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Suspect in shootings at Jewish centers shows that hate is hard to handle

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, April 19, 2014, at 7:29 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, May 29, 2014, at 6:14 p.m.

In 1987, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. wrote a six-page letter to a federal judge, pleading for leniency.

The white supremacist said he had always tried to work within the legal system. Accused at the time of plotting a revolution against the government and stockpiling a cache of weapons and explosives, Miller said his only goal was to unite and organize white people.

“I would never have harmed a living soul,” wrote the then 47-year-old. “Frankly, I don’t have it in me. I never at any time intended to harm anyone. … They were only words.”

In the almost 25 years since being released from prison, Miller continued to spew his hatred of Jewish people, tossed a white supremacist newspaper on lawns in southwest Missouri and drew enough concern from law enforcement that some kept a file on him. But he managed to stay out of the courtroom — he even dropped off law enforcement’s radar in the past year or two.

That’s why authorities and many who monitor hate groups didn’t foresee he would erupt, as prosecutors say he did a week ago today, killing three people outside local Jewish centers.

“We do know this guy’s name,” said Marvin Szneler, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee in Overland Park.

“I’ve had calls from former staff members who were around and remember when we did research on him. It’s just crazy. This guy was on our radar map, although there was nothing we could do about it.”

But in such tragedies, people want to talk about what went wrong and how violence can be prevented in the future, Szneler said.

For the past week, many have called for more action against hate speech. Others wonder how Miller was able to spout off so viciously for so long without drawing more scrutiny. And still more want to know how, if at all, future Millers can be detected and thwarted.

But that’s not easy, law enforcement officials and others say.

“He always used his words” but was never violent himself, said Lawrence County Sheriff Brad DeLay, who as a deputy in the early 1990s got to know the Miller family well. “I don’t know how you stop that.”

Added Jeff Lanza, a former FBI agent: “You can’t prevent a madman from acting out on a moment’s notice. … And there’s really nothing that law enforcement could have done, I don’t think, to prevent this particular situation.”

Red flags sometimes precede violence. A man who in 2008 shot up a city council meeting in Kirkwood, Mo., killing five and wounding two, had been disrupting meetings for years and was convicted six years earlier of assaulting one of his murder victims.

But then there are incidents that occur with little warning, such as the Army specialist who killed three and injured 16 at Fort Hood, Texas, earlier this month before taking his life. Or the 20-year-old man who gunned down 26 in a Connecticut elementary school in December 2012. Neither had previously shown outward signs of violent tendencies.

Miller, 73, who also goes by Frazier Glenn Cross, was arrested Sunday afternoon outside a school near the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park. He is accused of killing three people — a devoted grandfather, his teenage grandson and a mother of three who was about to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary — outside the community center and the nearby Village Shalom senior living center.

Handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, Miller bobbed his head up and down after ranting: “Heil Hitler.”

No one knows why the heavily armed man would travel three hours from his southwest Missouri home and allegedly shoot people in the Kansas City area. None of the victims was Jewish.

Some speculate he may be ill.

Danny Clevenger, the mayor of Marionville and a longtime acquaintance of Miller’s, said Miller told him a few years ago that he was sick and didn’t have long to live. When Miller made his first appearance in Johnson County District Court last week, a guard pushed Miller to and from the room in a wheelchair.

Clevenger said Miller has been taking medication for pain. Other extremists have said he has emphysema or a severe respiratory ailment.

Or was Miller trying to regain the credibility in the white supremacy world that he lost 25 years ago after making a deal with the government to testify against extremists in the radical fringe of the movement?

“Once he took that deal … that soured him with a lot of people,” said Arthur Jones, a member of the National Socialist Movement who marched alongside Miller in the 1980s in a protest of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Jones said he hadn’t heard from Miller in 20 years until he got a letter a year and a half ago.

“He was trying to earn his respect back.”

Whatever may have triggered the attacks, it most likely would have been hard to spot, said Karen Aroesty, the Anti-Defamation League’s St. Louis regional director.

“How do you have a crystal ball on somebody who is so arguably unstable and so ideologically attached to such a level of hatred?” Aroesty said. “How do you anticipate when that person is going to blow?”

