Almost a decade after virtually disappearing from public view, the antigovernment militia movement is surging across the country, fueled by fears of a black man in the White House, the changing demographics of the country, and conspiracy theories increasingly spread by mainstream figures, according to a new SPLC report.
"The militia movement is clearly growing again and deserves very close attention," said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project. "At the height of the movement in the 1990s, 168 people were murdered in the bombing of Oklahoma City's federal building. We may not be at that point yet, but as one law enforcement official told us, the only thing missing is a spark."
Among the evidence cited in The Second Wave: Return of the Militias:
• One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups — including one composed of current and former police officers and soldiers.
• The convening of so-called citizens' "courts" and "grand juries" — a popular method of harassing enemies of the movement — is on the rise. Several citizens' grand juries have issued indictments against President Obama for treason and fraud.
• "Sovereign citizens" are reappearing in large numbers. Most "sovereigns" subscribe to an ideology that claims whites have a higher citizenship status than others and do not have to pay taxes or obey most other laws. They often engage in "paper terrorism," such as filing bogus property liens against enemies — another growing practice.
• The introduction of states' rights resolutions in the legislatures of about three dozen states reflects growing antigovernment sentiment.
A key difference between today and the 1990s is that the federal government is now headed by a black man. That fact, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration, has helped infuse the militia movement with a strong element of racial animus, which was not the primary motivation in the past.
Another factor in the rise is the proliferation of cable TV hosts who are willing to use their platforms to spread and legitimize antigovernment propaganda, such as the conspiracy theory about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps and the unsubstantiated claim that Obama's presidency is illegitimate because he was born in Kenya.
Accompanying the SPLC report is a list of 75 plots, conspiracies and racist rampages since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City — a key moment for the movement.
Fifteen years ago, SPLC founder Morris Dees wrote then-Attorney General Janet Reno to warn about extremists in the militia movement, saying that the "mixture of armed groups and those who hate" was "a recipe for disaster." Six months later, Oklahoma City's federal building was bombed. It was the deadliest attack ever by domestic U.S. terrorists, carried out by men steeped in the rhetoric and conspiracy theories of the militias.
"We're again entering some dangerous territory, where violence is a real concern," Potok said. "But this is not just a law enforcement issue. Americans need to reject the politicians and pundits who aid and abet this movement by pandering to its paranoia and conspiratorial worldview."