed probably should have gotten to go to the hospital and gotten help.

 

Stan Alcorn: Mohamud is projected to get out of prison in 2037 when he'll be 45 years old.

 

Al Letson: That was Reveal's Stan Alcorn. The difference in how the government treats cases like Cody Seth Crawford's and Mohamed Osman Mohamud's is deeper than just prison sentences. Dozens of FBI agents worked to set up Mohamed in that fake bombing plot, but by putting so many resources into sting operations like that one is law enforcement missing the threat from right-wing extremists, even when it's right in front of their eyes?

 

Jerad Miller: If they come to arrest me for non-compliance or whatever, I'm just going to start shooting people.

 

Al Letson: That story next, on Reveal.

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Today, we're re-airing a show about domestic terrorism. Our partners at the nonprofit newsroom, the Investigative Fund looked at domestic terrorism from 2008 to 2016. They found the federal government is focusing almost all of its resources on terrorists who claim they're fighting in the name of Islam. Most of those plots were foiled, but when it comes to right-wing terrorists, authorities haven't been as successful. Most of those plots have been carried out.

 

Speaker 23: The suspects are on foot. It's a white male, about 25 to 30- on foot. A white female that's about the same age. They're in fatigues and they're heavily armed.

 

Al Letson: The suspects are a married couple. The husband had a habit of proclaiming his views any chance he got online or even on TV. Reveal's Katharine Mieszkowski joins me now. Hey, Katharine.

 

Katharine M.: Hi, Al.

 

Al Letson: Okay, so, who are we dealing with here? Start with the husband.

 

Katharine M.: His name is Jerad Miller and he spent a lot of time recording himself.

 

Jerad Miller: Thanks for watching my video.

 

Katharine M.: That's how we're going to get to know him.

 

Jerad Miller: Peyton Manning just threw his second interception in the first half of the Super Bowl. Super Bowl. Super Bowl. I was smoking a little. Anyway ...

 

Al Letson: Sounds like Jerad was just the kind of guy who liked to chill out, get high and talk smack about football.

 

Katharine M.: Yeah, but in a lot of these online videos, he's mouthing off about guns, drug laws, the police state. See, Jerad was this thirty-something high school dropout and he dealt pot and in the summer of 2013, he was living with his wife, Amanda, in Lafayette, Indiana. By then, he had a pretty long rap sheet.

 

Jerad Miller: People are getting arrested every stinking day for marijuana and for pills and other kinds of a drugs just because they're self-medicating themselves.

 

Katharine M.: He shot this in his low-rent apartment under the spinning ceiling fan. He was on house arrest.

 

Jerad Miller: And then they give you one of these fashionable little ankle bracelets. Pretty uncomfortable thing right here, you can see it's made an indent on my foot.

 

Katharine M.: Jerad saw himself as the victim of an illegitimate system. Here's what he saw when he looked outside.

 

Jerad Miller: Here's my front window here. That is the courthouse. So, you have to go down to that big 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 don't know, sounds a little like Nazi Germany to me or maybe Communist Russia.

 

Katharine M.: Eventually, Jerad failed at house arrest. The landlord evicted him and Amanda for not paying their rent so he had to serve out the rest of his term in jail. He told his wife how he felt about that in another video.

 

Jerad Miller: Hey, babe, it's your husband. I love you so much and every night I'm just gonna imagine that I'm holding you, and then I'll wake up pissed off because I know I'm in jail.

 

Katharine M.: Jerad's felony convictions made it hard for him to find a job and illegal for him to own a firearm. He didn't believe in these laws. Online, he found kindred spirits in something called the Sovereign Citizen Movement. Our partners at the nonprofit newsroom, The Investigative Fund, have reported on its followers. Here's journalist David Neiwert.

 

David Neiwert: People who declare themselves Sovereign Citizens don't belong to an organization. They belong to a belief system.

 

Katharine M.: David says they tend to see the police this way.

 

David Neiwert: As an oppressive force of the conspiratorial New World Order, which is trying to enslave all of mankind, and they are very revolutionary in their outlook.

