Small Number of Patriot Groups Still Cause Big Problems

Fewer, but harder, Patriot groups in 1997

In the three years since the Oklahoma City bombing, a leaner, harder "Patriot" movement has emerged, producing terrorist conspiracies and crimes on a level not seen in decades. Driving much of the crime have been far-right-wing zealots hardened in the forge of the Christian Identity religion, a virulently anti-Semitic and racist theology.

Just this April, the leading Identity gathering known as the Super Conference drew more than 500 people to Missouri. Robert McCurry, a Georgia Identity minister, told the crowd there that the movement is in "a state of emergency," faced with enemies on all sides.

"I want to tell you the war rages in America. The enemy is not coming. The enemy is here," McCurry said. Later, he added: "God has ordained that his people be a warring people. ... Lord of Hosts means Lord of a mass of people organized for war."

At the same time that terrorist activity has flourished, the number of aboveground groups has diminished. The "weekend warriors" who once swelled militias' ranks have gone home, tired of waiting for a revolution that never comes and turned off by the violence the movement produces.

Many "common-law courts" — pseudo-legal bodies that defy real courts — have disbanded in the face of crackdowns by authorities (see Crackdown).

The number of active Patriot groups declined in 1997 to 523 from 858 the year before. Militias accounted for much of the drop, falling from 370 in 1996 to 221 last year. Similarly, known common-law courts decreased from 131 to 53, although it is probable that large numbers of the courts operate underground.

The Intelligence Project conducted field investigations, studied groups' Internet sites and publications, consulted law enforcement and monitored news stories to tally the groups.

These raw numbers tell only part of the story. For several reasons, the movement's virulence and the crimes that it produces are likely to continue to grow:

  • Thirty years of radical right organizing has produced a hardened cadre of leaders.
  • The year 2000 is seen by many as the date of a long-expected race war.
  • The Internet and other technologies have strengthened the movement.
  • The goals of hardliners of all ideological stripes are converging.
  • Many in aboveground groups have gone underground.

Patriot groups increasingly overlap with the 474 race- or ethnicity-based "hate groups" that were documented in 1997 by the Intelligence Project (see "474 Hate Groups Blanket America," Intelligence Report 89). The amalgam of antigovernment conspiracy theories promoted by the Patriot movement has been widely accepted among Klan, neo-Nazi and racist religious hate groups.

At the same time, the anti-Semitism and racism that underlie most common-law Patriot doctrine is becoming more apparent, as exemplified by the ideology preached by the Montana Freemen (see White Nation).

Last year, the Militia of Montana — one of the first and most influential modern militias and one which has consistently denied racist leanings — put up a Web page on which Klan robes and Hitler mugs were offered for sale. And a number of other recent developments offer similar glimpses of the overt racism that is behind many Patriot groups.

A prime example was seen in Michigan recently.

For three years, racist Identity adherents worked to infiltrate the Michigan Militia Corps, its current leaders say. Even after radical leaders were ousted shortly after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Identity backers crept in, much to the surprise of the current militia leaders.

"It's very subtle how they do it," says Tom Wayne, the militia's executive officer. "They move in a little bit, a little bit more, and then, all of a sudden, they've set the hook."

Last year, Wayne and other leaders "court-martialed" and ejected several members who have since been indicted in plots to blow up federal buildings and other targets (see Alleged Plotters Face Trial). Finally, according to Wayne, Identity followers and others prone to violence were given an ultimatum: by Feb. 26 of this year, they had to either agree to a "constitutional" nonviolent approach, or leave.

New members would have no vote for a year, to give militia leaders a chance to ensure they were not Identity followers or promoting violence.

Ultimately, Wayne says, 200 to 300 hard-liners left.

"Their ultimate goal is a race riot in this country, a racial war," Wayne says. "For some time, they prodded us to be the enforcement arm of their common-law courts, and we weren't interested. They're hellbent on starting a war with somebody."