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.
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."
An Insurrection at the Machine Gun Shoot
The beginnings of another ideological split were seen this April, too.
At the annual Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in Kentucky, David Rydel and his united [sic] States Theatre Command hosted what was to be a unity meeting, part of his effort to draw militias together under a single umbrella. But before the meeting at a local VFW hall had even started, ideological differences erupted.
Rydel's second-in-command, Art Bean, grappled with hard-line Southeastern States Alliance Militia officer Ken Woodcock. At the same time, many militiamen accused Rydel, a relative moderate, of being a federal informant or provocateur. On the other side, Patriot reporter Lawrence Myers was charged with being too sympathetic to Identity.
The gathering ended when some 40 members of the Identity-influenced Southeastern States Alliance stormed from the meeting and gathered elsewhere. At the second meeting, militia officials from Indiana, Kentucky, New Mexico and Pennsylvania joined with the Southeastern States Alliance.
It was proposed that the expanded organization be called the Continental States Alliance. The outcome is yet to be determined.
Beneath the surface, meanwhile, the movement is growing far more violent.
Largely driven by Identity theology, terrorist conspiracies and crimes have skyrocketed since the Oklahoma City bombing. Plots have included plans to bomb at least three IRS buildings, two federal buildings, banks, a natural gas refinery, abortion clinics and other targets.
Teams of terrorists have laid plans to assassinate politicians, judges, other officials and civil rights figures. Attacks on Army bases, raids on National Guard armories and a spate of bank robberies have been planned or carried out. Extremists have amassed explosives, machine guns, missiles and other weapons (see Bombs, Bullets, and Bodies).
Law enforcement officials worry that the capabilities of many of these groups — both aboveground and underground — are growing. Many are using highly sophisticated methods to gather intelligence and to countersurveil law enforcement authorities (see Watching the Watchers).
Common-law courts, until recently the fastest-growing part of the movement, have been hit hard by new legislation and law enforcement crackdowns. But many fear that the remaining courts, some of them underground, are increasingly dangerous.
"The groups are smaller but more radical," says Thomas Moyer, chief justice of Ohio's state Supreme Court. "The rhetoric is much more inflamed, more frightening."
Finally, some Patriots or Patriot-linked politicians have been moving to run for government office, mainly at the county level (see Antigovernment Rule). Most in the movement, ever since the heyday of the Posse Comitatus in the 1980s, see county government — especially the county sheriff — as the highest level of legitimate government.
All of this is fueled by an ever-expanding propaganda effort. This year, the Intelligence Project counted 179 active Patriot Websites, and the number is growing weekly. The movement is also active in radio and other media.
And it is helped along by more mainstream productions that support Patriot conspiracy theories (see Revising History).
By and large, law enforcement has been moving aggressively against those who commit criminal acts. Federal spending to battle terrorism is expected to reach $7 billion next year. A large number of plots have been thwarted by authorities in the last few years — plots that foresaw the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
But the prospects for the future remain daunting.
"The movement has become more militant and the death toll has increased," warns Daniel Levitas, an author and long-time student of the radical right (see Roots of Common Law). "It's truly ready and willing to wage war against the government."