Murder, the Military and Radicalization: How Much Is Tied to a Lack of Support for Veterans?

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A man with a long beard and shaved head holds a skull-shaped carving painted in the style of the American flag outdoors.
Veterans' advocate Jack Griffith holds a gift from a fellow veteran in the backyard of his home in Turlock, on Nov. 14, 2022, where he invites fellow veterans to talk and provides resources. Many veterans feel left behind by the VA, and more are committing crimes motivated by ideology, studies show. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Jessie Rush, Kenny Miksch and Simon Sage Ybarra were sentenced to six months in prison after admitting they destroyed evidence of their communication with fellow boogaloo militia member Steven Carrillo, who murdered two law enforcement officers as a racial uprising gripped California and the nation. Carrillo was captured on June 6, 2020.


teven Carrillo saw the three sheriff’s deputies talking on the narrow, one-lane road leading to his father’s house in Ben Lomond, a small community in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Concealed by the forest and gripping his rifle, Carrillo could hear them coordinating their approach.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office was responding to a call about a white van with ammunition and bomb-making supplies that were visible through a window to a man installing game cameras around a nearby wooded property. The vehicle’s registration led officers to a one-room house with potted plants and a gun rack on the porch.

Three years ago today, on June 6, 2020, Carrillo was cornered. A week earlier, the active-duty Air Force sergeant had killed a Federal Protective Service officer and wounded his partner in a drive-by shooting in front of the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in Oakland as a large protest moved through the streets nearby.

Carrillo took out his phone and messaged members of the “1st Detachment, 1st California Grizzly Scouts,” a group of men he met on Facebook. The group associated itself with the anti-government boogaloo movement, which originated online and became a rallying point for those who believe a second Civil War looms. Adherents toted guns and wore Hawaiian shirts, which the movement has co-opted, at protests following George Floyd’s death.

For weeks before Carrillo’s rampage, the Grizzly Scouts had discussed violent confrontations with the government and attacks on law enforcement in group messages, prosecutors said. The group also trained together at a property in the Sierra foothills.

“They were looking for me. They found me by pure luck,” Carrillo wrote from his hideout, requesting backup. “Kit up and get here. There’s only one road in/out. Take them out when they’re coming in.”

“Dude. How the f— can we get to you in an hour,” one member responded.

“They’re waiting for reinforcements. I’m listening to them,” Carrillo replied. “Dudes, I offed a fed. They’re staging. Come help. I have cameras everywhere here. They’re waiting.”

Jessie Rush, a then-28-year-old U.S. Army veteran and the group’s founder, responded with an order.

“Dillo,” Rush wrote, using Carrillo’s code name, “factory reset your phone and exfil.”

Exfil — short for exfiltration, a military term for the removal of units from an area.

Carrillo ignored the directive. Instead, he opened fire with his modified assault rifle, fatally wounding one officer and sending the other two running into the woods. They radioed to try to warn others of the ambush.


Before fleeing, Carrillo engaged in a shoot-out with California Highway Patrol officers who answered the distress call. He carjacked a Toyota Camry and ran over one of the Santa Cruz deputies on his way down the mountain. Shot in the hip, Carrillo used his own blood to write messages on the car — “Boog,” “Stop the duopoly” and “I became unreasonable” — before abandoning it. He was ultimately arrested in a backyard after neighbors tackled and restrained him.

According to prosecutors, the Grizzly Scouts moved quickly to delete evidence of their communication and files about the group’s structure and activity. But it was too late. Rush and two other members later pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to destroy records in official proceedings. All three were sentenced to six months in prison. A fourth member pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges in addition to an unrelated charge. He was sentenced to more than 10 years.

Carrillo was given a life sentence.

In the three years since he was captured, significant attention has focused on Carrillo and his murders as well as the role social media played in connecting him with other extremists. But scarce information is available about Rush, who grew up in Gilroy and created the Grizzly Scouts, gave the group its military structure and recruited Carrillo and other men throughout Northern California.

People who knew Rush told KQED they were puzzled by the charges against him. A firefighter and EMT who worked in private security, Rush worked alongside former law enforcement officers, and friends said he never openly expressed anti-police sentiment to them.

Rush and his attorney declined to be interviewed for this story. But a deep look into Rush’s background paints a portrait of a veteran seeking the camaraderie and sense of purpose he once found in the armed forces.

