Army Ranger Bank Robbery = Political Statement?

Or, as the Seattle Times says, “If I did it, it was political.” Even the Seattle newspapers don’t buy it. A short summary is that in August four US Army Rangers performed a military-precision-type robbery on a Bank of America branch in South Tacoma, Washington, near Ft. Lewis, the largest Army base on the West Coast. They made off with [an amazing] $54,000. The [supposed] ringleader has dual US-Canadian citizenship and fled into Canada where he and his lawyers are now claiming political asylum. He is under house arrest in Canada while his extradition appeals work out. There are reports he intended to use the money as seed to challenge the local Hells Angels and take over the Kelowna BC (Canada) drug business. It isn’t making sense to me either, but leader is 20-years old, maybe it made sense to him, or maybe the drug kingpin stuff is all made up. Certainly strange/stupid (and I hope the stupid shall be punished). From the Seattle Times,

Luke Sommer, the former Army Ranger accused of masterminding the takeover robbery of a Tacoma bank in August, stops just short of admitting to the crime. But he says that if he did rob the bank, his motives were political.
“One of the things that the Canadian Extradition Act says is that I cannot be extradited if the reason or the motive for a crime is political,” Sommer said. “I’m untouchable, as long as I can prove in court that the reasons that I had were political. And I can. Trust me.”
He hopes to use the notoriety from the heist as a platform to expose war crimes by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sommer said during a series of interviews at his mother’s home here, where he is under house arrest.

This sounds like grasping at straws. To be precise, he is a former-Ranger only because he has likely been administratively kicked out of the Rangers (had his MOS removed is a more technical term, but I think the Rangers would say his Ranger tabs have been pulled (Not Army here, so corrections welcome)), however, he may formally still be a Ranger depending on some minor administrative actions. Regardless, legally he is still in the Army (Specialist 4), though a deserter, though I would expect he has been formally severed from the elite Rangers designation by now. And he is still a bank robber, who fled across state lines (into another country, into our closest ally and largest trading partner (no, it isn’t China)).

“There’s no motive that would excuse what he’s charged with doing in this case,” said Michael Dion, the assistant U.S. attorney who is prosecuting the case. “As far as what Sommer did or did not see overseas, I have no comment.”
If Sommer’s claims seem audacious, so is the crime he is accused of committing with the help of four other Army Rangers who were stationed at Fort Lewis at the time.
With “military-style precision and planning,” U.S. prosecutors allege, Sommer and the others, armed with AK-47s and apparently wearing body armor under their clothing, carried out the robbery of the Bank of America branch on South Tacoma Way in under 2 ½ minutes. They made off with more than $54,000.

The crime did happen. There is lots of conjecture, and now claims from one of the accused robbers as to the motive for the robbery. Rangers are chosen for physical stamina, and decent judgment, though the later is difficult to determine.

The sad thing is that some folks hate the concept of the military so much that they will believe that this is suppression of a war crimes witness, rather than a common thug (who happened to be a very junior member of the Army Rangers) trying any means to avoid facing prosecution for his crimes. Some will say this is because the Rangers now accept folks just entering service (vice having several years in the Army), but I say rotten apples can occur at any time.

I agree the Canadian Judicial and Executive systems must examine the case. I disagree with the idea that bank robbery is a legitimate political statement, just as Patty Hearst and the SLA was a bunch of crazies. And Wesley Cook (Mumia) is a cop-killer. There are plenty of groups in the Seattle area that would have been very willing to publicize his supposed grievances, just ask Lt Ehren Watada .

For more details:

Disclaimer: I was in the robbed B of A branch about a year ago for notary services. Decent neighborhood these days, though it wasn’t so 10 years ago (58th and S Tacoma Way).

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Richard Gardner
About Richard Gardner
Richard Gardner is a “retired” Navy Submarine Officer with military policy, arms control, and budgeting experience. He contributed over 100 pieces to OTB between January 2004 and August 2008, covering special events. He has a BS in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.


  1. ob1 says:

    Some will say this is because the Rangers now accept folks just entering service (vice having several years in the Army), but I say rotten apples can occur at any time.

    I went thru Infantry school at Ft Benning in ’89 and we had guys in my platoon go directly to Airborne then to a Ranger Battalion right after they finished. They had it in their initial entry contract. So this is nothing new.

  2. ob1 says:

    BTW, they would not lose their Ranger Tabs…if they passed Ranger School…they keep them forever. If they are convicted they would just be kicked out of their Battalion (they would then lose their scroll (left shoulder)) and be sent to Leavenworth.

  3. Fersboo says:

    When I was in Ft. Lewis between ’90 & ’92, I remember constant stories coming out of the Infantry units (I was Cavalry) of soldiers as members of gangs and being involved in criminal activity. Of course the dream of most of the infantry I knew there was to get their chance to go to Ranger school. However, the military is a cross-segment of society and I am sure that the same proportion of potential criminals exist in the military as exists in society.

  4. HankP says:

    It’s simple, really: what happened to the money? If it was all donated to charity, I still have a hard time believing him, but it’s at least possible. If he spent it or kept it, it’s just a regular robbery.