From the archives: In southwest Missouri, people wonder how Frazier Glenn Miller’s vitriol turned to violence

In November 1984, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. posed with a shotgun and a pistol tucked into belt before a rally of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan rally in Robeson County, N.C.
In November 1984, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. posed with a shotgun and a pistol tucked into belt before a rally of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan rally in Robeson County, N.C. The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. spent four decades carving an existence out of hatred, spewing his disdain for other races and all things Jewish to strangers and friends.

But the Army veteran who fought in Vietnam always seemed to limit his anger and extremist beliefs to words, sending out hate-filled fliers, submitting letters to newspaper editors and throwing out a threat or two. Some people in this southwest Missouri town dismissed him as crazy.

Until Sunday.

In a parking lot outside Overland Park’s Jewish Community Center, his years of vitriol evolved into violence, authorities say. By the time he was done, he killed three people, investigators say. A devoted grandpa. His teenage grandson. A Kansas City woman who was making a weekly visit to see her mom at a senior living facility.

What gnaws at those who have studied Miller and followed his views and actions over the years is one simple question: Why now?

“He’s been pretty quiet,” said Richard Witthuhn, the police chief of Aurora and Marionville in southwest Missouri, a three-hour drive from Kansas City. “In fact, in the last couple months my officers asked if he’s been around.”

Miller was low key in recent years, said Bolivar Police Chief Mark Webb, who was at the Marionville department from 2009 to early 2013. For authorities, Miller was “kind of off the radar.”

“He’s always spouted the rhetoric, the anti-Semitic, anti-everything,” Webb said. “Who knows what triggered it?”

And why the Kansas City area?

Miller, 73, who also uses the name Frazier Glenn Cross, lived in rural Aurora with his wife in a neat, gray, one-story house at a T-intersection northwest of Marionville.

He was arrested Sunday afternoon in Overland Park after

three people were shot and killed at the Jewish Community Center and the Village Shalom senior living center

. Witnesses saw police arrest Miller, who later ranted “Heil Hitler” as he sat in the back of a police car.

Monday morning at Miller’s home, two black dogs ran around the yard. A red Chevrolet Colorado pickup, with a Confederate flag sticker on the bumper, sat out front.

No one answered the door.

Miller had lived in the Aurora area for years, but neighbors did not know him well. Still, they knew him well enough to have an opinion.

“Probably nobody was really surprised,” said Bill Robinson, who works at Hillbilly Gas Mart on U.S. 60. “We had all seen the papers he passed out.”

Miller, a former truck driver, distributed a white-supremacist publication written by another Missouri man.

A spokesman for the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi organization that held a rally last fall in Kansas City, said the organization was appalled at Sunday’s tragedy.

“It’s horrible, that whole situation,” said Brian Culpepper, the movement’s public relations director, who doesn’t think Miller attended the local rally. “We don’t condone acts of violence against any individual or group. I mean, come on. It undoes every good thing that we try to do politically and culturally.

“This just smears and makes everybody’s lives more difficult. It’s a tragedy for the families and everything.”

Miller turned to racist and anti-Semitic politics in the 1970s. He was a one-time “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors ultra-right-wing and paramilitary organizations.

He founded the White Patriot Party in the 1980s and later served three years in federal prison after authorities found him and others with a weapons cache near Springfield.

Miller agreed to testify against other members of the group. That caused a bitter split among some members of underground paramilitary groups.

“He became persona non grata in the movement after that,” said Mark Potok of the

Southern Poverty Law Center

, which has an extensive file on Miller. “And that lasted for quite a while. We didn’t see too much of him in the ’90s. But in the last 15 years or so, he’s essentially been working himself back in the movement.”

It’s unclear why he changed his name to Cross, but an acting U.S. attorney told The Associated Press in 1988 that Miller and his family would take on new identities under the witness protection program.

Some wonder about the timing of Sunday’s shooting.

Monday evening, the law center noted that Sunday would have been the 64th birthday of racist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, who was executed in November in Missouri after 33 years in prison.

Miller revered Franklin, also a former Klansman and neo-Nazi. In the months before Franklin’s execution, Miller frequently praised him on a white supremacist web forum.

