The Terrorist Frazier Glenn Miller spent years spreading racist, violent rhetoric, training Ku Klux Klan-affiliated paramilitary groups, and gathering arms to launch a "race war." But time and again, he escaped serious consequences. Many say that's because the government - and the media - failed to see the danger Miller posed until it was too late.
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The Terrorist

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The Terrorist

The Terrorist

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TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey. Just a heads up before we get started - this episode includes descriptions of violence and of racist extremist groups in the U.S., so it may not be appropriate for everyone. OK - onto the show.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Hey. I'm Kelly McEvers. And this is EMBEDDED from NPR. This summer, the head of the FBI, Chris Wray, said something to Congress that surprised some people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: Just in the first three quarters of this year, we've had more domestic terrorism arrests than the prior year. And it's about the same number of arrests as we have on the international terrorism side.

MCEVERS: The FBI defines domestic terrorism as acts by people or groups in the United States that, quote, "espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial or environmental nature."

Before this testimony, there was a sense among people who study domestic terrorism that officials weren't paying enough attention - that for too long, the emphasis has been on preventing Islamist terrorism, groups like ISIS. Then we started hearing more officials like Wray at the FBI and others at the Department of Homeland Security say, yes, we are taking this threat very seriously. And then there was a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: We are following breaking news out of El Paso. There are reports of an active shooter near a mall.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: ...In Texas, the numbers are staggering - at least 20 dead, more than two dozen injured.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: We're learning more about the alleged gunman, a man...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Police believe he posted an anti-immigrant screed online, saying the shooting was in response to, quote, "the Hispanic invasion of Texas."

MCEVERS: The Anti-Defamation League called it the most violent white supremacist attack in 50 years. But, of course, it wasn't the only white supremacist attack in recent years. The list includes Charlottesville, a Pittsburgh synagogue, a synagogue outside San Diego. Still, after El Paso, something changed. Authorities started arresting people suspected of planning violent attacks, and at least a dozen of them held extremist beliefs. They came from all around the country. Las Vegas...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: ...Arrested over threats to blow up synagogues...

MCEVERS: ...Ohio...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #6: ...They wanted to shoot up a Jewish community center...

MCEVERS: ...Seattle...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #7: ...For allegedly writing on Facebook that he would kill all Hispanics in Miami and other places.

MCEVERS: And to some people, these arrests were reassuring, but they were also disturbing. How many more extremists are still out there? What are authorities doing to find them? Do these arrests actually make the country more safe?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: When we asked this last question to people who research extremism, they kept telling us about this one case - a case that, in this moment, when we're trying to figure out just what is the threat and what isn't, shows how easily the government and the media can let a dangerous man slip through the cracks. Today's story is about that man. You might never have heard of him, but he spent decades spreading hateful, violent rhetoric. He committed crimes in the name of white supremacy. Authorities arrested him too. For a long time, he escaped serious consequences until it was too late - after this break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: OK. We are back. And here's Tom Dreisbach with the story.

DREISBACH: The people in the video look like an army. There's about a dozen white men lined up in the back. They're wearing camouflage and standing in rows. Each is holding a flagpole with a large Confederate flag. And in front of them, there's a podium with a giant, white cross against a red background. And standing at that podium is a man with a full beard and a military-style beret. He's there to protest what he calls the tyranny of school integration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRAZIER GLENN MILLER: Our people are forced against their will to integrate with people they don't want to integrate with - white power.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Shouting) White power.

MILLER: (Shouting) White power.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Shouting) White power.

DREISBACH: This was not in the 1950s or '60s. This was 1985 in North Carolina. And the man behind the microphone is Frazier Glenn Miller. He's an Army veteran who did multiple combat tours in Vietnam. And after the war, he formed a white supremacist militia called the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: United we will stand and free our people from the Jews so the South can rise again.

DREISBACH: At the time of this rally in the 1980s, the white supremacist movement was on the rise. Just six years earlier in Greensboro, N.C., neo-Nazis and Klansmen ambushed an anti-Klan protest led by a group of communist demonstrators. Five of those demonstrators were shot and killed. Miller was part of the Klan convoy that disrupted the protest, though he wasn't one of the shooters. And all of the Klansmen charged with the killings were acquitted on all charges by all-white juries.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: For Miller and his fellow white supremacists, the acquittals were a major success. Miller told one newspaper reporter, quote, "My only regret is that we didn't kill more communists."