Miller was what many who monitor extremists call a lone wolf.

“I think all indications are he was acting on his own,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremists and filed a lawsuit against Miller in the 1980s. “He was basically doing his own thing, publishing a newspaper, posting on various racist sites, and that’s really about it.”

Terrorism experts describe a lone wolf as someone who is inspired by an ideology or an organization to commit violence but acts independently.

“You just don’t know who that lone wolf is,” Lanza said. “They’re not talking to anybody. They don’t have a system, a group of friends, a family that they may be telling what they’re planning on doing.”

In his posts on a white supremacist website, Miller praised lone wolves who committed violent acts but didn’t seem to support the concept himself. In his autobiography, “A White Man Speaks Out,” he wrote that he preferred to work “above ground,” not “underground.”

In general, some steps can be taken to help prevent hate crimes, even among lone wolves, experts say.

Law enforcement can be aware of significant dates, such as Hitler’s birthday or the anniversaries of incidents that have rallied hate groups.

And the monitoring of ex-cons could be extended.

“Once a person is subject to the court, they can set forth rules as to who you can associate with,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino. “We have this with mafia people. They’re not allowed to associate with other mafiosos.”

For decades, Miller was viewed as a kook in parts of Missouri, but he didn’t trip many high-risk wires.

“He didn’t express any intent on being violent,” said Robert Leger, who from 1994 to 2006 was editorial page editor of the Springfield News-Leader. “He just wanted to get his views out.”

He was “against anything that wasn’t white and the right kind of Christian,” said Leger, who for years received Miller’s letters and phone calls. “He sent so many (letters) that went right into the trash can, but a few got in. … The question was, do you let the cockroaches congregate in the dark, or do you shine light on them?”

Robert George knew of the entire Miller family from his 21 years as Lawrence County prosecutor. For years he’d drive by the Miller home and see the Confederate flag waving on the porch, and a few times Miller’s white supremacy publications landed on the prosecutor’s lawn.

But as one of the top law enforcement officials in the county, George never had a reason to open a case on the elder Miller. George prosecuted one of Miller’s sons for throwing a Molotov cocktail into a home where a young black man was staying.

George also was prosecutor in 2008 when another son, Jesse Miller, shot and killed a Good Samaritan who stopped to help him. Minutes later, as the Miller son headed toward town with a loaded shotgun, he died in a shootout with police.

As for the father? Nothing.

“I was never made aware of anything,” said George, who retired from the prosecutor’s office in 2010. “Never a neighbor complaint, dogs barking. We had not received any complaints. … Frazier, he may not have been the smartest, but he never brought law enforcement down on himself. He never did anything for anyone to tell us, ‘I really think you should watch this guy.’ 

Authorities in and around Aurora and Marionville know eyes are on southwest Missouri.

“People have criticized, ‘You’ve known about him. How could you let him do this stuff?’ ” DeLay said. “This just came up out of the blue.”

Last summer, three dozen people attended a presentation at the Jewish Community Center by a Kansas City man who has monitored extremist groups for decades.

Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, spoke at an adult education program in August. He included a PowerPoint presentation on anti-Semites and racists in the region.

“I explained the nature of the potential threat areas,” he said, “and I included a discussion of Glenn Miller.” He said he described Miller as “ineffective but dangerous.”

However, Zeskind told The Star, “you’d need a police state to monitor all these people.”

Indeed, hate itself is not a crime, some point out.

Being aware of someone who could pose a threat is one thing — taking action to prevent something from happening is another. There has to be a balance between protecting the public and protecting personal freedoms.

Lanza said Sunday’s tragedy might lead to the bolstering of security in some places.

“But ultimately we live in a very free society, and even if there was a gated entry into that facility with security guards, you still couldn’t stop someone who’s waiting outside,” he said. “Even with high-level security, we’re still not safe from someone who’s bent on being violent.”

The Star’s Dave Helling contributed to this report. To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to jthomas@kcstar.com. To reach Laura Bauer, call 816-234-4944 or send email to lbauer@kcstar.com.

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