Terrorism Experts Say U.S. Isn't Taking White Supremacist Threats Seriously Enough White supremacist terrorism is one of the top national security threats facing the U.S. But many terrorism and law enforcement experts say the government has not taken this threat seriously enough.
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Terrorism Experts Say U.S. Isn't Taking White Supremacist Threats Seriously Enough

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Terrorism Experts Say U.S. Isn't Taking White Supremacist Threats Seriously Enough

Terrorism Experts Say U.S. Isn't Taking White Supremacist Threats Seriously Enough

Terrorism Experts Say U.S. Isn't Taking White Supremacist Threats Seriously Enough

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White supremacist terrorism is one of the top national security threats facing the U.S. But many terrorism and law enforcement experts say the government has not taken this threat seriously enough.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Federal authorities say domestic terrorism is one of the top national security threats facing the country. In just the last few years, we've seen major attacks by white supremacists. They've targeted Jewish people in Pittsburgh, Latinos in El Paso, African Americans in Charleston, just to name a few. And many say the government still hasn't taken this threat seriously enough. NPR's Embedded podcast has been telling the story of one case, a case that shows just how easily the government can let a dangerous white supremacist slip through the cracks.

Tom Dreisbach is an investigative reporter for Embedded. He joins us now. Hey, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So this case that you looked into - I know that it starts way back in the 1970s, and it goes up to basically the present day. How did it all begin?

DREISBACH: Well, it starts with a man named Frazier Glenn Miller, who goes by the name Glenn. He was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. And after the war, he lived in North Carolina and got deeply involved in the white power movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRAZIER GLENN MILLER: (Chanting) White power.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) White power.

MILLER: (Chanting) White power.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) White power.

MILLER: (Chanting) White power.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) White power.

DREISBACH: Miller was the head of a group called the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. And he and his group were accused of harassing African Americans with cross burnings, death threats, training a racist paramilitary militia and even stealing heavy weaponry from a U.S. military base...

CHANG: Whoa.

DREISBACH: ...Including anti-tank weapons. And the goal of all this, he said, was to prepare for a race war.

CHANG: How do you even steal from the U.S. military?

DREISBACH: Well, he had sympathizers in the military. He, of course, was a military veteran himself. And together, they were able to gather this weaponry from Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

CHANG: Wow. OK. So this guy's stealing from the U.S. military. He's threatening to kill Americans with these weapons. Did the government do anything to try to stop him?

DREISBACH: Well, according to people who were there at the time, at least at first, the government did not take Miller's threats seriously enough. One of the people he was accused of harassing was named Bobby Person. Bobby Person was an African American prison guard. And he says he was repeatedly threatened by Miller's group. He and his family faced death threats, cross burnings. And he told me that whenever Miller's group came by his house, he would call the police, but the police never came.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BOBBY PERSON: I just had to carry a weapon everywhere I went, you know, to protect myself and stay up at night to protect my family 'cause I know I wasn't going to get no help from the sheriff's department.

DREISBACH: Bobby Person eventually did get help. The Southern Poverty Law Center, the civil rights group, heard about his case, got involved. They sued Miller, and they presented evidence along with federal prosecutors. And they were able, together with those prosecutors, to get a court order to force Miller to disband his paramilitary group.

CHANG: OK. So he was forced to break up the group, but did that stop Glenn Miller?

DREISBACH: Well, at this point, he goes underground. He issues what he calls a declaration of war. And he declares it on people of color, on Jewish Americans, on federal judges. He records it at one point and sends it to newspapers and radio stations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: We have the necessary material to begin this revolution. If these demands are not accepted within 48 hours, the war will begin shortly thereafter.

DREISBACH: But federal agents track him down to a trailer park in Ozark, Mo. They fire tear gas and force him to surrender. And they find him with a massive arsenal of explosives, grenades, guns that have been illegally converted to fully automatic. But then at this point - and this is one of the most surprising parts of the story - federal authorities offer him a deal.

CHANG: What?

DREISBACH: They offer him a five-year prison sentence in return for him testifying against some of the leading white supremacist groups in the country.

CHANG: Only five years. Wow.

DREISBACH: Only five years. But here's the kicker - all the people he testified against were acquitted on all charges by all-white juries. So this case that he was instrumental in was ultimately a massive failure for the government.

CHANG: That just blows me away. I mean, I want to say things are different now. That was back in the late '80s. What makes this case resonate? What makes it important today?

DREISBACH: Well, after receiving that five-year prison sentence, that five-year deal, he only served three years. And rather than changing his views in prison, if anything, his views became more hardened than ever. He - by the 2000s, he became very active on racist forums. He praised a racist serial killer and even a white supremacist terrorist attack in Norway.

And then in 2014, he went to a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kan., and he killed three people himself. His victims were Reat Underwood, who was 14 years old. There was William Corporon, who was 69 years old and Reat Underwood's grandfather. And then there was Teresa LaManno, who was 53 years old.

And Glenn Miller said explicitly at the time that his motivation was to terrorize Jewish people. He readily admitted to the murders. And ultimately, he was tried and sentenced to death, and he is still on death row, pending appeal.

CHANG: But given his past criminal history before this horrific crime where he killed these three people, was the government watching him pretty closely? - because he had this record.

DREISBACH: Well, that question went to the top FBI agent in the area at that time, Special Agent Michael Kaste. He was asked by reporters the day after the attack if Miller was on their radar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL KASTE: We are aware of his existence. We are aware that he was arrested. We are aware that he was affiliated with certain hate groups. The answer is yes. But beyond that, I really can't comment on it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Were you watching him recently, then?

KASTE: No. I can tell you that. No.

DREISBACH: They were not watching him recently in the time before the attack. I wanted to ask them why they were not watching Miller, given his criminal history and his violent rhetoric. And they - both the FBI and the Department of Justice declined to comment. And experts told me, bottom line, it is incredibly difficult to figure out why they were not watching him, given his very serious criminal record.

CHANG: Right. But I also get why it's such a hard call, that there is this tension between trying not to jump on someone's speech - obviously, people have freedom of speech - but also trying to prevent horrific crimes. So what does the Glenn Miller case say more broadly about how the federal government prosecutes white supremacist terrorism specifically?

DREISBACH: Well, in general, experts told me the government simply has not prioritized investigations of white supremacist violence. The FBI over the summer said while they are making it a top priority, that 80% of the resources for FBI terrorism cases are going to international terrorism into groups like al-Qaida or ISIS, and 20% is going into domestic terrorism.

CHANG: Only 20 - that's amazing.

DREISBACH: And a lot of - right. And a lot of experts say that that ratio is out of whack and that in the case of Glenn Miller, he was a domestic terrorist. And for years, he had told people what he was going to do, and then he did it.

CHANG: Yeah.

DREISBACH: But I talked to Kathleen Belew. She is a professor at the University of Chicago, and she has studied the white power movement extensively. And here's what she told me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KATHLEEN BELEW: For many of them, this is a matter of faith. They're talking about what they're doing as preventing the apocalypse of the white race. And the idea that any amount of incarceration could undo that ideology is just - I - there's no reason to think anyone would stop believing that.

DREISBACH: So in other words, you know, with an ideology of hate, there's no way you can just arrest your way out of this problem.

CHANG: Such an interesting, disturbing story.

That is NPR's Tom Dreisbach of the podcast Embedded. Thank you so much, Tom.

DREISBACH: Thanks, Ailsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARALD KINDSETH SONG, "KEFI")

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