KATHLEEN BELEW: The white power movement absolutely sees that as a green light for further action.

DREISBACH: This is Kathleen Belew, a historian at the University of Chicago who studies the white power movement. And she says Miller and others took those verdicts as a sign that the government was either unwilling or unable to stop them.

BELEW: They're interested in exactly how far can they push before some kind of a real government crackdown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: March with us to victory, and when the battle's over, you'll go down in history.

DREISBACH: As obviously racist and repulsive as Miller's speech was, it could not, on its own, instigate that real government crackdown. The First Amendment generally protects hate speech, though not serious specific threats of violence. And that protection also allowed Glenn Miller to openly recruit new members. He set up a phone number where people could call in and hear a recorded message about his group, its ideas and how to join. Kathleen Belew says he was even active on the very early versions of the Internet.

BELEW: The white power movement went online with kind of proto-Internet message boards in 1983, '84. They used a thing called Liberty Net.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BELEW: Liberty Net included a lot of ideological content, but it also included stuff like personal ads and recipes and other kind of social content. This wasn't just sort of disconnected lone activists; this was a social movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: All around the country, white supremacist groups were using tools like Liberty Net to organize and find new members. And in North Carolina, Glenn Miller was one of the leaders pushing the movement to militarize. But there were people who did try to stop Miller. Bobby Lee Person was a black prison guard who says he was terrorized by Miller's group. One Klansman even showed up at Person's house in a white sheet, holding a gun.

BOBBY LEE PERSON: Threatened to kill me and my family. And I called the sheriff's department. They wouldn't send nobody out.

DREISBACH: Person went to a county judge, tried to press charges. And then he says Glenn Miller called him at home with another threat.

PERSON: And he just told me I need to drop the case because it'd be worse on me than it would be on him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: In the end, the county judge didn't believe Person - threw the case out of court. And then, Bobby Person says, the Klan burned a cross in front of his house, tried to run his wife off a highway. At one point, they showed up at 1:00 in the morning - threatened to kill him, his wife and their small children. And he says this harassment went on for years.

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 because I knew I wasn't going to get no help from the sheriff's department.

DREISBACH: For people who know the history of law enforcement and civil rights in this era, Bobby Person's story sounds very familiar. In some places, there were police officers that were sympathetic to the KKK and even worked directly with the Klan. The FBI, meanwhile, had infiltrated KKK chapters and did disrupt some attacks, but the bureau was widely criticized for allowing some of their informants to actually participate in Klan violence and for failing to protect people.

In any case, Bobby Person says the cops did not stop Glenn Miller or his group from harassing his family. So a civil rights group took on the case. The Southern Poverty Law Center sued Miller and his group in federal court for civil rights violations. And essentially, they won. The group stopped harassing Bobby Person. And...

MARK POTOK: Glenn Miller agreed to disband the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in return for the Southern Poverty Law Center dropping its lawsuit.

DREISBACH: This is Mark Potok. He spent more than 20 years following hate groups at the SPLC. And he says that success did not last long.

POTOK: Just one month after agreeing to dissolve the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Glenn Miller started another group - the White Patriot Party, which was essentially the very same group in a different outfit with a different name.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: F. Glenn Miller Jr., leader of the White Patriot Party...

DREISBACH: Here he is talking about it on local TV in 1985.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: ...That the white race will not survive as long we're forced to integrate with the nonwhite peoples of this world.

DREISBACH: Not only had the lawsuit not stopped Miller from organizing, the SPLC believed he was getting increasingly dangerous.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: They found a Marine Corps veteran who said Miller was stockpiling weapons for a race war.

BELEW: Weapons stolen from the armory at Fort Bragg, directly from the Army's supplies.

DREISBACH: Again, Kathleen Belew.

BELEW: They get stuff like claymore mines. At one point, they were trying to get anti-tank weapons and anti-helicopter armament. These are big weapons. This is not just a matter of, like, some guys in the backyard practicing marksmanship or something; this is operationalizing his group for warfare.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: Reports of Glenn Miller's plans to start a race war using stolen military weapons - that finally got the attention of authorities. In 1986, federal prosecutors began working on the case. In court, they presented evidence that Miller had plans to hold mock trials and executions of political enemies, including, quote, "ultraliberal federal judges, abortion providers and neo-communist newspapers."