Two men in military fatigues, one holding a firearm, pose for a photo.
Jessie Rush (right) sits on a newly constructed deck at Combat Outpost Qeysar, Afghanistan, in 2011, while the soldier beside him does tricep dips. (Courtesy of Nathan Goodall)

To report this story, KQED interviewed veterans, including several who served with Rush, researchers and a California lawmaker who called for Congressional hearings on the recruitment of veterans by extremist groups, to find out how vulnerable former soldiers are — and what steps the United States government is taking to identify at-risk veterans like Rush and provide them support.

“This is not an uncommon story that we see in the veterans and the data that we’ve collected who [have been] radicalized to the point of committing crimes,” said Dr. Michael Jensen, senior researcher at the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START.

According to a 2022 START study, on average, 6.9 individuals with military backgrounds committed crimes motivated by ideology per year from 1990 to 2010. Over the past decade, that number has quintupled (PDF).

About 17% of defendants charged in connection to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection were current or former service members, including eight from California, according to START. For comparison, about 7% of the country’s adult population are veterans.

Excluding the Jan. 6 cases, the rate of crimes committed by people with military backgrounds (PDF) and motivated by political, social, religious or economic goals has more than tripled since 2010. The majority of cases are centered in the veteran community, as opposed to active-duty military.

In November, Stewart Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate who founded the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers, was convicted of seditious conspiracy and other charges for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol. On May 25, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. An Anti-Defamation League analysis of Oath Keepers membership data identified 117 active-duty military and estimated 1 in 10 had prior service.

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In January, three active-duty Marines were charged with crimes related to their alleged involvement on Jan. 6. One of the men, based at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, wrote in an Instagram direct message that he was “waiting for the boogaloo” or “Civil war 2,” according to court records.

In April, an Air National Guardsman suspected of leaking a trove of national security documents on the online platform Discord was arrested in Massachusetts. Federal court documents show Jack Teixeira, 21, possessed a “virtual arsenal of weapons (PDF)” and had discussed acts of violence online (PDF), according to prosecutors and the FBI.

As of April 2022, there were 45 anti-government groups, including four militias, active in California (PDF), according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Exactly how many veterans have been involved in extremist groups in the state is unknown due to the lack of consistent data, said Jon Lewis, research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

“Unlike cases stemming from support for foreign terrorist organizations like ISIS or al-Qaida, group membership in the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, boogaloo movement, etc., is secondary and not a predicate for the criminal offense,” Lewis said. “We can identify cases in which that affiliation or ideology is explicitly identified, but it’s naturally limited by the failures of the federal and state governments to publicly share information related to these statistics.”

In 2021, not long after rioters stormed the Capitol, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a military-wide stand-down to discuss extremism in the ranks (PDF). The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs began a series of hearings investigating the issue later that year.

“A lot of the types of things we can do to help prevent veterans from dying by suicide are the very same things we can do to help veterans avoid being pulled into extremist and violent groups,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, the top Democrat on the committee who called for the hearings (PDF).

Takano began looking into the issue in 2019 after a hearing about online scams targeting veterans led to research on which other groups target vets, according to a former member of his staff. Groups like the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters target veterans because of their combat and weapons experience and the air of credibility they bring (PDF) to an organization, according to an accompanying report.

“We need to raise our level of support for veterans to reduce these sort of upstream stressors that can lead to some veterans turning toward extremism,” said Takano.

But the hearings exposed sharp disagreement in the federal government over whether time and resources should be allocated to understanding the problem — and whether one even exists. Republicans, including Mike Bost of Illinois, who is now the committee’s chair, said the hearings unfairly stigmatized veterans.

A close-up of two middle-aged men in blue suits outside on a sunny day, both with trim, dark haircuts. The man on the right, who appears Latino, speaks into the ear of the other, who appears Asian.
Rep. Mark Takano (left) speaks with Rep. Raul Ruiz during a 2021 news conference with other members of the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee. (Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

In July 2022, a Senate Armed Services Committee report called for an immediate halt to defense programs looking into extremism (PDF), adding, “spending additional time and resources to combat exceptionally rare instances of extremism in the military is an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds.”

Republicans voted overwhelmingly in favor of the language while Democrats voted against it. One independent lawmaker tipped the balance in favor of the GOP.

