NORMAN — There was a time when I paid a lot of attention to the anti-government groups around me. In 2002, the Aryan Nations was establishing an outpost on a grassy property on the New York-Pennsylvania border, and I visited as a newspaper reporter.
The group bore watching, although at the time, I couldn’t have said precisely why. The deadly bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City had been fairly recent, but these odd people were simply holding rallies to denounce hated groups — Jews, blacks, federal agents — and drink beer.
I was reminded of my long-ago apprehension last week, when a Bonnie and Clyde-like white supremacist couple shot two young Las Vegas police officers in the back and the neck, killing them. Jerad Miller, 31, and his wife, Amanda, 22, draped one body with a swastika and a yellow Gadsden flag, which depicts a coiled snake and the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.”
The Millers proclaimed the “beginning of the revolution” in a pizza parlor booth, with the murders of officers Alyn Beck, 41, and Igor Soldo, 31 — purported agents of a tyrannical government.
Some will claim the Millers acted alone, but the duo was abetted by a twisted subspecies of American life that nurses paranoid fantasies. The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks 939 hate groups operating across the country, an alienated population that we on the East Coast often ignore as “out there” in Idaho or Nevada.
But we have strands of these beliefs among us: in the tea party movement, among gun rights advocates and within survivalist groups training for the post-apocalypse.
Clearly, it’s legitimate to argue about the national debt, the federal deficit and government overreach, as well as to stand up for free speech and Second Amendment rights. But these groups also give cover to dangerous people like the Millers.