In Las Vegas on June 8, a man and a woman entered a local pizza restaurant and shot and killed two Las Vegas Metro Police officers, Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo, who were eating lunch there. The shooters then crossed the street to a Walmart, where they killed another person, then committed suicide.
Though, as of this writing, the names of the suspects have not yet been released, details of the shootings and suspects released by police or uncovered by journalists strongly suggest the shootings may be the work of right-wing extremists.
If so, the two officers who lost their lives this past Sunday are only the latest in a series of casualties in a de facto war being waged against police by right-wing extremists, including both anti-government extremists and white supremacists. Some extremists have deliberately targeted police, while others have responded violently when meeting police in unplanned encounters. The killings are not the effort of a concerted campaign but rather a series of independent attacks and clashes stemming from right-wing ideologies.
In the 1960s and 1970s it was left-wing groups like the Black Liberation Army which targeted police for killing. However, by the 1980s, right-wing extremists began to surpass left-wing extremists in causing police deaths. The number of officers killed by right-wing extremists more than doubled in the 1990s, then increased by 50% more in the first decade of the 2000s. Five officers have been killed by right-wing extremists since 2011, not counting the Las Vegas incident.
In the past five years alone, from 2009 through 2013, ADL has tracked 43 separate violent incidents between domestic extremists (of all types) and law enforcement in the United States. These incidents include situations in which shots are exchanged between police and extremists (shootouts), situations in which extremists have fired at police but police subdued the extremists without having to return fire, and situations in which officers had to use their firearms to protect themselves against extremists.
Of these 43 incidents, fully 39 of them involved extremists sporting some sort of extreme right-wing ideology. White supremacists took part in 21 incidents, while anti-government extremists were involved in 17 more. An anti-Muslim extremist was involved in one incident (the other four incidents included one with a left-wing extremist and three with domestic Islamic extremists). In these shooting incidents, the extremists shot 30 officers, 14 fatally. Many other officers sustained non-gunfire injuries during some of these encounters.
Extreme ideologies cause right-wing radicals directly to attack officers. Anti-government extremist such as militia groups and sovereign citizens believe that police are agents of the illegitimate government, while white supremacists believe that police are tools of the “Jewish-controlled” government. The same ideologies sometimes cause extremists to act out violently when they randomly encounter police in routine situations.
Moreover, because right-wing extremists frequently engage in criminal activity—both ideological and non-ideological, police responding to reports of criminal activity may encounter extremists committing a crime or who are fugitives from justice. Such situations can also frequently turn deadly.
Unfortunately, relatively few officer safety courses incorporate information about the dangers to police from domestic extremists.