Miller denied it all, but the court found Miller guilty of criminal contempt for violating the original settlement and sentenced him to six months in jail, plus probation. The court also tells him, once again, that he has to disband his group or face even more jail time.

BELEW: Effectively, he's hamstrung, and he is furious about this outcome. You know, it's an effective stop to what he's doing. But he reacts to this by going underground.

DREISBACH: While appealing his conviction, Miller leaves the state, goes into hiding. He writes what he calls a declaration of war and sends it to newspapers and radio stations. He calls on white people to start a race war and threaten to assassinate the head of the SPLC and some federal judges, among others.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: We have the necessary material to begin this revolution.

DREISBACH: Miller actually makes a recording of his manifesto.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: If these demands are not accepted within 48 hours, the war will begin shortly thereafter.

DREISBACH: The FBI obtains a warrant for Miller's arrest, begins a manhunt. Eventually, they track down Miller and three members of his group to a trailer park in Ozark, Mo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BELEW: So agents surround the trailer where they're living and announce that they have two minutes to surrender. And then the agents, two minutes later, fire Ferret gas rounds into the trailer.

DREISBACH: Essentially, tear gas. And within a couple of minutes, Miller and three others exit the trailer and surrender.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: The government agents look inside.

BELEW: And inside they find this huge weapons stockpile - typical things like M16s and bandoliers. A lot of them are illegally converted into fully automatic. They also have C4 plastic explosives, hand grenades, pipe bombs, detonator cords, switches, military gear, thousands of rounds of ammunition.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #8: A 10-day manhunt ended this morning at a trailer park south of Springfield, Mo. There, federal marshals arrested fugitive white supremacist Glenn Miller, former leader of the White Patriot Party.

DREISBACH: You might expect after the threat of assassinations, the race war, the possession of illegal automatic weapons, the explosives, the violation of a court order, that Miller would go to prison for decades. But that is not what happened. Instead, federal prosecutors decided to offer Glenn Miller a deal. If he agreed to testify in another case, against some of the country's most prominent white supremacist leaders, he would face reduced charges and just five years in prison.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #9: In a coordinated nationwide action today, federal grand jury indictments were unsealed against more than a dozen suspected leaders of white supremacy movements. Shari Barker (ph) reports from Fort Smith, Ark.

SHARI BARKER: Ten of the 14 people named in the grand jury indictments are accused of trying to overthrow the U.S. government. Those named include Richard Butler, the leader of the Aryan Nation based in Idaho; Robert Miles, the former grand dragon of the Michigan chapter of the Ku Klux Klan; and Louis Beam, the former grand dragon of the Texas Ku Klux Klan.

DREISBACH: Glenn Miller testified against them. He said he had received $200,000 in stolen money from the defendants, money that he used for paramilitary training. But Miller was not the star witness the prosecution hoped for.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #9: A stunning setback this afternoon for the federal government's legal assault on the white supremacist movement.

POTOK: At the end of this trial, which was supposed to be the be-all and the end-all of the federal government's war on the radical right, every single person was acquitted of every single charge.

DREISBACH: One of the biggest problems for the prosecution, says Mark Potok, was the makeup of the jury. Not only was it all white, it also included one juror who told a reporter he agreed with many of the white supremacists' ideas. Another juror actually went on to marry one of the defendants.

POTOK: From the point of view of the government, the Fort Smith sedition trial was a huge meltdown disaster.

DREISBACH: But Potok says, for Miller, it was the opposite. Thanks to his testimony, he was sentenced to only five years on charges of possessing illegal weapons and making threats. Even at the time, people criticized the deal, like Bobby Person, the black prison guard who had taken Miller to federal court a few years earlier. He thought Miller was too dangerous to get such a light sentence; his lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center agreed. Here's Mark Potok again.

POTOK: The Southern Poverty Law Center was outraged. I mean, I don't think any of us had any illusions about what was going on at all in the sense that, my God, the man skated away without having sent any of his contemporaries to prison and, in addition, while remaining, at least in his heart, 100% part of the white supremacist movement.

