A group of Midwestern white supremacists allegedly plotted to bomb every state capitol building in the country, strike at post offices and communications systems, poison the water supplies of five major cities and blow up the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Calling themselves The New Order — after a right-wing terrorist group that robbed armored cars and murdered in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1980s — the group also allegedly plotted to assassinate Center co-founder Morris Dees. Prosecutors say one of the men came to a Jan. 22 speech Dees gave at Southern Illinois University carrying a gun, and turned around only when he saw he would have to pass through a metal detector.

Federal agents who raided the men's homes in February found weapons including a machine gun, a pipe bomb, grenades, explosive powder and an anti-tank missile.

Dennis Michael McGiffen, 35, a former leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges in May in return for a promise that no further charges would be filed against him. But he denied prosecutors' allegations that he headed a group that planned four days of nationwide terror. He is to be sentenced Aug. 7.

McGiffen's attorney, saying his client was an "absolutely devoted" father, wants a sentence of no more than two years. But prosecutors, who are seeking to send McGiffen to prison for between 12 and 15 years, countered that by describing his children's artwork "showing the hanging of black people with blood dripping down."

Also arrested in Illinois and charged in the plot were Wallace Scott Weicherding, 64, who was fired from his job as a prison guard for giving Klan literature to fellow employees; Ralph P. Bock, 27, a construction worker; and Glenn LeVelle Lowtharp, 50. A fifth man, Aryan Nations member Daniel Rick, was arrested later in Michigan.

The FBI, which recovered an alleged hit list naming Dees and others, used a confidential informant who tape-recorded numerous conversations with the defendants.

Among details of the plot alleged in court hearings:

· Members of the group swore an oath to The New Order, saying the only way out of their organization was death. They each obtained a tattoo on their right hand, between their thumb and index finger. The tattoo was of a circle with the letter 'N' in the middle, decorated with a drop of blood — part of a long-time Klan symbol.

· Weicherding suggested using a 50-gallon drum of cyanide to poison water supplies in East St. Louis, Ill., Los Angeles, Jackson, Miss., and Mobile and Montgomery, Ala. The attacks were to divert attention from bank robberies and the attack on the Center.

· In addition to Dees, the group planned to kill a federal judge in Illinois and a black radio show host in Missouri. It also planned attacks on the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and offices of the Anti-Defamation League in an unnamed city.

· Weicherding, who told fellow members that he'd robbed a bank in his 20s, scouted a bank to rob in the St. Louis area, allegedly to raise money for the group's white supremacist cause. It was agreed by group members that any witnesses would be killed.

· Last fall, the group discussed building an ammonium nitrate bomb. "McGiffen stated that innocent people would probably be harmed, but ... that if the people were not within or like-minded with his group, then he considered them enemies," an FBI agent testified.

· At one point, worried about possible infiltration, the men stripped naked in a room together to check one another for concealed tape recorders. None were found.

· Later, members of the group held a ceremony to initiate another man into the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations group. The initiation involved putting a noose around the man's neck and having him step off the back of a pickup truck. Although the plotters intended the rope to slip off a branch, it hung up and the man was left dangling. After cutting him down, McGiffen questioned the man with a gun pointed to his head.

Employees at the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose offices were torched by Klansmen in 1983, have lived with the threat of extremist attacks for at least 17 years. More than a dozen people have been involved in plots to kill Dees or bomb the Center.