Footage from a surveillance camera recorded the white van that Justus and Carrillo allegedly used to carry out a drive-by shooting of the Oakland federal building. Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California

On May 29, 2020 the city of Oakland erupted in protests as demonstrators flocked downtown to demand justice for George Floyd and looters ripped through stores across the city. As police and sheriff’s deputies massed near the Oakland Police Department’s headquarters that night, a white Econoline van slowly drove by the federal courthouse on Clay Street a few blocks away, and a gunman fired out of the vehicle at two Federal Protective Service officers, killing officer David Underwood and wounding his partner.

In the aftermath of the shooting, rumors spread among law enforcement and in the media that leftist “Antifa” or Black Lives Matter protesters were responsible. But the opposite was true.

Several days after Underwood’s murder, Air Force Sergeant Steven Carrillo was identified as the alleged shooter, and Robert Justus as his driver. According to court records, Carrillo had his own motives. He had radicalized himself online in a quasi-libertarian, anti-government movement called the Boogaloo Boys, which sought to kick off a second civil war through confrontations with the authorities. A manhunt ensued and officers located Carrillo at his family’s residence in the Santa Cruz Mountains. But Carrillo was waiting in ready; a bloody shootout ensued, leaving a county sheriff’s deputy dead and two more cops wounded before Carrillo was taken into custody. 

In the months since his arrest, law enforcement officials have described Carrillo as someone who acted alone. “I would describe him as that lone wolf, just one angry guy that is going to hurt some people,” Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart told a local television station this past May. 

But federal prosecutors describe him very differently. New information filed in federal courts in April alleges that Carrillo and several other men belonged to a self-styled militia that discussed kidnapping and killing law enforcement officers, and in addition to Carrillo and his alleged accomplice in the downtown Oakland shooting, at least one other member of this extremist group conducted countersurveillance on police officers in Oakland on the night of May 29. 

Carrillo allegedly belonged to a small self-styled militia affiliated with the Boogaloo movement. Calling themselves the “1st Detachment, 1st California Grizzly Scouts,” the violent extremist organization was founded in Spring 2020 by 29-year-old private security contractor and Turlock resident Jesse Alexander Rush, who went by the alias “Grizzly Actual.” The group’s goal, according to federal prosecutors, was to attack law enforcement, and when last year’s protests for racial justice started, Carrillo allegedly decided it was time to assassinate police officers. He and others chose Oakland as their target in order to use the city’s chaotic protests as cover, according to Carrillo and Justus’s indictments.

Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, said the Grizzly Scouts and other Boogaloo Boy groups are the latest iteration of a string of extremist groups seen in Alameda County over the past decade. “They’re part of the same group of right wingers that we’ve seen over time—the Proudboys, Based Stickman, Three Percenters, they’re part of that milieu,” Kelly said. “There hasn’t been a lot of training and intel and hype around these specific guys—they’re on the radar for extremist groups, but so are others.”

Months of planning to kidnap and kill police

The 9mm rifle Carrillo allegedly used in the Oakland and Santa Cruz shootings. Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California

Grizzly Scout members initially connected with each other over a Facebook group called “/K/alifornia Kommando,” then met up in person on several occasions early in 2020 to train for violent confrontations with law enforcement. On their WhatsApp group, “209 Goon HQ,” the militia openly discussed kidnapping and killing law enforcement officers, and outlined plans to send armed teams into protests to potentially confront authorities and conduct counter surveillance of police in Sacramento and Oakland. According to federal prosecutors, they planned to mingle with protesters and openly spoke about their hopes that police would blame antifascists or Black Lives Matter demonstrators for their attacks on law enforcement, triggering a “second civil war” that Boogaloo groups across the United States were preparing for.

Rush, the group’s alleged founder, is an Army veteran who served in the 84th Field Artillery Division. After the Army, he worked as a private security contractor for a number of firms, including SureFox, which provides protection for Silicon Valley tech companies. Until this spring, he held state-issued licenses for security guard work as well as permits to carry a baton and a nine millimeter handgun, according to Bureau of Security and Investigative Services reports obtained through a public records request. His permits were suspended after his arrest. 

Another member of the group, Kenny Matthew Miksch, lives just south of Oakland in the town of San Lorenzo and held a state-issued security guard license. The militia group’s members designated Miksch as one of the militia’s armed “Quick Reaction Force” members intended to deploy to protests. 

According to a law enforcement source with knowledge of the case, at least one other member of the Grizzly Scouts who was designated as part of the group’s ‘Quick Reaction Force” was in downtown Oakland the same night Carrillo allegedly carried out his drive-by shooting, taking photographs of police positions and relaying his information back to other Grizzly Scouts via WhatsApp.

Miksch, Alexander, and two other Grizzly Scouts members, Robert Jesus Blancas and Simon Sage Ybarra, were arrested in early April and charged with destroying evidence related to the deadly Oakland shooting that Carrillo and Justus allegedly carried out, by deleting their group’s Whatsapp communications, Dropbox folders and erasing their electronic devices after Carrillo’s arrest. 

However, Carrillo’s phone was recovered by law enforcement after the Santa Cruz shootout, and FBI agents were able to gain a comprehensive view into the Grizzly Scouts’ plans. Federal prosecutors in Carrillo’s case wrote in an April court filing that the data recovered from Carrillo’s phone makes clear the militia not only planned attacks on law enforcement, but were supportive of Carrillo’s assault on officers in Oakland.

“What they did was obstruct a murder investigation and prosecution, covering up their own  involvement in preparations for violent acts,” assistant United States Attorney Stephanie Hinds wrote in the April 14 motion. 

Mike German, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and a former FBI agent who infiltrated Southern California white supremacist organizations in the 1990s, said the Grizzly Scouts indictment made clear Carrillo was acting as part of an organization intent on committing violence. 