DREISBACH: Kathleen Belew, the historian, agrees that given the weapons he had amassed and the violent war he was threatening, Glenn Miller's sentence was shocking.

Do you think the government made a mistake in offering that plea bargain to him?

BELEW: I think that, like, had this worked, had Glenn Miller's testimony led to a conviction that really stopped the movement - which is what they were trying to do in Fort Smith - it might have really been worth it. But the thing is, the Fort Smith trial fails. It failed spectacularly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: I tried to reach the U.S. attorney who led the prosecution at Fort Smith. But he's now a judge in Arkansas, and he declined to comment. The Department of Justice also declined to comment. After the trial, Miller was placed into witness protection to prevent retaliation from other white supremacists. He changed his last name to Cross. And Belew says that the Fort Smith trial, followed by the botched handling of the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco, caused the government to scale back its investigations of white supremacists.

BELEW: The sedition trial acquittals are so embarrassing for the government that there's a policy enacted that they will no longer pursue acts of white power violence as part of a movement.

DREISBACH: And that's a big reason why in the years that followed the government and even the media failed to see the threat posed by Glenn Miller. And that would have disastrous consequences.

MCEVERS: That's coming up after this break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: OK. We are back. And where we left off - Glenn Miller whose, legal name was now Glenn Cross, had been placed in witness protection after testifying against other leaders of white supremacist groups. Then he served only three years of his five-year sentence. And after that, he was a free man again. Tom picks up the story from there.

DREISBACH: In 1988, when he was testifying against white supremacists in the Fort Smith trial, Glenn Miller said he'd changed, that he'd become a born-again Christian. But by the 2000s, the former Klan leader was once again publicly declaring his support for white supremacy. He'd gotten active in racist forums, posted more than 12,000 times on one website, mostly about his hatred for Jewish people. And he'd gone back to his old name - Miller.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: And in 2010, he ran for the U.S. Senate in Missouri as a write-in candidate. He bought advertising time on local radio stations to run racist and anti-Semitic campaign ads. The radio stations thought they had to air those ads because of federal rules on giving airtime to candidates. Eventually, the stations did fight the rules and got permission to stop running them. But the ads that did run - they got Glenn Miller a lot of mainstream attention for Glenn.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE HOWARD STERN SHOW")

HOWARD STERN: Hey, Glenn.

MILLER: Hey. Good morning and...

DREISBACH: This is Miller on Howard Stern's show in 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE HOWARD STERN SHOW")

STERN: We call Glenn the only honest politician out there, actually.

DREISBACH: In the interview, Stern seems to treat Miller and his views as kind of ridiculous, like he's just some fringe blowhard whose whole candidacy is a bad joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE HOWARD STERN SHOW")

MILLER: Jews have all the power now. White people have nothing.

STERN: I don't feel really powerful, quite frankly.

MILLER: White people are in bondage to you Jews. And...

STERN: (Laughter).

DREISBACH: But throughout, Miller is clear that he is very serious.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE HOWARD STERN SHOW")

STERN: What do you think of Hitler? Do you like him?

MILLER: Oh, great man - single greatest man ever to walk the earth, in my opinion.

DREISBACH: He repeatedly spreads anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. And every time he gets the chance, Miller makes sure to give out the address for his website.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE HOWARD STERN SHOW")

MILLER: I want to thank you for giving me all the free publicity for my campaign for United States Senate.

DREISBACH: The free publicity, by the way, did not make much of a difference for Miller's campaign. Out of nearly 2 million votes cast, he only got seven votes. But Mark Potok says he simply cannot understand why Howard Stern would treat someone like Glenn Miller like he's a harmless blowhard.

POTOK: This was well known that he had had a background in violent groups, that he had threatened violence, that he had accumulated real weapons and scary weapons at that in order to carry out violent attacks. You know, I think that there was a general tendency in the country to kind of minimize the violence that we saw coming from the right.

