On September 18 an Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) SWAT team arrested 21-year-old Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. over alleged connections to the Phoenix freeway shootings that have haunted commutes since August 29.
DPS officials could not provide details on Merritt on the day of his arrest, and law enforcement has been clear that the investigation is ongoing. Police say that Merritt’s gun has been linked forensically to only four of the eleven vehicles shot, apparently randomly, on Interstate 10.
Local affiliate ABC15 reports, Merritt had “has had prior criminal charges and family trouble” based on court recordings showing a failure to stop at a traffic accident, dropped assault charges, and several family court cases.
A now-deleted Facebook page appearing to belong to the suspect gives a glimpse of a blue-collar family man who often expresses passionate anti-government beliefs based on extreme conspiracy theories. Issue by issue, his politics appear more right-wing than left, but Merritt’s anti-government posts veer into anti-law enforcement territory more in keeping with Black Lives Matter than mainstream conservatism.
Beginning September 4th, Merritt begins to post prolifically multiple times a day to his account after a nearly week-long pause after August 29th, the day of the first freeway shooting. He shares many images and memes to his wall, often without commentary and sometimes with conflicting messages, making his views on certain issues more murky.
Several topics are crystal clear: Merritt is strongly anti-gun control, pro-military, and anti-Islam. He shares a meme saying “stomp on” people who stomp on American flags and criticizes the government for enforcing regulations on hunting more strictly than immigration laws.
On political candidates and parties, Merritt has posts mocking Hillary Clinton, mocking Obama, mocking Donald Trump, and refusing to be identified with either Democrats or Republicans. However, Merritt did post Ben Carson’s announcement that he was running for president–without commentary for or against it.
On some social issues, Merritt does not fit a simple mold. One image on his wall attacks Republicans for shaming people on food stamps, depicting an amputee veteran as a recipient. Another image he shares asks why “white pride” is deemed racist while various other ethnic prides are not; however, he also shares a photo mocking Fox News–a massive collage of blonde, white Fox contributors with the caption “Fox News will now describe the lack of racism in America.” Further undermining a possibility of white supremacist ideology, Merritt is in a relationship with a Hispanic woman, who he refers to as his wife; he says they have been together for five years and they have children together.
Merritt’s politics also push to the fringe of anarchist and libertarian thought. He is a member of a group called “conspiracy lovers” and fixates on topics in line with fans of Ron Paul or Infowars. His last post shared before his arrest calls for the legalization of marijuana in Arizona. Several days earlier, he posted a meme that says, “It’s Common Knowledge That Wars Are Fought Over Oil Resources. What’s Not Common Knowledge Is That Hemp Can Do Anything That Oil Does. Which Means That Legalizing Cannabis Can Literally Stop Wars.” Another meme, shared from a group critical of agricultural giant Monsanto, decries the use of pesticides.
His views toward government go beyond animosity to extreme paranoia. Some of the headlines he shares claim that a “secret government” controls the world, that the U.S. government might be spreading plague among its citizens, and that the military may have forced RFID chip implants on Texas residents during the Jade Helm operation. He posts a video of a military plane, referencing Jade Helm again. Even after a friend explains that it is a supply plane for military bases and that the operation is over, Merritt responds, “Government after everyone bro watch out.”
Merritt doesn’t appear to be a big fan of the cops. One photo on his wall declares opposition to police becoming more militarized; another shows a police cruiser being towed out of sand with the caption: “pulled pork.” One photo, purportedly taken himself, shows a gathering of cop cars in a parking lot. “Nice to see my hard earned taxes spent right hahaha,” he writes. “7cops chillin wonder how much they make to sit there.”
On several occasions, he touches on the idea of violent uprising against the government. One meme states, “The government is not afraid of guns. The government is afraid of us.” Another references the Battle of Athens, a 1946 incident when citizens took up arms and exchanged fire with a corrupt Sheriff’s Department.
Should prosecutors prove in court that Merritt actually perpetrated some of the shootings, one post in particular would carry a strange irony. Merritt shared a photo contrasting figures on mass shootings when ended by police or by armed citizens. Over a stock image of a woman in a business suit holding a shotgun, the caption reads:
The average number of people shot in a mass shooting event when the shooter is stopped by law enforcement: 14. The average number of people shot in a mass shooting event when the shooter is stopped by civilians: 2.5. The reason is simple: the armed civilians are there when it started.
Merritt’s father, Leslie Merritt Sr., told the Associated Press that anyone who thinks his son was involved in the shootings is a “moron.” He continued, “He has way too much value for human life to even take the slightest or remotest risk of actually injuring someone.”
Featured photo via KPHO