Militia groups say McVeigh case is proof of US plot

Boston Globe/May 14, 2001
By Tatsha Robertson

Harrison, Mich. -- While he sits in his trailer in the backwoods of central Michigan, in an area so quiet you can hear the mosquitoes buzzing, Anthony Liuzzo, a state militia leader, says he hasn't been so disconnected from the outside world after all.

''I knew they were going to do something, didn't know what they would do. Then they come out with this,'' he said of the federal government.

In the deeply suspicious culture of the antigovernment, or ''Patriot,'' movement, where a plot by the government to control the masses seems to lurk around every corner, last week's turn of events that led to the postponing of Timothy McVeigh's Wednesday execution has spawned one conspiracy theory after another.

Lawyers say McVeigh is rethinking his stance; Law wants no execution.

Some say the Justice Department's acknowledgment that the FBI did not turn over several thousand pages of documents to McVeigh's defense lawyers has only confirmed their fears of an omnipotent government, vindicated them in their convictions, and breathed new life into what specialists have been calling a dying right-wing movement.

''On Friday, our telephone lit up like a Christmas tree,'' said John Trochmann, cofounder of the Militia of Montana. ''Would `I told you so?' be too harsh to say?'' he asked.

Trochmann said he received nearly 100 phone calls from people who say they are now even more wary of the government and want to join the Militia of Montana. Web site chatrooms have been swamped with new theories: Some say the stayed execution only proves that the government really didn't want to kill McVeigh, who is seen by some in the antigovernment movement as an ''Oswald,'' or government agent.

Others say that McVeigh, who was loosely connected to militias in Michigan, was probably brainwashed into thinking he caused the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people. Some wonder whether the government secretly helped bomb the building to make it easier to pass antigun legislation and eventually create a ''one world'' government.

''They will find a way to read something into it,'' said James Corcoran, an associate professor of communications at Simmons College and author of two books on militias and the Patriot movement. ''It's now coming out [among these groups] that McVeigh is an agent for the FBI and they don't want to kill him. And then you have the other side who feel it [the FBI's withholding of documents] is one more example of how the government railroads people, slam-dunks you, and there is nothing you can do about it.''

In recent weeks, Amnesty International and other rights groups warned that the execution will send a negative message to Americans and possibly turn one of the nation's most hated criminals into a martyr among right-wing groups. But even before Friday's stay of execution, leaders in the movement said they perceived McVeigh as a fool used by the government, rather than a hero.

''Come on,'' said Liuzzo, 45, as he took a drag from a cigarette last week. ''McVeigh is just a patsy. He might in his own mind think he blew up that building, probably had something to do with it. But there are just too many things that don't add up.''

People point to McVeigh's capture as proof that he was not the bomber. ''Here is the clincher,'' said Trochmann. ''If it was really McVeigh zipping down the highway in his truck with no plates, then stopped by a trooper ... he would have known he killed a number of people. Tell me, what would it have meant to kill one more?'' he said. ''It makes no sense.''

As the date for the execution neared, some predicted the government would find an excuse to stop it. While Friday's developments cemented the image some people had of McVeigh, it also lent a little credence to the conspiracy theories to which McVeigh and others subscribe, Corcoran said.

''People are looking and saying, `Hey, these people are not so wacko,''' said Liuzzo, who is the leader of the Michigan Militia Corps of Wolverines. ''This incident, I hope it sparks a brush fire in people's minds. I hope it makes them say `wait a minute.'''

At the height of the militia movement in the mid-1990s, right-wing activism thrived. The hardscrabble farmlands of Michigan, where proud families were losing their farms during bad economic times in the 1970s and 1980s, became a hotbed of activity for antigovernment activism.

For a while, McVeigh lived in rural Decker, Mich., with his convicted co-conspirator, Terry Nichols. Nichols's brother, James Nichols, who was contacted by telephone, said the three were not part of the militia movement, but never trusted the government. Others say the Nichols brothers and McVeigh were too radical for the local militia.

According to a new book, ''American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing,'' by Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, McVeigh found militias to be too extreme despite his antigovernment sentiments. During his time in Michigan, though, McVeigh traveled to at least 80 gun shows around the country, where he handed out antigovernment leaflets and met with people who shared his suspicion of the government and his preoccupation with gun rights.

One year after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, there were 850 antigovernment groups with a membership of 50,000 or more, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But the center says the Patriot movement dwindled as members became scared off in part by an FBI crackdown on terrorism after the Oklahoma City bombing.

And yet, the movement is not dead here. Liuzzo said there are thousands of militia members of all races and from all walks of life in Michigan's 80 counties. Meetings are held every week; hundreds of militia members trek to the cornfields for regular training sessions; and pro-gun rallies and marches by militia members are common.

Liuzzo's deep distrust of the government grew after a family tragedy in 1965. That's when his mother, Viola Liuzzo, a 39-year-old housewife, left the family's Detroit home for Selma, Ala., to help transport black civil rights marchers to Montgomery. While in Alabama, Liuzzo said, his mother was shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Liuzzo said that years later he discovered that one of the four men charged with the crime, but never convicted, was a paid FBI informant. He and his four siblings sued the government, but in the end, he said, they lost the case and were ordered to pay the government $80,000 in court costs.

Several years ago, Liuzzo bought a shortwave radio at a flea market and began listening to intense militia groups, said his wife, Suzanne. Soon, they packed up and settled on 12 acres of woods in Harrison, where only a few other homes are in sight. They can fish here, hunt, and shoot while their dog, Sweet Honey, chases rabbits in the swamp. Aside from the CIA agent who waved once as he drove past their home, they say, they are left alone.

''Our [adult] children first thought we were right-wing wackos, but I think they are starting to come around,'' said Suzanne Liuzzo.

After 5 p.m. every day, Liuzzo, a disabled trucker, disappears into a curtained-off section of their trailer, where family photos of grandchildren and a picture of Jesus fill the wall, and he prepares to listen to his shortwave radio show.

Outside, the vegetables sprouting in the garden will be stockpiled for the revolution they say is imminent. Despite what others may think, Anthony Liuzzo says the more than 3,000 mysterious FBI documents that popped up last week, and the sudden stay of McVeigh's execution, confirm to him and others like him that he is on the right track after all.

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