DREISBACH: I contacted Howard Stern's publicist for an interview and asked if he had a response to this criticism, but they declined to comment. To people like Stern, it seemed like Glenn Miller's talk was just that - talk, never followed by action. But in April 2014, that changed.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #10: We are getting reports of multiple shootings at a Jewish community center in Overland Park in southwest Kansas City.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #11: Three people were killed in the shooting - happened on two different locations, again, at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and at an assisted living facility.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #12: A rabbi at the retirement home said the shooter asked people if they were Jewish before he opened fire.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #11: At this point, we understand that one person, a person of interest, has been taken into custody.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #13: Witnesses say they heard him yell, heil Hitler, as he was taken into custody.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: Miller later said he thought all three were Jewish, and that's why he targeted them. But in reality, they were actually Christian. Their names were Reat Underwood. He was 14 years old. There was William Corporon, Reat's grandfather. He was 69. And finally, Terri LaManno - she was 53 years old. Police and prosecutors quickly realized that Miller was a well-known white supremacist and had a criminal record. When he eventually went to trial, he readily admitted to the murders and said he'd accomplished his goal - to terrorize Jews.

In the end, Miller was convicted and sentenced to death. He is still alive and on death row in Kansas, pending appeal. An attorney working on his appeal did not respond to our messages seeking comment. But just after the murders in 2014, the FBI faced a major question - were its agents keeping tabs on Miller? Reporters put that question to FBI special agent Michael Kaste at a press conference the day after the shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #14: People are going to want to know - you know, prior to yesterday, was he on the FBI's radar?

MICHAEL KASTE: On the FBI's - that's a - it's a very broad term. I mean, on the radar - was the FBI aware of him? Were other groups aware of him? The answer is yes. But to say anything else beyond the fact that 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 #15: Were you watching him recently, then?

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: I wrote to ask Special Agent Kaste why the FBI was not watching Glenn Miller. Kaste is now out of government, and he referred me to the Kansas City FBI field office, where a spokesperson declined to comment.

So even though Glenn Miller was vocally racist and anti-Semitic and had a criminal record, and even though he had previously shown the means and the motivation to commit a series of assassinations and launch what he called a race war, the FBI was not watching him in 2014, which raises the question - should they have?

For the last several weeks, I've been talking to people who have worked for the FBI, the Department of Justice, Homeland Security and outside researchers about Glenn Miller. And not everyone agrees that it was possible to predict that Miller would actually become violent. Steve Howe is the local DA who prosecuted the case, and he says he does not fault the FBI for not putting Glenn Miller under surveillance.

STEVE HOWE: I would be real hesitant to blame other people for not taking certain steps. I think the right way is to blame that individual for their actual actions. You know, we're not like the movie "Minority Report," where we can predict future behavior.

DREISBACH: Still, in the years leading up to the murders, Miller made no secret of the fact that he believed in using violence to achieve his goal. When a far-right terrorist attacked a summer camp in Norway in 2011, Miller wrote online, quote, "I'm already dreaming glorious scenes of courageous, fed-up white men following his demonstrated example." In the year before the murders in Kansas, Glenn Miller was openly bragging to a researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center that he had committed violence in the past.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: Yeah, I've done a lot of violence. I'm too old now, but I've done a hell of a lot of violence on behalf of my race over the years. Check my record.

DREISBACH: The researcher he talked to is named Heidi Beirich. And she says in 20 years following white supremacists, Miller was one of the most extreme anti-Semites she had ever talked to. So when I called her, I expected that she might say, yes, I thought Miller was dangerous and about to commit an attack. But that is not what she said.

HEIDI BEIRICH: You know, as heinous as his ideas were, if I had had any notion that this was an indicator that Frazier Glenn Miller was going to do something violent, I would have certainly told law enforcement. We work with cops all the time. But the ranting had been going on for a very long time for him online.

DREISBACH: Beirich says this is one of the biggest challenges right now - figuring out whether someone's ranting will turn into action.

BEIRICH: It's sort of the Holy Grail of what people would like to figure out - right? - when the ideology kicks into violence. And I - we don't really have a handle on that.

DREISBACH: Still, when Heidi Beirich heard that Miller had killed three people, she says she was angry at the FBI. It's true that it's tough to predict whether someone will commit violence, but of course, it's impossible to predict it if the FBI is not even watching. Kathleen Belew agrees.

