KC shootings: ‘The most dangerous phenomenon’

KC shootings: ‘The most dangerous phenomenon’

Anti-Jewish killings highlight threat of ‘lone wolf’ attacks

An Overland Park police vehicle in front of the JCC of Greater Kansas City, Kan., following shootings there and later at a nearby assisted-living complex that killed three people, April 13.     
An Overland Park police vehicle in front of the JCC of Greater Kansas City, Kan., following shootings there and later at a nearby assisted-living complex that killed three people, April 13.     

Vigilance on the part of communal institutions is key to preventing the type of “lone wolf” attack that claimed three lives in suburban Kansas City on April 13, according to Paul Goldenberg, who directs the Secure Community Network, the security arm of national Jewish groups.

Frazier Glenn Miller, the 73-year-old white supremacist and suspect in the deadly shootings at two Jewish institutions in suburban Kansas City made no secret of his hateful views. Still, the attack illustrates the dilemma of figuring out how best to protect Jewish institutions from the threat of deadly violence by extremists acting alone.

“Lone wolves are really by far the most dangerous phenomenon. They are vastly more difficult to stop in advance of their actions,” said Mark Potok, publications director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. “You can’t simply follow around all the people in the United States who have noxious views.”

“The only way to stop the lone wolf,” said Goldenberg, “is prevention and hardening a soft target.” 

Locally, Jewish institutions have been increasing security measures over the last decade. In the wake of the Kansas City shootings, some have ramped up efforts, while others said they believe they have already taken every necessary and reasonable step to prevent such an incident.

On the Friday prior to the shooting, the YM-YWHA of Union County had coincidentally submitted an application for a grant from Homeland Security to increase its measures outside the building, including the addition of speed bumps, concrete planters, and increased surveillance. 

“We were particularly concerned about the area outside the building,” said Y executive vice president Bryan Fox. As soon as he heard about the Kansas City events, he said, “We immediately went into a secure lockdown, ensuring that all measures we have were in place.” He added, “We also increased security so that we were more vigilant as people entered. It was somewhat inconvenient for members, but I think also comforting for them to see that we were doing something more.” His main concern at the time, he said, was a copycat attack.

Fox added that like many Jewish institutions around the country, “The first time we really considered our security was after the attacks at the JCC in Los Angeles.” That attack took place in 1999, when a white supremacist wounded three teenagers, one adult, and three children. He killed a postal worker the same day.

Fox declined to make these measures public out of concern for security. “Just recently, we had a security evaluation by the county sheriff’s office,” which he described as “part of our ongoing look at security at our institution.” The building was also reviewed after the merger between the historic Central and MetroWest Jewish federations.

In Whippany, Howard Rabner, CFO/COO of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, said, “Over the past four years [we have] put many additional security measures into place in order to provide a higher level of security for the Aidekman campus,” said, referring to the Alex Aidekman Family Community Campus in Whippany, where the federation is housed. “About two years ago we began hiring our own security guards, who are all retired police officers. Many of our agencies have hired retired police officers for their security needs as well.” 

Rabner added that after United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ merged with the Jewish Federation of Central NJ, “Our security consultant visited all of the historic Central agency buildings,” to assist with their security needs. In addition, he pointed out, the federation has helped secure grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for many beneficiary agencies and area synagogues.

Asked for more details on efforts undertaken, Rabner said, “Our policy is that we don’t provide specific information about what types of security measures we have taken or the dates of actions taken. We do this as a security precaution as well.”

At the JCC of Central NJ on the Wilf campus in Scotch Plains, there was “a more obvious police presence” in the days following the Kansas City incident, according to executive director Jennifer Mamlet. She declined to offer any details, citing security concerns, but said that along with 400 other Jewish leaders around the country, she participated in a conference call with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and to all of those touched by the terrible tragedy in Kansas City,” Mamlet said. “While tragic events such as this remind us why we need to be so vigilant, the security of our members and guests is always our top priority. We continue to work closely with our Building and Security Committees and in partnership with local law enforcement, SCN, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Jewish Community Centers of North America to perform ongoing reviews and updates to our security procedures to ensure the safety and security of our JCC and all who come here.” 

On the margins

The victims killed at the JCC in Overland Park, Kan., were William Lewis Corporon, a retired physician, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood. Underwood was at the JCC to audition for a talent show. He and his grandfather were members of an area Methodist church. 

The third victim, Terri LaManno, a Catholic mother of two, was killed in the parking lot of Village Shalom, a senior living facility, where she was visiting her mother.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said Miller, of Aurora, Mo., was the grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s and subsequently a founder of the White Patriot Party. The center said he served three years in prison on weapons charges and for plotting the assassination of the center’s founder, Morris Dees.

Miller had not been involved in criminal activity for decades, but he kept his views known and publicized them through a website and occasional media appearances.

Mark Pitcavage, the director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, said that lone wolves tend to operate on the margins of extremist communities, which makes it harder to detect when they may be plotting actions. This was true of Miller, who had alienated much of the movement in the 1980s when he got a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against co-conspirators.

Goldenberg, the Jewish security official, said it has become easier for potential assailants to surveil Jewish targets because of information that’s easily accessed on the Internet. It’s not clear what drew the assailant to the Kansas City JCC, Goldenberg said, but it was notable that there were at least two events that had been publicized and were likely to draw crowds: a play and the singing audition.

Goldenberg noted the importance of training members of the Jewish community.

He said it is important to “empower members of the Jewish community through education and knowledge, how to identify a suspicious person, how to face an active shooter.” 

The Jewish Federations of North America, a leader in obtaining Department of Homeland Security funding for security measures for Jewish buildings, said the Overland Park shootings underscored the need for the program.

“The horrific shootings in Kansas City emphasize the fact that Jewish communal institutions have been the victim of an alarming number of threats and attacks,” William Daroff, JFNA’s Washington director, wrote in an e-mail. “Due to those threats, the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program has provided millions of dollars to assist nonprofits in upgrading their security capacity.” 

On April 17, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder told the hundreds gathered at the Kansas City JCC for an interfaith memorial service for the victims, “Every alleged hate crime, no matter who the intended target, is an affront to who we are,” Reuters reported. “These acts cannot be ignored. We are united in our condemnation of this heinous attack and our commitment to seeing that justice is served.” 

Johanna Ginsberg of NJJN and Ron Kampeas of JTA contributed to this report.

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