The View From the Far Right (Secretive, paranoid, obsessed with guns and Waco, the militia movement may have 100,000 adherents)

Newsweek/May 1, 1995

It begins with the Cohen Act, rammed through Congress by liberals bent on eliminating the private ownership of firearms. Jackbooted federal agents go door to door across the country, seizing weapons from law-abiding Americans. Facing what they see as imminent federal dictatorship, a band of white Christian patriots go underground to fight back. Their tactic is terror - building a bomb from ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, loading it in a delivery truck and setting it off outside FBI headquarters in Washington. Seven hundred people die - and minutes later, one of the terrorists calls the Washington Post. "White America shall live!" he cries.

This dark fantasy, with it chilling resemblance tot he attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City last week, is among the opening episodes of "The Turner Diaries," a wretched 1978 novel that has long had cult status on the gun-toting far right. Written pseudonymously by a former physics professor and sometime neo-Nazi named William Pierce, the book tells how a group of citizen-geurillas started race war in America, overthrew the government, killed prominent Jews and launched a U.S. nuclear strike on Israel. "As soon as I heard what happened [in Oklahoma City], I just had this gut reaction," said John Nutter of Michigan State University, who follows the paramilitary right. "It's straight out of the 'Turner Diaries'."

Pulp fiction - even rancidly anti-Semitic pulp fiction - is only the beginning of America's crash course on homegrown terrorism. From experts like Nutter, from law-enforcement sources at the state and federal levels - and from right-wing extremists themselves - NEWSWEEK correspondents have assembled a disturbing profile of a secretive, paranoid and profoundly alienated political subculture that may now constitute a threat to law and order. This sub-culture, whose political genealogy can be traced in part to notorious white-supremacists groups like Aryan Nations, The Order and the Ku Klux Klan, has spawned a nationwide movement of heavily armed "patriot" and "militia" groups that are only loosely connected to each other. There are no reliable numbers on membership, which is unevenly distributed across more than 30 states, but some say up to 100,000 Americans are involved. And while no one says all - or even most - of these militiamen are turning violent, last week's bombing has clearly shattered the complacency of federal and state authorities. Terrorism, we have learned, is as American as crab grass - and just about as difficult to uproot.

We do not yet know, of course, whether the perpetrators of last week's attack ever read "The Turner Diaries." But we know a lot about the ideology of the patriot/militia movement and about its tendency to take apocalyptic, deeply conspiratorial views of U.S. politics. The federal government and all it seems to stand for is the Enemy. To some true believers, Washington is simply "the beast," while others, influenced by the anti-Semitic strain in supremacist literature, call it ZOG, for "Zionist Occupation Government." Bill Clinton, Janet Reno and most Democratic politicians are liberal elitists who betray traditional American values. Multinationalism - and any U.S. cooperation with the United Nation - is anathema. The Federal Reserve Board, and possibly all banks, are financial oppressors; the G-7 economic summits, NAFTA and GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, are evidence of America's gradual surrender to a "New World Order."

But at the bottom, the militia movement is about guns - and it is a point-blank rebellion against any form of gun control. To militiamen, the Brady bill and the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons are harbingers of totalitarianism. So is the bloody debalce of the federal crackdown of the Branck Davidians at Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993. Waco is the militia movement's Alamo. This stance has little or nothing to do with sympathy for Davidian religious beliefs; it is simply shared hatred for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF and the FBI. Eighty-six men, women and children died in the siege, which began with the ATF's bungled attempt to seize the Davidian's guns. To many in the militia movement, the outcome was nothing less than mass murder by the U.S. government.

April 19 now holds huge symbolic significance for movement true believers. In March, a newsletter published by the Militia of Montana ran a little list to stress the importance of that day. April 19, 1775, was the date of the Battle of Lexington, the newsletter said. April 19, 1992, was the date of an aborted ATF raid on Randy Weaver, a white supremacist whose wife was later shot dead by an FBI sniper during a tense standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. April 19, 1995 was the scheduled date for the execution of Richard Wayne Snell, a white supremacist who, like Weaver, id regarded as a movement "martyr." Snell, convicted of killing a pawnshop operator in Arkansas, was indeed executed some 12 hours after the Oklahoma City bombing - and after cryptically telling his executioners they had "picked a bad day."

We will never know if Snell had some foreknowledge of the Oklahoma City bombing - but it is a fact that many militia members were on high alert in the weeks before the event. In March, numerous Internet messages warned that the ATF and selected U.S. Army units were training at Fort Bliss, Texas, for a massive raid against militia members on March 25. ATF spokesman Jack Killorin said. "The whole thing was ridiculous. There was absolutely no basis for any of that - no such activity was or is being planned."