 

Katharine M.: David found that Sovereign Citizens pose a big threat to law enforcement. In the nine years, they killed 9 police officers and injured another 12. That movement appealed to the Millers back in Indiana where things weren't going very well. After house arrest, the eviction and Jerad's stint in jail.

 

David Neiwert: They were looking for where to go and here was this guy out in Nevada who was running for governor, touting the same ideology that they were.

 

Katharine M.: His name was David Lory VanDerBeek.

 

David L. V.: A lot of people are going into the law enforcement as they did in Nazi Germany because it validates their worst traits as sadists. I'm ready right now to fight to the death for your freedom. I'm ready right now to go to jail for the rest of my life for your freedom. What are willing to do for your own freedom, Americans?

 

Katharine M.: The title of this video is 'If Obama Sends Police to Take Your Guns, Execute Them'.

 

David Neiwert: And it was, in fact, that video that inspired Jerad, and they, shortly after that, moved out to Nevada to begin working on his campaign.

 

Katharine M.: Here's Jerad and Amanda hightailing it out of Indiana.

 

Jerad Miller: Now entering Kentucky.

 

Amanda Miller: Goodbye, Indiana. Hello, Kentucky. Woo, hoo.

 

Katharine M.: That's one of the few recordings we have with Amanda's voice in it too. But her social media suggests that she was onboard with Jerad's views. The Millers had barely made it into Nevada when Jerad got in trouble again.

 

Jerad Miller: I'm looking at a $525 ticket for driving on a suspended bike.

 

Katharine M.: In this phone call, he complained to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

 

Jerad Miller: You know, that's a whole month of rent. I can't get a job. As a person of the DMV, can you tell me how many laws are on the books concerning drivers?

 

Speaker 27: Well, I mean, unfortunately, no, I can't tell you an exact number.

 

Katharine M.: Right here is where Jerad goes from cranky hassling a government employee to something else.

 

Jerad Miller: Alright, well, I'm going to go to court down here in Nevada to contest this ticket and if they come to arrest me for noncompliance, or whatever, I'm just going to start shooting people.

 

Katharine M.: Word of that call reached the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Detectives paid the Millers a visit and concluded the couple didn't pose a threat. David says it's not uncommon for police to react this way.

 

David Neiwert: Because they seem like sort of hopeless losers, they sort of minimize the threat that they pose.

 

Katharine M.: Sometimes the Millers posed in costumes along the strip for tips. Amanda worked for Hobby Lobby like she had back home in Indiana and the candidate who drew them to Vegas, David VanDerBeek, he introduced them to another politician.

 

Gordon Martinez: They crashed my campaign luncheon.

 

Katharine M.: That's Gordon Martinez. He was campaigning for sheriff on the idea that the Vegas Police Department was corrupt. He'd been a detective in that department. It didn't take him long to feel nervous about the Millers.

 

Gordon Martinez: Jerad started about by saying "Jeez, I want to help, I want to be part of your campaign for sheriff." And then he began explaining his criminal record and his opinion really didn't amount to a whole lot.

 

Katharine M.: He declined Jerad's offer of help.

 

Gordon Martinez: He just wasn't getting it and I finally just had to say "You can't be anywhere near me and I can't be anywhere near you."

 

Katharine M.: But the Millers didn't fade quietly away. Gordon kept spotting them at political events around town.

 

Gordon Martinez: There they are. There they are. I was always expecting some type of acting out. It was just a little voice in the back of my mind that said keep your eye on this guy because he's a weirdo.

 

Katharine M.: Another place Jerad and Amanda turned up, the Bundy Ranch, where they would find an even bigger stage for their radical views.

 

Speaker 29: Now, to a tense standoff between a Nevada rancher and arms supporters on one side and federal government on the other.

 

Katharine M.: This was in April of 2014 when rancher Cliven Bundy escalated a decades-long dispute with the federal government over his refusal to pay fees for grazing his cattle on public lands. His armed supporters gathered at the ranch outside Las Vegas.

 

Speaker 30: On social media, they've called it a 'range war'. With each passing day, more and more protesters arrive to support the Bundys, one of them carrying an AK-47.