“So far,” he wrote, “Joseph Paul Franklin is the bravest, therefore the greatest White Nationalist hero America has ever produced. His proven courage, initiative, dedication and willingness to sacrifice everything he owned, including his life, is unequaled on this continent.”

It also could have been a case like that of James W. von Brunn, the white supremacist who in 2009 shot and fatally wounded a security guard at the crowded U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Potok said.

“He was nearly 90 when he attacked the Holocaust museum,” Potok said of von Brunn. “He clearly wanted to go out in a hail of gunfire and glory. But it’s hard to tell with Miller because he surrendered pretty quickly. It didn’t seem like he was planning to die.”

Whatever the case, Potok said, Sunday’s shootings were “pretty incredibly badly planned” for a man who espoused such racist philosophies against Jewish people. The victims of Sunday’s shootings, he noted, were two Methodists and a Catholic.

Devin Burghart, of the

Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights

, said the timing of the shootings might be traced to any of several reasons.

“It may have something to do with the uptick in white nationalist organizing that’s been taking place in the region over the last year and a half,” he said. “There’s definitely more going on, from Iowa through Missouri.

“There’s a place just over the border in Iowa where they have a stage set up and they hold white-power music concerts. And there’s been more NSM (National Socialist Movement) and Klan organizing around and outside of KC.”

Burghart and others note that the shootings occurred a week before Hitler’s birthday and on the eve of Passover, a major Jewish holiday.

“The dates could have something to do with it, but these people have shown in the past that they don’t need a specific date to commit these senseless acts of violence,” Burghart said.

Marionville Mayor Danny Clevenger has known Miller for years. The owner of a small-engine repair shop, Clevenger would fix equipment for the man known for his hate-filled beliefs.

“He was definitely a racist. I definitely knew he hates other races,” Clevenger said Monday. “But you know, as far as the way he dealt with me, he was fair. I always thought he was a great guy.

“I’d consider him a friend, but I didn’t appreciate his beliefs on things.”

The mayor was sworn in last week and had been an alderman for seven years. He was on the board in 2008 when a Marionville police officer shot and killed Miller’s son, Jesse.

Armed with a shotgun that March 2008 day, Jesse Miller had killed a good Samaritan who tried to help him after he had wrecked his car. Jesse Miller shot the man at point-blank range.

“He was headed to town with his shotgun,” Clevenger said. “And our police officer stopped him.” The officer was wounded in the exchange of gunfire.

After Jesse Miller’s death, many worried his father would seek revenge. “People thought he was wanting to, as they say, get even or even the score,” Webb said.

But he didn’t.

Jesse Miller is buried in a Marionville cemetery next to his younger brother, Michael Gunjer Miller, who according to his father’s autobiography, “A White Man Speaks Out,” died in 1998 in a car wreck when he was 19.

“He looked a Young Tarzan,” Miller wrote. “At 17, he firebombed a Negro crack house and went to prison, and he did much, much more.”

When federal authorities investigating the Overland Park shootings reached out Sunday to police officials in southwest Missouri, Webb and Witthuhn initially weren’t sure they knew whom the feds were talking about. Miller was arrested under the name Cross.

They soon discovered it was the man whom law enforcement authorities in southwest Missouri had known for years. And a man who some in and around Aurora saw in a different way.

A neighbor, Mitzi Owens, said she had visited with Miller often when he came into the pharmacy where she works in Aurora.

“He was just as pleasant and nice as he could be,” she said. “Nothing political. Well, he talked a lot about Obamacare, but the ‘Heil Hitler’ stuff was not the man I talked to in the store.”

But, she said, she didn’t want to sound like she was defending him.

“I can’t imagine having that kind of hate in your heart.”

That is something Clevenger still struggles with in the man he calls a friend. He remembers Miller telling him a few years ago that he was sick and wouldn’t live very long, though he didn’t say what was ailing him.

Miller sometimes didn’t look well and took a lot of pain medicine, Clevenger said.

He’s still shocked, in a way, that his friend and customer is suspected of such violence.

“I never would have thought he would do something like that,” Clevenger said. “I thought more or less his purpose was to tell people what’s going on. Tell them his beliefs.

“I know he’s gotten in a lot of trouble before, but I never thought he would do something like that.”

The News Observer of Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report. To reach Laura Bauer, call 816-234-4944 or send email to lbauer@kcstar.com.

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