OAKLAND, Calif. — In the weeks before a gunman allegedly killed two officers in separate shootings last year in California, prosecutors say he and other members of an extremist militia known as the Grizzly Scouts held firearms trainings, scouted protests, and laid out terms of “war” against police.
In recent court filings, federal prosecutors in the Bay Area have revealed the most extensive details yet on the investigation into the May 29, 2020, fatal shooting of Federal Protective Service Officer Dave Patrick Underwood in Oakland, and the June 6, 2020, killing of Santa Cruz Sheriff Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller in an ambush in Ben Lomond.
The documents paint a picture of the alleged shooter, Steven Carrillo, not as a lone actor but a member of a Northern California-based anti-government organization that — in its rhetoric and actions — was preparing for deadly attacks on law enforcement. The Grizzly Scouts — most of whom are still at large — identify with a loosely affiliated, nationwide militia movement that uses the name “Boogaloo” and favors Hawaiian shirts and violent rhetoric, but the Scouts’ activities appear to be more carefully plotted.
The court filings were submitted in the case against four other alleged Grizzly Scouts members, including the group’s leader, who are accused of destroying evidence relevant to the Underwood and Gutzwiller murder investigations. They were written as part of a failed attempt to keep all four defendants in jail pending trial; a federal magistrate ultimately decided three of them were not a danger to the community nor a flight risk.
In April, a federal grand jury indicted Jessie Alexander Rush, 29, of Turlock; Robert Jesus Blancas, 33, of Castro Valley; Simon Sage Ybarra, 23, of Los Gatos; and Kenny Matthew Miksch, 21, of San Lorenzo, on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Blancas, the only defendant who remains in jail, also faces a child enticement charge related to alleged sexual conversations with a teen girl that were discovered during the investigation.
The filings not only confirm Carrillo as one of the militia’s roughly 25 members, but also detail the group’s alleged activities in mid-2020: trainings near Rush’s home in Turlock, the creation of a “Quick Reaction Force” or QRF, and plans to send a member to scout a protest in Sacramento.
The filings allege that, in a document entitled “Operations Order,” the militia described law enforcement officers as “enemy forces” and spoke of the possibility of taking some prisoner, writing that, “POWs will be searched for intel and gear, interrogated, stripped naked, blindfolded, driven away and released into the wilderness blindfolded with hands bound.”
On May 26, Carrillo allegedly told Ybarra that he wanted to commit a “cartel style” attack and Ybarra responded by saying they needed to meet in person to discuss it further. The meeting allegedly took place the next day, inside Carrillo’s van, where they talked and assembled an assault rifle, according to prosecutors.
Two days later, Carrillo allegedly met up with another Boogaloo-affiliated Bay Area man, Robert Justus, then opened fire at a guard booth at the Ron Dellums Federal Building, killing Underwood and wounding his partner. Before traveling to Oakland, Carrillo allegedly texted Ybarra that he was going to go “snipe some you know what’s,” prosecutors say.
Three days after the killing of Underwood, the members allegedly discussed the possibility that then-President Donald Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act in the wake of protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman.
“[T]hat ^^^ will be our sign,” Rush allegedly texted the others. “That effectively means the federal gov has declared war on things they’re afraid of.”
Rush previously served in the U.S. military, making him the second known member of the militia, along with Carrillo, with military experience.
On June 3, the group also allegedly discussed ways to stir up violence between antifa groups and police. Blancas allegedly wrote that he was “totally down” to disguise himself as an antifa member and spark a violent conflict.
“It’s the tactically sound option,” Blancas told other militia members, according to prosecutors.
The Boogaloo movement, whose followers believe America is on the brink of a second civil war, flourished on social media, said Prof. Brian Levin, director of Cal State San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, who called the movement “prototypical of the kind of threat we’ll see going forward.”
Extremist movements have moved away from more centralized groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Levin said, toward more fluid subcultures that he said borrow from a “buffet” of ideologies that can become violent faster.
“What it allows for is a kind of ‘create your own ideology’ extremism. … That’s why you’ll see within these subcultures a mix of demographics and sometimes even a mix of political views,” he said. “That’s why we saw an increase in not only the Boogaloo Boys but things like Q[Anon]. When there’s a binding narrative of conspiracy, even if it’s elastic, it can be a place where potentially dangerous people can radicalize others or conspire with similar dangerous folks.”
Blancas, Rush, Miksch and Ybarra are accused of destroying some of their communications with Carrillo after June 6, when Carrillo allegedly shot and killed Gutzwiller in an ambush outside Carrillo’s Ben Lomond home. Miksch, who later said he frequently listened to police scanners, allegedly warned Carrillo that the incoming officers had a K-9 unit, but that he didn’t think it was a planned raid. Carrillo pleaded with the others for backup, but they determined they were too far away to get their in time, prosecutors say.
Mike German, a former FBI agent who infiltrated right-wing militias in the 1990s and is a current fellow for the progressive public policy institute Brennan Center for Justice, said that it is typical for militia members who carry out attacks to try and appear as “lone wolves” in order to shield others from prosecution. That tactic was formed after a federal case against a white supremacist organization called The Order, which carried out violent robberies and assassinated prominent Jewish talk show host Alan Berg in the 1980s.
“When they ultimately got caught, the federal government brought a very broad sedition case,” German said. “They ended up being acquitted, and it provided a motive for militias to modify their tactics to what they called ‘leaderless resistance.’”
The Boogaloo movement, which has no clear command structure, fits this mold, German said.
Of the four obstruction defendants, only Blancas has remained in custody since the indictment was handed down last month. Ybarra was released by a federal judge in Sacramento, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley released Rush and Miksch.
At the April detention hearings before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley, assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Cheng argued there was no reason to expect members of an “armed, violent, anti-government militia group” would obey a judge’s order not to rearm themselves or flee the area.
Miksch was released on a $25,000 bond to the custody of his parents, who insisted their son was a “good kid.” Corley, while calling his views “abhorrent,” also released Rush under the custody of his wife on a $50,000 bond.
Before Corley released Rush, she asked if he would agree to the same conditions she set for Miksch, including monitored internet use, a prohibition on weapons possession, and not contacting other militia members.
“I swear on everything I hold dear, Your Honor,” Rush assured her, his voice full of emotion.
“All right. All you have to do is say, ‘Yes,’” Corley replied.