Inside Pleasant Hill’s Berean Assembly of God, a nondenominational church next to a McDonald’s twenty minutes east of Des Moines, retired Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman asked a packed amphitheater in March 2018 if they were prepared to protect their neighbors from “the minions of hell.”
“For the rest of your lives, you will be faced with people who are fleeing. They’re fleeing crime and violence, gangs and drugs, terrorism, sin, damnation and the fear that lurks on the hearts of every man, woman and child,” Grossman said somberly to an audience of mostly Pleasant Hill Police, local church security forces and Berean members. “You have the authority and the responsibility and the mission to stand up and say, ‘friend, neighbor, brother, sister, are you looking for a safe place? … Then get behind me.'”
The former U.S. Army Ranger, paratrooper and West Point psychology professor is one of the nation’s leading police trainers — under fire recently in the wake of George Floyd’s murder for his seminars, which experts say teach law enforcement and armed civilians to patrol their communities as if combat fighters.
“Killology” is a science Grossman created and popularized, which instructs his students to be less hesitant to use deadly force in defense of their innocent neighbors. His fixation on this mentality is seemingly fueled by a messianic self-appointment to save the “flocks” (civilians) by training “sheepdogs” (lawfully armed community members) to treat even the smallest of American towns like war zones laced with imminent threats.
He’s been in Iowa eight confirmed times since 2010, which includes his speaking at three seminars presented by the Iowa Department of Homeland Security. Organized by individual Homeland Security regions, the trainings were paid for by federal Homeland Security grant money provided by the state, the department confirmed to Starting Line.
Other Grossman training events in the state were put on by local police departments or self-funded by officers or community members.
“I am a sheepdog under the authority of the great Shepard. Endowed by my creator with inalienable rights,” Grossman continued at his Pleasant Hill training, leading up to a rhetorical crescendo. “Empowered by my constitution to keep and bear arms. Inspired by my forefathers to fight for this land I love. I am a sheepdog under the authority of the great Shepard! And this is as far as the minions of hell are going!”
A military and police leader for over two decades, Grossman is said to have conducted trainings for every federal law enforcement agency, every branch of the armed forces, and cops in all 50 states — leading seminars and trainings nearly 300 days a year.
His reach extends far into the psyche of law enforcement and firearm culture, including in Iowa — the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy’s firearms instructor has been trained by Grossman, and recent social media commentary by Clay County Sheriff Chris Raveling revealed his own use of the “sheepdog” narrative.
If his students aren’t “emotionally, psychologically and spiritually prepared to snuff out a human life,” they should find another job, Grossman said in a different seminar. His trainings have been linked to large protests in cities across the nation, including Minneapolis, where Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota police officer who in July 2016 shot and killed Philando Castile, had attended one of Grossman’s classes, though the class he attended was taught by Grossman’s business partner, Jim Glennon.
In 2019, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced that the city’s police officers were banned from participating in “fear-based, warrior-style” training.
Recent public criticism of a Killology police training session planned for later this year in Spokane, Washington has led to more than 66 organizations and nearly 400 individuals signing onto an open letter to the sheriff. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has said he won’t cancel the event.
Grossman In Iowa
The Pleasant Hill training was one of Grossman’s ‘Sheepdog Seminars,’ which focus on making houses of worship safe atmospheres — not much different from his law enforcement-specific seminar called “Bulletproof Mind.”
“It’s kind of his same seminar he does for law enforcement, it’s kind of stripped down for church security officials,” former KCCI Chief Meteorologist John McLaughlin, who’s known Grossman for several years, told Starting Line.
Pleasant Hill Police spokesperson Candace Bell said that church communities in the town had “asked for that type of training,” so the department reached out to Berean Assembly of God Church to see if they would host Grossman’s event.
Bell said the training was not funded by the Pleasant Hill Police Department, and a representative of the Berean Assembly of God Church said they too had not paid for the training. Registration for the event was listed as costing $49 for two days.
When officers go to Grossman’s events individually, Samuel Walker, an emeritus professor at University of Nebraska’s school of criminology and criminal justice, said police unions cover tuition in some cases.
The first documented time Grossman was in Iowa was in 2010, presented by the Iowa Region 5 Homeland Security Board on Feb. 25 in Ottumwa. He was in Burlington the next day, paid for with federal homeland security grant money — free to attendees.
A flyer for the event said that its target audience was school officials, law enforcement, emergency management, EMS/hospitals, fire departments, military and mental health professionals, among others.
The Lt. Colonel was then presented by Iowa Region 1 Homeland Security Board in June 2011 in Ames, which was a Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative event — a collaboration of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Justice.
Safe Schools also put on a Grossman training event at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake in July 2013.
John Benson, Chief of Staff for the Iowa Department of Homeland Security, said all of the trainings were set up by the individual homeland security regions.