 

Katharine M.: The Millers were among them. Jerad gave interviews to news crews. For this one with Al Jazeera America, Jerad is tricked out for armed resistance against the New World Order. Full camouflage and a black tactical vest, packing a rifle and a handgun.

 

Jerad Miller: I'm not afraid of death, I'm afraid of being a slave. I'm afraid of living under tyranny.

 

Katharine M.: Jerad said to a TV news crew while heavily armed that he was willing to die for his beliefs. The Millers believe that they were oppressed by a tyrannical police state, but the law still wasn't watching them. After he threatened violence in a phone call, detectives gave them a pass and his Sovereign Citizen beliefs didn't raise eyebrows at the Bundy Ranch. Remember, it was illegal for him, a former felon, to even possess a weapon. That would've been reason enough to arrest him. In another interview at the ranch with NBC affiliate KRNV Jerad said ...

 

Jerad Miller: I feel sorry for any federal agents that want to come in here and push us around or anything like that. I really don't want violence towards them but if they're going to come bring violence to us, well, if that's the language they want to speak, we'll learn it.

 

Speaker 31: Well, that sounds kind of like a menacing statement, I have to tell you.

 

Katharine M.: But it wasn't violence that ended their stay at the Bundy Ranch. David Neiwert says it was the Bundys.

 

David Neiwert: They realized that he was just trouble and they asked him to leave.

 

Katharine M.: While the couple was at the ranch, Amanda lost her job at Hobby Lobby. The Millers were broke and couldn't pay their rent. A neighbor they'd befriended took them in until ...

 

Automated: Sunday, June 8, 2014.

 

Katharine M.: That's the day Las Vegas emergency dispatchers fueled a blizzard of phone calls.

 

Automated: 11:22 and 14 seconds.

 

Speaker 33: [inaudible]

 

Speaker 34: Hello, do you have a police, fire or medical emergency?

 

Speaker 33: [crosstalk].

 

Speaker 23: I'm at Cici's Pizza at Nellis and Stewart, a guy just shot two cops.

 

Speaker 35: A guy just what?

 

Speaker 23: Shot two policemen at Cici's Pizza.

 

Speaker 35: Inside or outside?

 

Speaker 23: Inside. Inside Cici's Pizza.

 

Speaker 35: Both the victims are inside?

 

Speaker 23: Yes, the suspects are on foot.

 

Katharine M.: The suspects on foot? Jerad and Amanda.

 

Speaker 23: It's a white male, about 25 to 30. A white female that's about the same age. They're in Cici's and they're heavily armed.

 

Katharine M.: Officers converge on the pizza place.

 

Speaker 36: [inaudible] 2065 arriving at Cici's Pizza. I want one more unit.

 

Katharine M.: Inside, there's a horrific scene.

 

Speaker 37: We need medical inside Cici's now. Medical inside Cici's now.

 

Katharine M.: Here's what happened. Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo were eating lunch at Cici's pizza. Amanda and Jerad shot them, point blank. The ambush lasted less than a minute. Jerad and Amanda make off with the officers weapons and ammunition. They leave a 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, with a rattlesnake on it, along with a swastika pin and a note. They aren't done yet.

 

Speaker 36: He's still going, he's heading southbound on Ellis. Heading towards Walmart.

 

Katharine M.: Jerad walks into a nearby Walmart with Amanda following him.

 

Speaker 36: Shots fired inside Walmart. Shots fired inside Walmart.

 

Speaker 38: This guy came in yelling that there's a revolution coming, to get out of Walmart. That the police are coming and that they will shoot us and he started shooting in the Walmart and we ran out the back door.

 

Katharine M.: On one call a guy who fled Walmart says another man with a handgun is still inside, trying to stop the shooters.

 

Speaker 39: One of them started shooting at me, but he went at them with a gun.

 

Speaker 40: Okay.

 

Speaker 39: I left.

 

Katharine M.: That man, Joseph Wilcox, is following Jerad and aims at him. Amanda's nearby. She fires her gun and kills Joseph with one shot. Inside the store, some customers take cover with employees. Amanda and Jerad exchange gunfire with officers.

 

Speaker 41: We have two down in the corner. They're both armed, look like they've been shot. They're covering both directions.

