By Justin Pritchard and Ken Ritter
LAS VEGAS — Jerad Miller was ready to share his anti-government views with just about anyone who would listen, views that telegraphed his desire to kill police officers and his willingness to die for what he hoped would be a revolution against the government.
He told neighbors, television reporters and the Internet. Once, he threatened to "start shooting people" while on the phone with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
If local or federal authorities were monitoring his online rants and increasingly sharp threats, they aren't saying — not with police still investigating what triggered Miller and his wife to gun down two officers and a third man Sunday before taking their own lives.
Even if Miller had attracted the attention of law enforcement, authorities would have initially been confined to knocking on his door and starting a conversation to try to gauge whether he was a true threat. His opinions were free speech, protected by the First Amendment. And given limited resources and rules against creating government watch lists, it would be impossible to keep tabs on everyone who actively promotes beliefs that may — or may not — turn to violence.
"We can't go around watch-listing folks because they voice anti-government opinions, because they say law enforcement should be killed," said detective Rob Finch, who advocates using social media to monitor extremists in his work with the Greensboro, North Carolina, police department. "There are thousands of people out there that voice these things on the Internet every day. YouTube is filled with them."
Indeed, Miller took to Youtube and Facebook to broadcast his rhetoric.
"In this particular situation, I think we would all be kidding ourselves if we said the signs weren't there," Finch said.
Miller and his wife, Amanda, shot and killed two officers who were on their Sunday lunch break at a pizza parlor, then told patrons that they were starting a revolution, according to police. They went next to a nearby Wal-Mart, where Amanda Miller killed a shopper who confronted her husband before police arrived.
After a gun battle inside the store, Amanda Miller fatally shot her husband and then herself, police said.
Neither the FBI nor Las Vegas police would comment on whether they were aware of Jerad Miller's threats, and if so whether they took any action.
In January, Miller called a recorded help line of the Indiana BMV after he was pulled over in Nevada and found to have a suspended license from the state he had recently left. At the end of the call, Miller said, "If they come to arrest me for noncompliance or whatever, I'm just going to start shooting people," according to agency spokeswoman Danielle Dean.
The agency contacted Nevada's Department of Public Safety and provided a copy of the recording, which the department's investigation division forwarded to a state-run threat analysis center on Jan. 22, spokeswoman Gail Powell said. Upon learning that Miller lived in Las Vegas, the threat center forwarded the information to the Southern Nevada Counterterrorism Center, a combined project of federal, state and local authorities. What happened next is unclear; the counterterrorism center did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
While it would have been hard to pick Miller out of the sea of other extremists, he did make efforts to identify himself publicly during a spring standoff between supporters of southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and federal agents who wanted to round up Bundy's cattle.
In an interview with a television reporter that aired in April, Miller said that he didn't want an armed confrontation, but "if they are going to come bring violence to us, well, if that's the language they want to speak, we'll learn it."
Bundy's family said in a statement Tuesday that the Millers were at their ranch for a few days before other protesters began to express concern about Jerad's "aggressive nature and volatility." Leaders of militias that had also come to the ranch asked the Millers to leave and one gave them "a few hundred dollars ... because the Millers said they had sold everything and had nothing to live on."
Jerad Miller's television exposure could have caught the attention of authorities, said Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremist groups.
"It is good practice for authorities to learn who these people are because these are people seemingly willing to get involved in an armed standoff," he said.
Even then, absent an overt criminal act, authorities would have been limited to a "knock and talk" — a conversation with Miller to see what threat he might pose. Federal guidelines restrict what kind of intelligence law enforcement can gather, and keep, on suspected extremists, Pitcavage noted.
What's more, the U.S. government had until last week suspended a group dedicated to studying and preventing acts of domestic terrorism. Attorney General Eric Holder said the group, to include the FBI and Justice Department lawyers, would be reconstituted. It disbanded following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the government's attention shifted to foreign militants.
Authorities would also have been limited in their response if the Millers' neighbors had called police, though apparently none was moved to do so.
At their apartment complex in a hardscrabble area of Las Vegas — where Miller would walk around in camouflage with a handgun visible on his hip — neighbors said Miller openly shared his hatred of police. But it wasn't clear that he intended to act.
"Jerad never directly told me he was going to go off and pop cops," said Drew Flory, who lived next door to the couple for about a month.
Meanwhile, at the Indiana home of Jerad Miller's mother, a sign on the door read: "We are profoundly saddened, confused and in shock over the senseless actions of our son and his wife."
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press