“You don’t just prosecute the guy who did the shooting and say that it was a lone wolf incident and then move on—you have to recognize there was an ongoing conspiracy,” German said. 

When German worked as an undercover agent in the 1990s, groups like White Aryan Resistance would distribute manuals instructing members how to carry out acts of violence with the appearance that they were acting alone, rather than as part of a larger organized group. Popular underground books like William Pierce’s “The Turner Diaries” and “Hunter” also glorified acts of lone wolf violence against government employees and agencies. 

Part of a statewide and national movement of right-wing, anti-government extremists

Police recovered a ballistic vest with a patch on it that symbolizes the Boogaloo movement. Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California

“There are a lot of people in the movement who are willing to go to the extreme for their beliefs and that may include a life or death altercation,” said Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California.

While Marvel indicated that he would like to see updated training and materials disseminated about the Oakland and Santa Cruz shootings, and while there have been meetings with newly appointed California Attorney General Rob Bonta about creating a statewide extremism task force, it’s not clear if state law enforcement leaders have done enough to prepare for the threat posed by the Boogaloo Boys and other militia groups. 

Carrillo was abetted by other Boogaloo adherents further afield in the United States, according to law enforcement sources. Last fall, federal prosecutors charged a West Virginia resident  with illegally selling machine gun conversion devices he marketed as “wall hangers” online to members of Boogaloo-affiliated Facebook groups, including Carrillo. According to his federal indictment, Carrillo allegedly used the conversion device and firearms purchased over the internet to assemble the rifle he used to kill Underwood and Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. 

Federal prosecutors in Texas also allege that Carrillo was in contact with Ivan Hunter, a Boogaloo Boy member who allegedly drove to Minneapolis last May and fired 13 rounds from an assault rifle at a police precinct. Hunter reportedly asked Carrillo for funds after firing on the MPD facility. According to court records, four hours after David Underwood’s murder, Carrillo texted Hunter to say he was “currently in hide mode.” Hunter responded, “go for police buildings,” to which Carrillo replied, “I did better lol.”

Prosecutors say the Grizzly Scouts developed elaborate, military-style plans for violent confrontations with law enforcement during last spring’s protests over police brutality. 

“We should be yeeting solo cops and taking their shit,” one unidentified member wrote in a Whatsapp group chat, using a slang term for killing. 

The group wrote “operations orders” outlining procedures on how they planned to treat captured police officers: “POWS will be searched for intel and gear, interrogated, stripped naked, blindfolded, driven away and released into the wilderness blindfolded with hands bound.” 

In preparation for a May 2020 protest in Sacramento, the militia distributed an “operations order” classifying law enforcement as “enemy forces” and designating several members, including Rush and Miksch as their “quick reaction force” that would rescued their “recon” scouts who embedded inside a protest in case they were discovered. Militia members assigned to the quick reaction force were required to carry a rifle and pistol and extra magazines, according to evidence presented by federal prosecutors. Miksch and Rush had a number of pistols and rifles seized from their homes, along with helmets, body armor, and thousands of rounds of ammunition, when law enforcement first searched their residences and interviewed them in summer 2020, after Carrillo’s alleged shooting spree.

During protests last year in Oakland and Sacramento, the group’s members listened in to police radios, and one of them allegedly sent photographs of police officers on patrol to the group’s Whatsapp chat. 

One law enforcement source familiar with the case, speaking anonymously in order to discuss information freely, said one of the Grizzly Scouts members who were in downtown Oakland on May 29 appeared to involve surveillance against police. Carrillo had access to the group chat where photographs and information about the locations of police squads were posted.

There are also indications that a white Econoline van matching the description of the one used by Justus and Carrillo may have been scouting additional law enforcement targets in downtown Oakland before the shooting at the federal courthouse. A second law enforcement source, speaking on background, said that California Highway Patrol officers assigned to block freeway exits throughout downtown Oakland on the night of May 29 spotted a white Econoline van near several freeway exits. The CHP officers felt the van was observing their positions, and reported the vehicle up their command chain and to other law enforcement agencies working crowd control in Oakland. These sightings were reflected in situational awareness reports distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout that evening. 

According to court records, Jesse Rush, the militia’s founder, was made aware of Carrillo’s “cartel style” plan to attack law enforcement in Oakland on May 29 by Ybarra. “We need to actually develop targets and cases, be smart,” Rush allegedly told Ybarra over text messages on May 26 and 27 of last year. “They want war, then we bring em war.” 

Based on the text conversations referenced in a mid-April detention motion by federal prosecutors, Rush appears to have wanted to take a more deliberate, planned-out approach to attacking police instead of taking advantage of the protests in Oakland and other cities. 

“We can start developing case files, gathering intel, and doing it just like big bro does,” Rush wrote to Ybarra.  “im not about the fireworks…im more like a surgeon,” he claimed, going on to boast about putting his years of Army service and training to use. “the gov spent 100s of thousands of dollars on training me, im gonna use that shit.” 

Despite the objections of federal prosecutors, Rush, Miksch, and Blancas were released on bond in April. Rush is at his home in Turlock on a $50,000 waiver co-signed by his wife, the same residence from which federal agents recovered an arsenal of weapons and tactical equipment. Miksch is currently residing with his parents in San Lorenzo on a $25,000 bond co-signed by his father. Their next court date is July 13, 2021. Carrillo is being held at Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail awaiting trial.

Ali Winston is an independent reporter covering criminal justice, privacy, and surveillance. He is a former reporter for the New York Times and fellow at Type Investigations. His reporting on police corruption, right-wing extremism, and surveillance have appeared in a number of regional and national outlets and been recognized with several awards, including a George Polk Award for Local Reporting. Ali is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the University of California.