 

Katharine M.: In the end, Amanda takes her own life. A police officer's bullet kills Jerad.

 

Speaker 41: Squad is with the victims or, correction, with the suspects.

 

Katharine M.: David Neiwert says Jerad and Amanda died trying to kill more police officers.

 

David Neiwert: They came to believe that the only proper response to police oppression was gunfire, and they acted on it.

 

Katharine M.: Following the beliefs of the Sovereign Citizen movement, the Millers headed to the shopping center that day hellbent on resistance.

 

Zoe Thorkildsen: They had left the apartment that they were living at, earlier that morning, having told their roommate that they were leaving that day with the express purpose of murdering police officers.

 

Katharine M.: That's research analyst Zoe Thorkildsen. The roommate didn't tell anyone, by the way, because she didn't think they were serious. Zoe studied the attack for a report that the Justice Department commissioned, focusing on the police's tactical response. Security camera footage shows the Millers loitering near the site of their attack for almost two and half hours before they fired the first shot.

 

Zoe Thorkildsen: There's evidence that the Millers were essentially waiting around that area for the opportunity to strike out against police. There isn't any evidence that the Millers specifically targeted officers Beck and Soldo in this incident.

 

Katharine M.: The officers died simply because they were in uniform.

 

Zoe Thorkildsen: But what we found was that they two officers that were ambushed, there's nothing in the decisions that they made that could have been changed to prevent this incident.

 

Gordon Martinez: I must have had at least eight to ten phone calls immediately.

 

Katharine M.: That's Gordon Martinez, the candidate for Las Vegas Sheriff. What was your reaction when you first found out who the killers were, that it was Jerad and Amanda?

 

Gordon Martinez: Ah, no. Why couldn't I have just listened to that little voice and maybe warned somebody.

 

Katharine M.: As news reports identified the attackers, there was a reason Gordon's phone rang off the hook. In an interview at the Bundy Ranch, Jerad had worn a certain T-shirt.

 

Gordon Martinez: My campaign T-shirt, Gordon Martinez for Sheriff.

 

Katharine M.: Now, people linked his campaign to two cop killers. He told his volunteers to stop wearing that shirt. I mean, the Millers left kind of a lot of breadcrumbs before they did these horrible acts.

 

Gordon Martinez: Oh, I know. I had no idea that they would go this far. Usually, what you have is somebody like that is just all mouth.

 

Katharine M.: Usually, but let's try a thought experiment. What if Jerad and Amanda had been Muslim? Here's David again.

 

David Neiwert: Clearly, if they had been Muslim and talking about Jihad, I think the approach to them would have been substantially different.

 

Katharine M.: The couple was able to carry out a murderous plot because no one really believed them. The Feds sure didn't. That's despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of attacks against police are by right-wing extremists, not terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam. The Investigative Fund Database makes that clear. So, why do you think that danger that someone like the Millers pose is treated so differently?

 

David Neiwert: Hmm, the why. It's complex.

 

Katharine M.: Hateful rhetoric on the far right has become so commonplace, many people ignore it. David says there's a reason ISIS-related threats grab more attention.

 

David Neiwert: A lot of it is a result of institutionalized systemic racism. Because they were white kids from Indiana, who were just talking about shooting police, nobody took it very seriously.

 

Katharine M.: The fatal ambush of officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo hit the Vegas Police Department hard. Officer Tyler Todd is treasurer of the local police union. He used to patrol the area where the shooting took place, with Officer Soldo. Do you have a feeling like that could have been you?

 

Tyler Todd: Oh, absolutely. The Cici's Pizza that they were eating at, him and I had gone there several times. Exact same scenario. We wind the clock back a month or two, definitely could have been him and I there.

 

Katharine M.: Tyler's late colleague left behind his wife and an infant son.

 

Tyler Todd: He was a brilliant guy at policing. He was gonna go real far. He busted his butt and knew what he was doing, and actually was teaching other guys new things because he was always, always looking, always learning. And he's missed.

 

Katharine M.: That's why it aches for him to consider what everyone missed about the Millers.

 

Tyler Todd: It's frustrating and painful to know how this all transpired. But if you sit there and think about it, it's just not gonna help anybody.

