Wednesday October 04, 2017

The incredible story of how a U.S. commando betrayed his family and robbed a bank

In 2005, Alex Blum was training to become a U.S. Ranger, a life-long dream. One year later, he was arrested for taking part in an armed robbery. His cousin, Ben Blum shares the story in Ranger Games.

In 2005, Alex Blum was training to become a U.S. Ranger, a life-long dream. One year later, he was arrested for taking part in an armed robbery. His cousin, Ben Blum shares the story in Ranger Games. (Penguin Random House/Ned & Aya Rosen)

Listen 24:23

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All Alex Blum ever wanted to do was be a U.S. Ranger. 

It was 2005. America was at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and 19-year-old Alex wanted to be there fighting with one of the toughest and most elite units in the U.S. military. 

Training to be a Ranger required an endurance to fatigue and pain that would force most people to quit.

"By the end of it he was delirious," Ben Blum tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti about the training his cousin went through in Fort Benning, Ga.

"His father spoke with him on the phone. He could barely make out the words he was saying. He was confused and disoriented and sleep deprived — and entirely a Ranger."

Then in 2006, just days before he was to leave for his first tour in Iraq, Alex was arrested for taking part in a bank robbery in Tacoma, Wash.

After his arrest, Alex told his family and the FBI that he believed the bank robbery was part of a Ranger training operation. It was a story his confused and desperate family believed.

USA-MILITARY/WOMEN

A U.S. Army Ranger demonstrates skills at Ranger school graduation at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

"It sounded crazy, but it made more sense to us than the alternative," says Blum.

"How is it possible that Alex, the guy we knew who always followed the rules, who was patriotic and good and didn't need money or want money, how was it possible he was was involved in a bank robbery?"

Blum wrote about his own struggle to make sense of this cousin's crime in his book, Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime. 

The mastermind of the bank heist was Ranger Specialist Luke Elliot Sommer, Alex's superior officer and a Canadian with dual U.S. citizenship.  He fled to B.C. after the robbery and stayed with his mother.

Sommer told a different story about why he robbed that bank. 

"He abruptly started seeking out whatever coverage he could get, claiming he had staged the robbery to protest war crimes," Blum says about Sommer, who had served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's just absurd on its face," Blum says. "Yet Sommer has this incredibly savvy sense of when absurdity might be acceptable." 

Eventually Sommer would be sent to the U.S. to face bank robbery charges. While there, he was arrested for stabbing a fellow prisoner who was also involved in the heist, and soliciting the murder of the prosecutor who was on his case. 

Sommer has petitioned to come to Canada to serve his sentence. He is in a high security federal prison in Kentucky. 

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.