The deadly shooting in the parking lots of two Jewish facilities in Overland Park, Kan., exposed “glitches” in the Kansas City Jewish community’s security plan, according to the head of the local Jewish federation.
Todd Stettner, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, said he was glad to see how competently both facilities handled the situation, quickly going on lockdown in accordance with previous training they received.
But the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and the Village Shalom Senior Living Center were unable to quickly relay an emergency warning to everyone in their communities — similar to emergency text message and email systems used on school campuses throughout the country.
More troubling in hindsight was the lack of a planned response for the specific attack Frazier Glenn Miller allegedly carried out on April 14 — a shooting in the two facilities’ parking lots.
“We practiced for one eventuality, which was a shooter coming into the building,” said Stettner, “but this shooter didn’t come into the building. It’s always hard to plan for random kind of things, and we have to take a look and see what we can do better.”
The community will undergo an audit by U.S. Department of Homeland Security personnel and receive input on changes they should make in their security procedures. They will also receive help in developing and training to handle a wider range of emergency scenarios.
Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, a Jewish Federations of North America affiliate responsible for addressing security concerns in Jewish communities nationally, took part in a series of meetings between local leaders and agencies such as the FBI and Homeland Security to help answer the community’s concerns about safety and to advise on security improvements.
Miller, 73, allegedly shot to death William Lewis Corporan, 69, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood outside the JCC. He then proceeded to nearby Village Shalom, where he allegedly killed Teresa Rose Lamanno, 53, before being arrested by police.
It didn’t take long to deduce Miller’s motives as he yelled “Heil Hitler” from inside a police car shortly after his arrest. Although first identified by his alias, Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., he was soon recognized by his real name and that he had a long history of white supremacism and anti-Semitism. None of the victims in the shooting was Jewish.
Responding to the threat
Security in many Jewish organizations has been increased since 9/11 with help from the DHS’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program — a program the Jewish Federations of North America advocated for as part of a large coalition nonprofit organization.
“The program over the last seven years has provided more than $120 million to nonprofits across the country to help with capital security improvements. Items such as vehicle bollards, closed-circuit television, blast-proof glass and training in order to ensure nonprofits are secure,” said William Daroff, senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the JFNA. “We’ve seen that, particularly in the post 9/11 environment, nonprofit organizations generally and Jewish institutions specifically are more of a target than ever before to those who seek to disrupt society and perpetuate hate.”
“Unfortunately, it’s a matter of record that they [Jewish communities] have been targeted over the past decade by both Islamic extremist fundamentalists as well as what some see as a growing number of white supremacists who are now starting to engage in more acts of violence,” said Goldenberg. “Jewish communities do need to be, and are in fact, very much pro-active partners with law enforcement.”
Attorney General Eric Holder on April 15 asked Congress to authorize $15 million to establish active shooter scenario training programs for state and local law enforcement officers.
But some in the Jewish community argue that as important as training and preparation are, such responses don’t get at the heart of the problem.
The shootings in Overland Park are “another horrific instance of an act of senseless violence involving the use of guns to take innocent lives,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
“We have to ask, how many times will it take for us to recognize that the accessibility of guns allows people who are the haters, or criminals or the mentally ill — in those rare cases where their illness takes destructive forms — that the difference in having a gun and not having a gun is so often the difference between life and death,” Saperstein told Washington Jewish Week.
‘Hate is not a crime’
The Southern Poverty Law Center has followed Miller’s activities since the 1980s, when the former U.S. Army Green Beret and Vietnam War veteran organized and led the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
According to Mark Potok, senior fellow and editor-in-chief of the Intelligence Report at the SPLC, the Alabama-based civil rights organization sued Miller in 1985 after reports that he and his organization were harassing and intimidating black North Carolina residents and operating as an illegal paramilitary organization. The court battle ended with a settlement stipulating that Miller had to disband his organization and cease the harassment.
Not long after, the SPLC received photographs proving that Miller and the White Patriot Party, his new organization, were receiving stolen military weapons and training from active U.S. Army soldiers leaving bases Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg. Though he was given a light sentence, Miller believed more charges would be coming and went into hiding.
The FBI tracked him to a trailer in Missouri, where, along with four other Klansmen, Miller was found possessing C-4 plastic explosives, machine guns, hand grenades and various other weapons as well as a plot to assassinate SPLC founder and chief trial attorney Morris Dees.
Miller agreed to a plea deal with the federal government, in which he would be given a five-year sentence in exchange for testifying against defendants in the 1988 Fort Smith, Ark., sedition trial. Miller served three.
“The irony is that the Fort Smith sedition trial was a complete meltdown disaster for the government,” said Potok. “Every defendant was acquitted of every charge. It was so bad that one of the jurors actually married one of the defendants after the trial. They don’t come much worse than that.”
Though remaining a vocal white supremacist for the next 24 years, Miller led an unremarkable life, limiting his actions to posting incendiary comments on the white-supremacy website Vanguard News Network. Because of this inactivity, federal and local agencies were not tracking him when he opened fire at the Jewish Community Center.
“Hate is not a crime, and you can’t lock somebody up or restrict someone’s activities because they spout hate,” said retired FBI special agent Jeff Lanza. “Now when it crosses the line into threats or potentially violent behavior, that’s when you can do something, and the FBI or any law enforcement agency really doesn’t have the resources for continued surveillance of people that have potential to commit violence.”
“Nor do we want to live in a country where we’re doing that type of surveillance on people, because 95 percent of [the time], someone who you think might be involved in violence is not going to be,” Lanza said.
“The reality is that there are thousands and thousands of Americans who have views that are not much different from Miller’s views, though is only a tiny sliver of those people will ever act, so as a practical matter, it’s virtually impossible to tell,” said Potok. “Sometimes you will get wind of something or you’ll be able to see a real escalation in someone’s postings, for instance, on the Internet, but more often than not, they’re acting like lone wolves, as Miller at least allegedly did.”