 

Al Letson: That attack happened in 2014. What's being done to stop right-wing terrorists today? Daryl Johnson used to run an office that tracked those threats in the Department of Homeland Security. He says he was pushed out of his job after he released a report that sounded the alarm about the resurgence of right wing extremists. Later, that office was shut down. He now runs his own firm, DT Analytics. Daryl, thanks for joining me. How you doing?

 

Daryl Johnson: Doing well.

 

Al Letson: When you warned about the rise of right-wing extremism in 2008, two of the driving forces were an economic downturn and the election of the first black president. But right now, the economy is doing okay. It's growing fast and Donald Trump is the president. Why haven't we moved back from the precipice? Why do we keep going forward towards it?

 

Daryl Johnson: Why it's different this time is we have a president who has mainstreamed extremist messages that I once heard on white nationalist message boards and websites 10, 15 years ago. He uses this terminology that almost serves as dog whistles to the extremist fringe. Using terms such as nationalist to describe himself and his views. Using a term like invaders to describe the immigrant caravan coming up through Central America to the US southern border. When extremists hear the word nationalist, they hear the word white nationalist and it resonates with them. When they hear the term invader, they hear threat from immigrants, and so you see militia groups mobilizing to go down and support the US troops to monitor the southern border and thinking that they have to the right to do this.

 

Al Letson: Have you seen anything from the White House to curb this rising tide?

 

Daryl Johnson: Under the Trump administration, I've seen virtually zero. We had a countering violent extremism program that was stood up under President Obama and in 2017, there was a group called Life After Hate and it was the very first time where we had a non-government organization that was applying for a federal grant to actually reach out to white nationalists and try to get them out of the movement, try to help them become less radicalized, and that funding was pulled under the Trump administration. The President hasn't really done much to stem this problem and, in fact, he's ... When we had Charlottesville last year, he tried to cast blame on both the Antifa extremists as well as the alt-right extremists.

 

Al Letson: One way hate spreads is through social media. Robert Bowers put up an antisemitic post before he shot and killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. He used an extremist-friendly site called Gab because companies like Twitter and Facebook are starting to police their platforms. Daryl says that can have unintended consequences.

 

Daryl Johnson: Whenever you attempt to ban these people who are making this hateful rhetoric from your website, all you're doing is scattering the rats to go to another location and exploit that. I think passive monitoring is a better solution because that way you allow the extremists to vent and share their hatred or what have you and you have an opportunity to actually not only identify these people but monitor their speech and their activities to see if it crosses that line or shows an escalation, like a mobilization towards violence.

 

That was what we were trying to do at Homeland Security was understand the radicalization of these individuals and how they take their threatening rhetoric and actually convert that into violent action. There's nobody at the federal government doing that anymore.

 

Al Letson: Daryl Johnson, thank you so much for talking to me today.

 

Daryl Johnson: I appreciate it. Thank you.

 

Al Letson: Daryl Johnson runs DT Analytics located outside Washington, D.C. Thanks to Casey Miner who produced this interview. When we first ran this show, Homeland Security sent us a statement. In it, they rejected the criticism that they are overly focused on any particularly group or element in the fight against terrorists. They say they concentrate on all threats to the homeland and work closely with state, local, and federal law enforcement.

 

Today's show was produced by Katherine Mieszkowski and Lead Producer, Stan Alcorn. Cheryl Devall was our editor. Thanks to our partners at The Investigative Fund, including editor Esther Kaplan, reporter David Neiwert, and researcher Darren Ankrom. You can see the entire domestic terrorism database at revealnews.org. Thanks to our data team for their work on that, including editor Jennifer LaFleur and reporter Scott Pham. Fact checking from Harriet Rowan and Emmanuel Martinez.

 

Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Our sound design team is the dynamic duo, Jbreezy, Mr. Jimmy Briggs and Fernando 'My, man, yo' Arruda. They had help from Catherine Raymondo, Claire Mullen, and Kaitlin Benz. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Our senior Supervising Editor is Taki Telonidis. Our Executive Producer is Kevin Sullivan. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics in Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson, and remember, there's always more to the story.

 

Speaker 45: From PRX.