Hate groups see conspiracy in withheld evidence

Extremists claim theories proved

San Francisco Chronicle/May 13, 2001
By Katherine Seligman

The head of the Militia of Montana couldn't help gloating a little after hearing news that an FBI gaffe had delayed the execution of Timothy McVeigh. "I know it would be a little arrogant of me to say I told you so, but . . ., " said John Trochmann by phone from his Noxon, Mont., headquarters.

The reaction has been swift and predictable from anti-government activists and extremists who say the delayed execution simply confirms what they've believed all along -- that the government is part of a conspiracy to manipulate evidence in the Oklahoma City bombing case.

"I know McVeigh had a part in it, but he had some kind of government help," said Trochmann, who has repeatedly insisted that McVeigh was not part of the militia movement. Right-wing, militia, extremist and racist groups don't agree on most topics, including McVeigh. Some embrace him. Others are unsympathetic. But they all endorse his anti-government stance.

Now they are quick to line up behind it once again, saying it's suspicious that the government simply misplaced thousands of pages of evidence, then found it less than a week before the execution. Don Black, former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said he found the latest news "odd" and surprising, descriptions not far from those offered by legal pundits and ordinary citizens.

"My first take is that the government is unhappy with the way McVeigh is being portrayed in some circles," said Black, who operates Stormfront, often called "the granddaddy" of white supremacist Web sites. "They want to demonstrate that he isn't in control. They don't want him to orchestrate this."

It didn't take long for Internet buzz associated with such sites to catch up. "In short, I think it's a mind game the FBI is playing on McVeigh," wrote one chat room participant on a white supremacist site. "I have no evidence to back this up, but I've got a gut feeling they are going to try to make it miserable for McVeigh," wrote another. "They are going to keep finding new material that has been withheld and keep presenting it and keep setting back the execution date."

In a world where hate begets more hate, the myriad groups are showing more unanimity than they have in 25 years, said Brian Levin, a lawyer who is director of San Bernardino State University's Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

"They are making him into a mini-martyr . . .," said Levin. "Conspiracy theories are the lifeblood of the extremist world." Tom Metzger, director of the White Aryan Resistance, a white separatist group in California, "is already suggesting it's evidence of a conspiracy," said Levin. Metzger said on Friday that he didn't think many people were going to believe the FBI just made an honest mistake.

Matt Hale, head of the white racist World Church of the Creator, said the latest episode casts doubt on the FBI's case. "Certainly, they did not give Timothy McVeigh a fair trial if they withheld evidence from the defense," he said, in one published report. "It is definitely going to make people wonder if this guy was framed or a pawn in the bigger game."

People on the far right will see the FBI's admission as part of a pattern of governmental abuse, said Chip Berlet, co-author of a new book, "Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort."

"This is going to be interpreted in the patriot, armed militia and far- right movements as further proof that the government is tyrannical and repressive -- basically there's no justice in the courts," he said. "It confirms the worst paranoid fears of these folks."

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