Several months later, all House-passed provisions calling for further investigation of extremism in the military and broader society were scaled back or removed from the final 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

A Defense Department spokesperson told reporters last month that only one of the six recommendations issued by the agency’s Countering Extremism Working Group, created in the wake of Jan. 6, has been enacted.

Meanwhile, researchers say that while the involvement of veterans and active-duty military in criminal extremism is limited, it’s a problem that could be growing.

“When you look at the veteran population in our data set, there are really two types of veterans that radicalize: individuals that are looking for the camaraderie, the sense of purpose, the friendships that they had in the military,” Jensen said. “And they find it in these extremist organizations, groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenter organizations and the boogaloo movement.”

The second type typically experience mental health issues such as combat-related PTSD, in addition to that same desire for camaraderie and purpose, according to Jensen.

While it’s unclear exactly which factors drew Rush to the boogaloo movement, documents from multiple state and federal court cases reviewed by KQED, as well as interviews with military and extremism experts and people who knew Rush, point to numerous factors — social isolation, PTSD, challenges translating combat skills to the civilian workforce, relationship difficulties and unhealed trauma — that could have played a role.

In response to a text message from a KQED reporter, Rush, who was released from a federal prison in Santa Barbara County in November, wrote that he wanted to move on with his life.

“I made my mistakes,” he wrote. “I did my time, and I’m paying my debt to society.”

Set up for failure

“On the couch.” That’s the phrase Jack Griffith uses to describe the veterans he works with who need his help the most. In other words, those who are depressed, disinterested and unmotivated to leave the house or do much of anything.

“That’s why a lot of people make jokes about veterans living in their mom’s basement,” said Griffith, who runs Protecting Soldiers’ Rights, a nonprofit that assists veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

“They’re not coming out because of social anxiety,” he added. “They may have survivor’s guilt, they may have situational awareness that is going off all the time.”

A white man with a long graying beard and shaved head leans against the edge of an above-ground swimming pool in the backyard of a home. He has tattoos on his arms and holds a cigarette in his left hands, and he wears baggy dark blue jeans and a dark gray sweatshirt.
Veterans advocate Jack Griffith in his backyard in Turlock. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

One afternoon last fall, Griffith, 41, sat at a wrought-iron table in his backyard in rural Turlock. As hummingbirds flitted around the porch, the stay-at-home dad with icy blue eyes and a long, scraggly beard lit a Camel cigarette.

Every so often, a cloud of dust drifted over the fence and coated the cars in the driveway as the farmer next door drove a tractor through his orchard.

Griffith served in the Army from 2008–2011 and deployed to Afghanistan. In 2009, he was awarded a Purple Heart after the vehicle he was riding in was hit by a 300-pound roadside bomb and he had to be medevaced out. Griffith started Protecting Soldiers’ Rights in 2016.

Nowadays, he receives about 10 calls a week from veterans, including some from out of state. They call with legal questions or questions about benefits. Some call on the verge of a panic attack. Many, like Rush, come over to Griffith’s house to sit in the backyard, smoke cigarettes and just talk.

The first time the two met in February 2019, Rush wasn’t “on the couch.” But Griffith suspected he was headed there.

“I can tell he was reminiscent of his military service. I’m reminiscent,” Griffith said, holding back tears.

Rush was a cannon crewmember in the Army from November 2009–March 2014 and deployed to Afghanistan in March 2011. That year, the Gilroy Dispatch published a letter from Rush’s mother about her son’s unit distributing school supplies to Afghan children.

“I would like to share the following story about the humanity of war and the hearts of our soldiers in Afghanistan,” Christina Soares wrote. “Through all the bad they still made time to do good.”

Ten years later, Soares wrote another letter (PDF). This time, it was addressed to U.S. District Judge James Donato. Soares described Rush’s difficult childhood, his father’s abuse, the time he spent in an orphanage and foster care, and his time in the military.

“After deployment Jessie came home and I knew he was different,” Soares wrote. “He no longer had that twinkle in his eye or the innocence in his smile.”

In one instance, when Rush was home on leave and heard neighbors setting off fireworks, he “hit the floor in the fetal position and cried out for his brothers,” according to the letter.

In a December 2021 sentencing memo (PDF), Rush’s attorney, Adam Pennella, wrote that Rush “observed carnage and death on a daily basis” in Afghanistan.