BELEW: Somebody somewhere made a decision that this person wasn't dangerous enough or wasn't important enough or there just weren't enough resources to monitor this person. I just think, you know, if there's ever anybody who should not have a weapon and who should not be, you know, casing a synagogue, it's Glenn Miller.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: If the government had been watching Glenn Miller closely, they might have seen Miller casing the Jewish community center in the weeks before the attack or buying the gun he used. And that's another lesson from this case. Glenn Miller was a felon. It was illegal for him to buy or own a gun, and he could not pass a background check. So four days before the shooting, Miller went with a friend to a Walmart. According to federal lawsuits filed by the victim's families, Miller picked out a shotgun. He started to buy it, but then he claimed he didn't have his ID on him. So with the help of a Walmart salesperson, Miller had his friend fill out the paperwork, pass the background check and get the shotgun. This is what's known as a straw purchase. It is illegal. And according to the lawsuits, Walmart should never have sold the gun to Miller and his friend. Walmart eventually settled those lawsuits. They did not respond to my request for comment.

Supporters of gun control say this is a good example of why laws against straw purchases need to be tougher so people won't illegally buy guns for felons and stores won't sell guns to people that shouldn't have them. After the El Paso shooting this summer, about a dozen people across the U.S. were charged with crimes linked to right-wing extremism. And if they are convicted of felonies, they will also be prohibited from buying guns, just like Glenn Miller was. But Kathleen Belew told me just arresting people who are dedicated white supremacists will not stop extremist violence.

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 - there's no reason to think anyone would stop believing that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: Even if law enforcement cannot solve white supremacist terrorism, experts say there are some concrete steps that can be taken to improve how the government deals with the problem. For one thing, the government needs to make domestic extremism a higher priority. After 9/11, the government poured billions of dollars into intelligence, surveillance and sting operations against Islamist extremists like al-Qaida and largely ignored white supremacists. That's what a lot of people who follow extremism will tell you, including Mike German, a former FBI agent.

MICHAEL GERMAN: White supremacists kill as many, if not more, people than any other terrorist group - in fact, than all other terrorist groups combined. And yet we don't prioritize the investigation and prosecution of that violence.

MCEVERS: Even today, the vast majority of FBI agents who investigate terrorism are still focused on international terrorism. Only about 20% work on domestic terrorism. So that's the feds. But it's often local police departments that are first to find out about potential attacks. And all around the country, experts told us, police departments have still not addressed one massive problem - white supremacists actually infiltrating law enforcement.

SAMUEL JONES: Many white supremacists purposely join law enforcement organizations not only to gain knowledge regarding weapons and tactics but also to exact violence and to recruit.

MCEVERS: This is Samuel Jones. He's a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he points to an FBI bulletin from 2006 that warned that white supremacists in local and state police departments could compromise investigations into extremist groups. That was more than a decade ago. In just the last couple of years, there have been several reports of police officers having close ties to white power groups, from Arkansas to Florida, California and Michigan. And, Jones says, even just having officers who sympathize with white supremacists can derail investigations.

JONES: A lot of police work is based on discretion, you know, so the police officer who has sympathy for a white supremacist organization is more prone to turn a blind eye when an African American or Jewish American or some other social minority is experiencing a wrong or being mistreated or having their rights violated.

MCEVERS: And because local cops are often the eyes and ears for the feds, that means officials are even more likely to miss the terrorist who was right there all along.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: Next time on EMBEDDED, we'll take a look at one of those post-El Paso arrests.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: He sat next to me at lunch. So, like, I don't know if some of this stuff got posted while he was sitting next to me or, like, in my house and stuff - you know? - which really like - I'm just like, what the heck?

MCEVERS: This story was reported, written and produced by Tom Dreisbach. It was edited by Chris Benderev, Neal Carruth, Jasmine Garsd Garcia, Gerry Holmes, Lisa Pollock, Keith Woods and me. Big thanks to Hannah Allam, who first brought this story to our attention. Kathleen Belew is the author of "Bring The War Home: The White Power Movement And Paramilitary America." Michael German is the author of "Disrupt, Discredit, And Divide: How The New FBI Damages Democracy." He's now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice. Thanks also to Mary McCord, Daryl Johnson and Leonard Zeskind. Our theme song is by Colin Wambsgans. Other music in this episode from Blue Dot Sessions and Ramtin Arablouei. Subscribe to this podcast if you haven't already. Leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Hit us up on Twitter - @NPREmbedded. Thanks for listening to EMBEDDED from NPR.

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