Extremist predictions that the millennial date change would bring martial law or revolutionary violence failed to materialize. Instead, many on the radical right cowered in their bunkers.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Somewhere, a 23-pound terrier named Adolf is chomping his way through a mountain of Purina Dog Chow.
"That's my Y2K dog food," a muscular, close-cropped young man in a supermarket line explained in the waning days of December as he hoisted a huge bag of the product onto the checkout counter.
At home, he added ominously, he had a couple of M-16s, ammo and other supplies for the hard times he expected with the millennial date change. Adolf was "ferocious" and trained to attack police if need be. It was time, he advised, to prepare for the "worst case scenario."
But it all came to naught.
Despite much-publicized fears of computer collapses caused by the Y2K bug, despite the radical right's expectation that martial law would be imposed at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, New Year's Day arrived without bringing disaster.
It wasn't for lack of expectation. Some extremists — especially adherents of the anti-Semitic and millennially oriented Christian Identity religion — believed the date change would bring the Biblical end times.
Many more thought that the "New World Order" would use a societal breakdown caused by the Y2K computer bug as an excuse to undertake mass arrests of American patriots.
'Just Stay in the Foxhole'
Two measures may have helped prevent violence.
In November, the FBI released its Project Megiddo report, an evaluation of the potential for terrorist violence around the millennium date change. Although the report was initially intended for law enforcement agencies alone, it was made public after a few days.
Ironically, that release probably had the effect of frightening many radical groups, who feared it was a softening-up measure to prepare the American public for the mass arrests of dissidents.
Secondly, as year's end approached, authorities arrested several purported plotters in California, Florida and Texas. While many details of those cases remain unclear, they may have stymied New Year's Eve bombing plots.
In the end, only two major incidents were reported on New Year's Eve. Unknown perpetrators toppled an 80-foot electrical tower in Bend, Ore., in what the FBI initially termed "malicious mischief." Others bombed an electrical transformer in upstate New York. Neither attack caused major disruptions.
Mainly, extremists cowered in their bunkers.
"Just stay in the foxhole and keep your head down," was the way that "Bullish" put it in a Dec. 10 E-mail. "[W]e are in a box," former militia leader J.J. Johnson wrote around the same time, after the release of the Megiddo report. "We have been cornered. We have been ambushed."
Six days later, Johnson E-mailed an alert to "all units," with news of arrests and law enforcement infiltration of various groups. Among other things, he warned them to avoid illegal weapons violations. "There are to be NO 'offensive' operations or criminal actions planned," he added.
Still, in Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana and Texas, December was a busy month for some law enforcement agencies.
Starting the Revolution
On Dec. 3, near Sacramento, Calif., authorities uncovered an alleged plot to blow up two 12-million-gallon propane tanks, a television tower and an electrical substation. FBI agents said that Kevin Patterson, 42, and Charles Kiles, 49, hoped to provoke an insurrection against the government.
Illegal weapons and explosives, along with manuals with titles like Disruptive Terror and Deadly Brew: Advanced Improvised Explosive, were found in the men's homes.
Kiles had been convicted in 1992 of weapons violations, and once reportedly led a now-defunct militia group. Patterson was reportedly involved with the extremist Republic of Texas and other Texas antigovernment groups.
Court documents also describe Patterson as an illegal methamphetamine "cook," and say that the alleged plot was put off when one of the men decided to wait to "see what happened in California at the end of the millennium."
The Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal reported that the two men had attended the Reno Gun Show in November and may have been planning an attack on a Reno clinic where abortions are performed.
Five days after the California arrests, authorities charged Donald Beauregard — the former leader of a militia coalition called the Southeastern States Alliance — with plotting to steal explosives from National Guard armories.
According to the federal indictment, Beauregard was conspiring to blow up power lines to St. Petersburg, Fla., and Atlanta; intended to kill a militia member he suspected of being an informant; and helped train other extremists how to manufacture explosives.
At around the same time, officials in Muncie, Ind., say they were contacted by FBI agents who warned them the "Delaware County Army of God" was threatening to kill local judges and law enforcement officials by the end of the year.
'Partying on the Titanic'
Explosives seemed high on many people's Christmas lists:
On Dec. 13, more than 750 pounds of fuel-soaked ammonium nitrate, 250 pounds of dynamite, 6,000 feet of detonation cord and about 20 blasting caps disappeared from a remote mining camp near Flagstaff, Ariz.. No arrests were made.
Around Dec. 24, 200 pounds of dynamite, gunpowder and the military explosive C-4 were stolen from a police bomb squad bunker outside Fresno, Calif. But sheriff's deputies recovered the missing explosives within days, and said their suspects were teenagers with no apparent links to antigovernment groups.
On Dec. 27, Texas police found 50 pounds of ammonium nitrate, a coil of detonation fuse, a dozen guns, a plastic explosives manual and a copy of The Turner Diaries — a race war fantasy novel written by neo-Nazi William Pierce — in the apartment of an American Airlines aircraft mechanic. Officials said that despite the white supremacist literature they found, they had no evidence directly linking Jere Wayne Haney, 42, to extremist groups.
On Dec. 30, sheriff's deputies in Sacramento County, Calif., arrested Gary Drake, 29, and Brian Hogan, 28, for allegedly making 13 pipe bombs. Both were linked to a small white supremacist gang, but no evidence of a Y2K-related plot was found.
So what now? Experts say that even though the date change has passed, extremist groups will almost inevitably become fixated on a new date or dates. This reaction is part of what Robert Jay Lifton, an expert in apocalypticism, calls the "intolerance of cognitive dissonance" — the refusal of those with apocalyptic expectations to admit that they were wrong.
"When an apocalyptic event fails to occur, people are stunned and struggle to interpret that failure. If they're following the Book of Revelation ... they say, well, the mathematical calculation was wrong. It will occur in a year or 10 years," Lifton says. "The millennial turn doesn't begin or end at a single moment."
For instance, leaders of Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi group that follows Identity theology, have been saying for some time that the millennium begins in 2001. Others, many of whom have made fortunes selling survival goods, also are extending the date.
"This writer has sources within the defense establishment," survivalist Don McAlvaney confides in his January newsletter, "who believe the government is presently conducting a massive disinformation campaign and lying regarding Y2K on a scale unprecedented in U.S. history."
Should anyone miss McAlvaney's point, they need only refer to the headline over his article: "Still Partying on the Titanic."