“This included attempting to save a civilian whose intestines were falling out by holding them in place with his hands,” Pennella wrote. “Others in his unit were injured and killed, including one of his closest friends from basic training. Then in the years after discharge, multiple of his friends from the military died (one from an overdose, another from a brain aneurism, and a third from suicide).”

In another letter (PDF) to Judge Donato, retired Army Sgt. Charles Fowler said that Rush had struggled with PTSD but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs “did not offer Jessie much help in adjusting therapy or medications.” Fowler also wrote that he had talked with Rush about maintaining the skills they learned in the military, adding, “though we had to be careful because outside of the combat zone, we are not cleared to create our own rules of engagement to deal with items we deem as threats.”

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, 29% of the men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan will experience symptoms of PTSD at some point in their lives. Carl Castro, director of Military and Veterans Programs at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and a retired Army colonel, said PTSD is one of many factors that can lead a veteran to have an unsuccessful transition to civilian life.

A veteran might question who they are and whether the sacrifices made in going to war were worth it, according to Castro. One way to regain that sense of identity is to utilize military skills.

“They want to feel valued as a person,” Castro said. “And one way they do that is by joining an organization that values them, that will tell them, ‘We value you, you are important.’ And not only that, give them an important leadership role in the organization.”

One veteran who served in Afghanistan with Rush and spoke to KQED on condition of anonymity because of concerns about speaking publicly about a sensitive criminal case, said when he heard about Rush’s case, he wasn’t surprised someone from his unit had been involved in extremism.

“We all get set up for failure going into the armed forces,” he said. “Twenty-four seven, 365, we literally thought someone was going to cut our head off or shoot us. That can change the rest of your life.”

Once a soldier leaves the military, he added, job prospects can be limited.

“How do you convert kicking down doors and knowing how to kill people — and I can march with 20–30 pounds on my back, I can take apart a gun with my eyes closed in two minutes — how do you convert that into civilian work? You can’t. Unless you’re a security guard or a police officer,” he said.

Attempts to reach Rush’s family for comment were unsuccessful. In a Facebook message, Soares responded to a question about her son with, “You’re wasting your time ma’am.” After a reporter left a business card at Rush’s apartment, a woman identifying herself as “Julie” left a voicemail saying the reporter would be pepper-sprayed if they returned.

About a year after Griffith met Rush, Rush launched the Grizzly Scouts. “They say the west won’t boog, were [sic] here to gather like minded Californians who can network and establish local goon squads,” Rush wrote in the description of the Facebook group he started, according to prosecutors.

“I think that whole group, whatever the group was, it was more role-play for him,” Griffith said. “I’m afraid that maybe he was trying to impress. I’m hoping he was trying to impress. I just never saw it.”

Paid to be paranoid

Jerame Ayers sat behind the wheel of a white Jeep pickup truck at an intersection in Modesto and pointed out things the student beside him should be mindful of while working a private security protection job.

“Look at people in their cars,” Ayers said. “Keep an eye out for people doing anything unusual.”

Ayers, 46, wore a black baseball cap with a patch on the front showing the silhouette of a rifle over an American flag. The radio was tuned to SiriusXM Patriot. The two were driving to a mock protest scenario, part of the curriculum at the Academy for Professional Development, the Modesto trade school Ayers, an Army veteran, owns and operates. The school offers EMT and private security training courses.

“The problem is, everybody becomes paranoid who goes through my training. It never turns off,” he said. “You get paid to be paranoid.”

A photo taken from the backseat of a vehicle from behind the driver's side. Blurry in the foreground, and in focus in the rearview mirror, we see a light-skinned man in a black baseball cap driving and looking to the right.
Jerame Ayers, CEO of the Academy for Professional Development, teaches an executive protection class in Modesto on Nov. 14, 2022. Executive protection provides security for politicians, celebrities and anyone needing protection against public threats. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

In 2019, shortly after he met Griffith, Rush enrolled in Ayers’ 30-day security specialist course, where students learn to guard high-profile clients like CEOs, politicians and celebrities.

As a career path, protection is popular with veterans who already possess some of the necessary skills, Ayers said. Jobs in the field can bridge the gap between combat and a return to civilian employment.

“That’s what I kind of teach them is reintegration,” Ayers said. “But do not let the warrior mindset fade off, because you’re going to need that in this industry.”

Rush taught EMT classes at the school and began working jobs in private security, an industry he was well suited for but one that “exacerbated his paranoia and vigilance,” according to his attorney Pennella.