Nevertheless, a Texas Republican congressman, Rep. Steve Stockman, took the rumors seriously enough to write Janet Reno, warning that a "paramilitary-style attack against Americans" could lead to a "bloody fiasco like Waco." The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, alerted its members to the rumored raid on its own bulletin board, called GUN-Talk. On March 23, the NRA said it got "no response from either the Justice Department or the Treasury Department" to its inquiries about the rumors, but added that it would monitor the possible "use of excessive force on the part of certain federal agencies." "This appears to be part of a deliberate attempt to promote fear among people who are heavily armed and have already demonstrated paranoia and distrust of government," the ATF's Killorin said.

The chat got worse. On March 23, someone used the Internet to post the full text of "The Terrorist's Handbook," which includes the recipe for making an ammonium-nitrate bomb as well as detailed information on detonators. On March 26, one Internet user posted this message: "Let's assume that there ARE raids this weekend, and that some people are forced to kill federal agents. They need places to hide and get medical care. They need our support. If something DOES happen, be ready to do what you need to do, travel where you need to travel and help your fellow Americans fight the greatest threat to our liberty yet." Similar messages - some rambling, some fiery - continued to appear during April; by April 19, at least three more "patriots" had posted explicit instructions for making bombs.

Paranoid talk - and even passing out bomb recipes - is not a crime in the United States. But to the extent that it reflects the collective state of mind within the militia movement, the Internet traffic shows the paramilitary right's fundamental estrangement from the national dialogue. Movement members inhabit a world where few members of the establishment are trusted or even heard - a world in which conspiracy theories multiply and never die. A sample from the 1994 militia publication: "House to house searches and seizures are being conducted without warrants across the land. Troop movement markers (bright colored reflective signs) and U.N. troops are already in place in this country, prepared to engage in 'peace-keeping' against us. Surveillance cameras are in place atop tall light posts along highways…cars are equipped with bar codes and tracking devices…Detention camps are already built…the country has already been divided into ten regions…under martial law."

This sort of nonsense, endlessly repeated on the Internet and on hard-right talk radio shows, creates a climate of opinion that can defeat reality-testing. Take, for example, the reaction to the Oklahoma City blast itself: to many in the movement, the bombing was staged for the long-awaited crackdown against them. Norm Resnick, a talk-show host on KHNC in Jamestown, Colo., said "the vast majority" of callers to his show believe the bombing was "a government set-up" and the he himself believes "Clinton will use it" to pass pending counterterrorism legislation and "cancel the Second Amendment," which protects the right to bear arms. Bo Gritz, the flamboyant Vietnam veteran who also has a show on KHNC, called the bombing "a masterpiece of science and art" during a speech in Dallas on Friday. But on KHNC, Gritz speculated that the CIA was responsible.

Other militia leaders quickly distanced themselves from the bombing. In Michigan, where a heavily armed ATF search team last week hunted for two potential suspects, militia leader (and gun-shop owner) Norman Olson denied that the hunted men were members of his group, the Michigan Militia Corps, though he conceded they may have attended some meetings. State police say Olson's unit, which stages parmilitary exercises and claims 10,000 to 12,000 members, has no record of violence. But Olson is something of a maverick. Last year he stunned many in the secrecy-obsessed movement by publicly appealing for members and allowing reporters to cover some of his group's training sessions. John Trochmann and his nephew Randy, tow of the Montana Militia's leaders, also denied complicity in the bombing. "We do not believe in chaos and anarchy," Randy Trachmann said.. Added John: "We're not going to take revenge [for Waco] by killing babies."

The national outrage at last week's slaughter may force other militia groups to renounce violence - but given their history, and given their fondness for military weapons, few cops seem willing to take chances. Consider the experience of the Fowlerville, Mich., Police Department. Last September, a Fowlerville officer pulled over three young men in camouflage garg who said they were members of the "unauthorized militia" of Michigan. The car held three assault rifles, four pistols, 700 rounds of ammunition, night -vision goggles and a gas mask. Officers also found notes suggesting the trio had been keeping police under surveillance. Charged with weapons violations, the three skipped bail and disappeared. But 40 other militiamen showed up in court and, according to Chief Gary Krause, warned that "the next time you try to take our guns away, we'll shoot you."

No one got shot, and the moral of the story would be that most militia members are just dumb white guys who like to fantasize about guns and guerrilla war. But some aren't bluffing, and the possibility of confrontations with heavily armed militants clearly has some law-enforcement officials worried. In Colorado last week, a federal investigator who monitors militia activity said he hoped to the bitter end that the Oklahoma attack hadn't been the "patriots." If it was, he said, it could mean the big crackdown the movement has been predicting all along - and then, he said, "all hell will break loose."

(Tom Morganthau with Mark Hosenball. Michael Isikoff and melinda Liu in Washington. Vern F. Smith in Atlanta. Sherry Keene-Osborne in Denver and Lelslie Jorgensen in Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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