The man who opened fire on sheriff’s deputies in Colorado on New Year’s Eve, killing one and injuring four others, repeatedly shared far-right memes on his Facebook page and ranted on YouTube about local law enforcement officials.
Matthew Riehl, a 37-year-old National Guard veteran, allegedly shot and killed 29-year-old deputy Zackari Parrish early Sunday morning, after officers responded to reports of a disturbance in suburban Denver. Riehl, who had barricaded himself in his bedroom, also shot and injured four other officers before a SWAT team eventually killed him. The shooting was described by Sheriff Tony Spurlock as an “ambush-type attack.”
Following the shooting, far-right extremism expert JJ MacNab discovered Riehl’s since-deleted Facebook page, which was littered with Pepe the Frog memes, Islamophobic posts, and other phrases used by the far-right, including references to cuckoldry and rape culture. He was also pictured in one photo at a tactical training center with an AR-15-style weapon. The center, Kenaz Tactical Group, confirmed in a Facebook post that Riehl took a defensive firearms course over the summer.
“Mr. Riehl’s demeanor during the training sessions was not alarming, he interacted well with other students and seemed proud of his military career,” the statement read. “We are prepared to cooperate fully with any law enforcement investigation that may result, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Parrish family.”
Riehl also maintained a YouTube page where he went on bizarre rants against local police. In one video, he proclaimed that he was running as the “libertarian candidate” for sheriff in Douglas County and accused a deputy of being a pimp. In another, he railed against Sheriff Spurlock “in highly personal terms”, according to the Associated Press.
The nature of Riehl’s rants had previously led those around him to become concerned about his mental state. In November, Wyoming College of Law warned its students to notify campus police if they saw him or his car near the school because Riehl, a former student at the college, had made several social media posts criticizing professors. Officers in Wyoming also called their colleagues in Colorado to warn them about Riehl, WTOP reported, however it appears no action was taken.
Far-right extremists, many of whom have shared material online, have been responsible for a number of attacks on police over the years. In 2009, Richard Andrew Poplawski, who frequently posted on the neo-Nazi website Stormfront, killed three police officers in Pittsburgh with an AK-47 after ambushing them. In 2014, Jerad and Amanda Miller killed two officers in Las Vegas, in what was described as a “politically motivated ambush.” Jerad had previously posted support for right-wing militias and white supremacists on Facebook and YouTube.
Combined, these shootings demonstrate the continued threat of far-right “lone wolves”, one which was made clear in September when the FBI revealed that it had around 1,000 open domestic-terrorism investigations. In May, a FBI/Homeland Security bulletin warned that “small cells within the white supremacists extremist movement would likely to continue to pose a lethal threat of violence over the next year.”