“The primary focus of those trainings were understanding youth and how youth are becoming violent and recognizing what that looks like and things you can do to address those situations so you don’t end up having a mass casualty type of incident,” he told Starting Line.
An arm of Grossman’s seminars is focused on the psychology of active shooters and how violent video games are supposedly turning youth into mass murderers.
Grossman was also involved in a training session at Iowa Western Community college in Council Bluffs in Jan. 2015 with Dave Smith, another prominent police trainer. It was open registration, Smith said, around 50% of officers paying out of their pockets.
The Killology website calendar revealed Grossman was also in Des Moines on October 8, 2016, and at Camp Dodge on November 8, 2018.
Benson said he was unaware of the Lt. Colonel’s Camp Dodge visit, but the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy started using the Johnston training center around that time. The academy denied a number of requests from Starting Line for comment.
Most recently, Grossman spoke in September at the Hilton Garden Inn West Des Moines at an Iowa Association of Women Police peer support training event. The Association did not respond to a request for comment on the session.
When Grossman came to Iowa for the Pleasant Hill event, McLaughlin picked him up from the airport and had several meals with him. The two originally met a few years ago at one of Grossman’s seminars in Nebraska — the Killology expert is a frequent speaker in states around Iowa, especially in Illinois.
“If you go to any of the major conferences around self-defense or preparedness, he’s a very sought after speaker. It’s not unusual to look at a conference roster of some big event and see his name on their somewhere,” McLaughlin said.
Even if Iowa police officers have not attended one of Grossman’s training sessions, there is influence from the trainer in most areas of law enforcement. At the Iowa Police Academy, for example, firearms instructor John Metzger has in his biography that he was trained by Grossman. Other notable Iowa firearm trainers, like Nick Nolting of 10-8 Firearms Instruction, have been taught by the Lt. Colonel.
Warrior-style policing is dangerous, said University of Nebraska criminology professor Samuel Walker, because it teaches “all the wrong values.”
“Grossman gets up there … and the message is, the minute you go on duty, your life is in danger. The threats are everywhere. And you need to be continually on guard. And you cannot yield to what appears to be only an apparent threat. Well, that’s a military mindset,” Walker said. “But in policing, police are responsible for civilian society. They’re there to help people, to provide service.”
Smith, a police trainer who works with Grossman, said that just because some officers have a military background, that doesn’t “mean anything,” in terms of violence, but soldiers often make “good cops.”
“We don’t train anybody to be a soldier, and if we get a soldier, they usually make good cops, but we train them to be cops,” he said. “It’s not militarized until you have military equipment … we don’t have tanks, although we do have military equipment, but those are used in very rare situations. Are there too many SWAT teams? I don’t know. I think this is a controversy I think we need to debate about.”
Police should be focused on their ability to protect their communities, Smith said, noting that Iowa has “a lot of outstanding law enforcement officers” and that “people get a lot more than they pay for in the law enforcement community.”
“My big thing is if you can’t serve your community… I don’t need you to be macho. This isn’t a profession for your ego, this is a profession for service. Your honor, if you’re a law enforcement officer, is one of the most cherished things you have. Don’t do anything to sully yours or sully mine. See, this is a problem. This is where the police and the activists need to talk more,” Smith said. “I’ve taught defensive tactics for years and years and years. I have never taught anybody to put a knee on somebody’s throat. That’s not even a defensive tactic, I don’t know what that is.”
Mclaughlin said the notion that Grossman “teaches cops how to kill” is a mischaracterization of his seminars, which are focused on the “physiological and psychological aspects of deadly conflict.”
“At this kind of chaotic time in our history right now, it’s easy to pigeon hole somebody and attack them for what they’re not. Based on what I know, Grossman is responsible for keeping many, many police and military people alive at the moment when they’ve needed it the most,” Mclaughlin said. “Just recently I flew with a combat veteran who was in Iraq and Afghanistan and he started talking about how Colonel Grossman’s training had kept him alive … he said Dave Grossman basically kept him alive overseas.”
But Walter said that “fear-based training” is contrary to the entire idea of de-escalation — one of the most important new ideas in police tactics.
“You want to do everything you can to avoid using force, not to encourage it. The idea and the principle of de-escalation has had widespread adoption in American police. A number of states have passed state laws requiring every officer be trained in de-escalation and this is just contrary to that,” he said.
At the very end of the 2020 Iowa Legislative session, a unanimously passed bipartisan bill requires every Iowa law enforcement officer to receive an annual training in de-escalation and bias prevention. The legislation also bans police chokehold (except during threats of deadly force), allows the attorney general to prosecute officers who kill and prevents the rehiring of police who were fired or quit because of misconduct.
by Isabella Murray
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