Aside from periodically visiting his father, Rush mostly kept to himself, Griffith said.

“Jessie didn’t have a community,” Griffith said. “Jessie had an apartment. And he had a wife. And he had me and Jerame after that. He didn’t have people to have his back around here. He didn’t have people to even hang out with around here.”

Rush found his community online.

According to a June 2022 report filed in state court on Carrillo’s “social history and mental decline,” Carrillo found Rush and the Grizzly Scouts in April 2020. After Carrillo joined Facebook groups in support of Second Amendment protections and libertarian ideals, the platform’s algorithm suggested other groups he might be interested in.

One of them was /K/alifornia Kommando, the Facebook group run by Rush, where prosecutors say he recruited for the Grizzly Scouts. Rush invited Carrillo to the Grizzly Scouts’ group chats and asked Carrillo to sign a liability release, a nondisclosure agreement and an employment application that requested information about Carrillo’s military experience. Rush also sent Carrillo a packing list for an in-person meeting.

Carrillo later described the Grizzly Scouts as a “paramilitary organization that viewed police as the enemy.” The group was mostly made up of veterans upset with the government for various reasons, including the state of the veteran health care system, according to the report.

Screenshot of a web-based document, with some text highlighted in yellow.
In this graphic first obtained and published by ProPublica, UC Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program and Frontline, candidates for the Grizzly Scouts are asked to provide details of their prior military experience and firearms training. (Courtesy ProPublica)

Court records show members of the group were given ranks. As commanding officer, Rush held the rank of major. Robert Jesus Blancas, a transient Castro Valley resident, was responsible for security and intelligence, while Kenny Miksch of San Lorenzo was in charge of training and firearms instruction. They were named first lieutenants. Simon Sage Ybarra of Los Gatos held the rank of corporal and was responsible for recruitment. Carrillo was made staff sergeant.

Members discussed tactics for killing police in a WhatsApp group chat labeled “209 Goon HQ” (PDF), a reference to the Central Valley area code, according to a March 2021 indictment. At one point, Rush messaged another member: “The gov spent 100s of thousands of dollars on training me, im gonna use that shit,” court records show (PDF).

In May 2020, Rush invited Carrillo to a secluded ranch east of Turlock and told him to bring guns, ammunition, a burner phone and other supplies. Carrillo met with the Grizzly Scouts twice — around May 9 and May 16. He returned home “energized and ecstatic, keenly focused on the mission of the group, and agitated about police misconduct,” Carrillo’s then-girlfriend said, according to the report.

Griffith and Ayers said Rush invited them to hang out with the Grizzly Scouts, but they declined. Neither thought the group was anything unusual. When Griffith asked Rush who would be there, he said Rush responded, “Like-minded people.”

A middle-aged white man with a long, scraggly beard reaches over a chest-high wire fence to pet the nose of a white mutt, whose nose is in the air to reach the man's hand. They are surrounded by a scrubby lawn of dirt and grass, and sunlight filters through light green tree cover behind them, alongside a one-story shed with beige siding.
Jack Griffith pets his dog at his home in Turlock. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Data show 84% of people with military backgrounds who committed extremist crimes from 1990 to 2021 did so after leaving the military. On average, crimes were committed 15 years after discharge, according to START.

One of the most infamous examples of violent extremism in U.S. history is the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Hundreds of people were injured by the blast that killed 168, 19 of whom were children. The perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, was an Army veteran, private security guard and white supremacist assisted by a man he met in basic training.

“This is not illogical if you think about the cyclical pattern in the United States of wars and wars ending, and then a small number of disgruntled, or perhaps traumatized, or otherwise disenfranchised veterans coming home from that war and engaging in domestic violent extremism,” said William Braniff, director of START. “This is the story of the KKK, both after the Civil War, but then after World War I and II, in Korea and Vietnam. There’s a pattern here.”

Chris Buckley, an Army veteran who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan from 2013 to 2016 and now helps young people deradicalize as an intervention specialist with the nonprofit Parents for Peace, said there’s no shortage of reasons why veterans get involved in extremism. Buckley told KQED his own radicalization began inside the military. Learning to dehumanize his enemy was a tool that served him well emotionally in combat, but was never deactivated, he said.

“I come home with this hatred towards Muslims that was left completely unchecked,” said Buckley. “Then about six months after I got home, I started to have my experiences with PTSD. And I started to really break down mentally. Couple that with substance abuse.”

When he needed help, the KKK was there.

“They didn’t come at me with pitchforks, burning crosses and robes,” said Buckley, who testified in front of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in March 2022. “They were like, ‘Hey, man, what’s going on, bro? Like, you need help with Christmas? Here’s some food, bro. Let’s take care of your family before we talk about what we do.’

“That was the first time anybody had reached out to help me. The VA wasn’t,” Buckley said.

In response to an email asking what the VA is doing to support veterans vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups, Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said the agency is committed to educating veterans on how to identify disinformation and predatory practices.

“Like any group of Americans, the Veteran community is not a monolith. The overwhelming majority of Veterans neither commit nor condone extremism-related violence,” he wrote. “VA will take action where necessary to abide by laws that protect our country against a tiny minority committed to domestic violent extremism.”

Nicholas Sanders, who served as a medic in Afghanistan alongside Rush and is now a nurse in Texas, said groups like the Proud Boys and “other wannabe militias” prey on veterans searching for belonging.

“When I got out of the military, I worked at a military surplus store, and it was weekly,” he said. “People are handing me their cards like, ‘Hey, you know, we’ve got this club,’ or ‘We’ve got this group. We meet up on the weekends, bring your family and do all this.'”

Sanders was initially attracted to the displays of camaraderie.

“And then you start reading into it. You’re looking at their pictures and it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s only white people in here,’” he said. “It’s the equivalent of a gang to me. Gangs don’t prey on well-established people. Gangs prey on people that are looking for that acceptance and approval.”

‘I offed a fed’

In May 2020, the Grizzly Scouts prepared for an operation at a protest in Sacramento, according to prosecutors. Members distributed an “Operations Order” that identified law enforcement as “enemy forces.”

On May 27, 2020, Carrillo and Ybarra met behind a gas station in Los Gatos to assemble an assault rifle in the back of Carrillo’s van. The next day, Carrillo contacted Ybarra about attending a protest in Oakland, to “snipe some you know what’s.”

Ybarra didn’t respond. Instead he reached out to Rush, saying, “just wanted to make sure we are on the same page, and that targeting innocents doesn’t fly with me even if they are wearing a badge.”

Rush agreed, but said, “yea we need to actually develop targets and cases, be smart. They want war, then we bring em war.”

He went on (PDF): “We can start developing case files, gathering intel, and doing it just like big bro does.”

“im not about the fireworks,” he continued. “im more like a surgeon.”

On May 29, 2020, Carrillo rode to Oakland in a white van, allegedly driven by Robert Alvin Justus Jr., another man he met online. As they drove past the Federal Building, Carrillo flung open the sliding door and unloaded a fusillade of bullets toward two Federal Protective Service officers, killing David Patrick Underwood, 53, and wounding Sombat Mifkovic.

About a week later, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies were in Ben Lomond responding to a call about a white van with weapons inside. Carrillo ambushed the officers, killing Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, 38, and wounding Deputy Alex Spencer, 32 at the time.

Later that day, Ybarra drove to Turlock to meet with Rush, prosecutors said, and group members conspired to erase conversations from their phones in which they discussed attacking police. Blancas destroyed Dropbox files related to the group’s structure, onboarding and operations, telling Ybarra a month later, “All physical files I had were literally burned.”

“He removed our platform and robbed our message,” Rush wrote to the Grizzly Scouts (PDF), referring to Carrillo. “Unfortunately we would almost have to wait for the next one. Which is disgusting.”

The Grizzly Scouts switched to a new messaging platform they thought would be more secure, according to prosecutors. A couple of weeks later, Rush began contacting members.

“Jump on [another communication’s platform] if you miss us were [sic] reinventing and if you wanna be apart [sic] of it we’d love to have you back,” Rush said to one member, according to court documents.


On an overcast afternoon last September, firearm enthusiasts inside a gun show at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds perused tables stacked with Army fatigues, old tactical manuals, knives and bulletproof vests. Every so often, a loud jolt came from a corner where a stun gun was being demoed.

At one booth, a man and a woman wearing “California State Militia, 2nd Regiment” T-shirts answered a young man’s questions. Across the aisle, a group of men browsed ammunition magazines modified to hold no more than 10 rounds, per California law.

As he browsed the exhibits, stopping occasionally to talk with vendors, Ayers said he believed Rush may have talked about violence that he didn’t actually plan to carry out.

“Vets, we all get together and hang out,” Ayers said. “I think he got in over his head.”

In 2020, when coverage of Carrillo’s violence was on the news, Rush stopped by Ayers’ school and told him: “I know the two guys that are involved in that.”

A white man looks seriously at the camera standing in front of a storefront at a strip mall next to a banner showing an insignia featuring a snake and two falcons. The man wears a black hat with an American flag, glasses, a dark fleece, and blue jeans.
Jerame Ayers stands outside his school in Modesto, on Nov. 14, 2022. The school offers executive protection, physical security and EMT classes. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“I was like, ‘How’d that all go down?’ He’s like, ‘No, we all hung out. And those two individuals were at the place that we hung out,'” Ayers said. “I’m like, ‘I hope you’re not connected to them.’ He says, ‘I mean, other than meeting up with them, but I would never think they’d go do this.'”

In August that year, the FBI executed search warrants for Rush’s apartment and the homes of other Grizzly Scout members. When he found out about the raid, Ayers said he asked Rush if there was something he wasn’t telling him. “He’s like, ‘No,'” Ayers said.

Griffith, too, remembered the raid.

“And that was kind of where I was like, ‘This is federal territory, buddy,'” Griffith said. “We don’t touch this. This isn’t about PTSD and TBI. If the FBI is knocking [on] your door or kicking or whatever, that’s more serious than what we can handle.”

In April 2021, Ayers said, he received a text from Rush saying FBI agents wanted to meet with him.

“And I said, ‘They didn’t arrest you then, and now they want to talk to you?’ I go, ‘If they are going to talk to you, go there, do what you’re supposed to do,” Ayers said. “You participate, you do what you’re told.'”

When Griffith found out Rush was being summoned by federal agents, he drove to the meeting at a Turlock Police Department precinct to offer support. Rush was already handcuffed in the back of a black SUV when he arrived.

Rush and other Grizzly Scout members were indicted (PDF) on charges including conspiracy to destroy records in official proceedings, destruction of records in official proceedings and obstruction of official proceedings. At sentencing, Rush told the court he was “fearful and paranoid” (PDF) at the time he created the Grizzly Scouts.

“I was exposed to so much rhetoric that seemed contradictory,” he said. “Things that were being said by the government on social media, the state, and just in the news in general just seems like it was pushing back against each other.”

Matthew O’Bryan, who served with Rush and stayed in contact with him, said the charges didn’t sound like Rush.

“He started [the group] so that veterans like him and me could have just a little bit of normalcy,” said O’Bryan, who wrote a letter on Rush’s behalf before sentencing. “He said that some guy in his group was apparently going off the deep end saying some crazy stuff, and that they all came after him because he was the one who put that stuff together just trying to help people.”

Like Rush, both Ybarra and Miksch pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to destroy records in official proceedings and were sentenced to six months in prison in May 2022. Both were released in November.

Blancas was sentenced to 10 ½ years after pleading guilty to charges tied to the Grizzly Scouts case and explicit conversations with underage girls that FBI agents uncovered during a search of his electronic devices. He is currently serving time at a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

Carrillo is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione in Amador County. Through his attorney in the federal case, he declined to be interviewed.

A white man with a long beard sits outdoors in the shade of a tree, at a table with a red table cloth. On the table in front of him are a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, a white mug, a cellphone, and a short stack of papers.
Jack Griffith in his backyard in Turlock. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

By November, the hummingbirds in Griffith’s backyard were gone. A stack of magazines sat on the table wrinkled, having been left out in the rain.

Griffith looked at a text he had received the previous morning. It was from Rush. Out of prison, he asked if Griffith wanted to hang out.

“I rose my hand, basically donating my life to this country,” Griffith said. “And that oath is not over. And it states foreign and domestic. That puts him in a column of which, if we were out in public, he would be a threat. We’re supposed to be on the same side and now I have to look at you as a threat. You’d be the one that I’m watching in a crowd.”

A few days later, the two went on a drive. Rush was tight-lipped, Griffith said.

“I really feel like I wasn’t enough,” Griffith said, choking back tears. “This is just as shocking as losing someone to suicide that you thought was on the right path. You put in all that work. You think everything’s going one direction, and then either they’re gone or they’re so far offtrack you don’t even realize it.”