Militias: Ranks are Swelling

L.A. Times/April 18, 1996
By Richard A. Serrano

Plainfield, N.H. - It is five miles to State Highway 120, 15 miles to the county seat capital of Concord and 500 to the federal center of power in Washington.

Inside Ed Brown's two-story wood cabin between the Green and White mountains, there is a government on one. His.

A year ago, Brown was known to few around here. His place is up along Blow-Me-Down Brook. His "No Trespassing" and "No Hunting" signs out front ward off any motorists or hikers who happen by.

But in the last year, the veil has lifted from around Brown's reclusive life. His telephone now rings incessantly, so much that his own phone bill reaches $700 a month. He has set up an office on the second floor.

Where he once pored over maps and paramilitary manuals, he now writes anti-government speeches and leads a loose contingent of armed militias in the backwoods of New England. Like the iron-gray pistol always tucked tightly is his waistband, Brown has found a brand new sense of security.

What happened a year ago to change everything was the bombing of the federal building n Oklahoma City. The devastation in Middle America turned a national spotlight on the country's militia movement. But a strange thing took place.

Most law enforcement officials and private experts thought the public's anger over Oklahoma City would all but shut down the militias and other far-flung extremist groups.

But today their numbers have increased, by some counts manifold, both by new members joining their ranks and others, such as the 53-year-old Brown, no longer afraid for the world to know their politics.

Among the public at large, the share of Americans expressing sympathy for the militia movement - a minority, but a substantial one- has not declined at all since the bombing. A Times Poll conducted just after the bombing found 13% of Americans said they were at least "somewhat sympathetic" with "armed citizen militia groups," including 3% saying they were "very sympathetic." Now, the Times Poll, in a survey conducted nationwide April 13-16 finds 16% saying they are sympathetic, 3% very sympathetic - a change that is not statistically significant.

Similarly, the poll a year ago found 20% of Americans saying that the "activities of the federal government" pose a "major threat" to the constitutional rights of average citizens. In the current poll, 19% said that.

Among the hard core of militia supporters, many groups have reorganized into smaller units in the last year, spreading out in more states. At the same time, dozens of local militias have coalesced under the banner of a nationwide umbrella group. They have staged several regional training sessions around the country in the last year. Pulled together, they speak in a louder voice.

To federal law enforcement and private monitors who track their activities, the phenomenon has been a bewilderment that raises new alarms over how far the movement will grow. Could the groundswell loosely called the patriot movement be evolving into a significant part of the national mind-set?

"It's just becoming almost monumental. The numbers are quite staggering," said Gerald A. Carroll, an adjunct professor at the University of Iowa who has studied society's fringe element for the last two decades. "Who'd have thought they'd still be increasing like this after Oklahoma City?

"But they're like rattlesnakes. If you step on a rattlesnake, it shakes its coil and raises up to strike you."

Mood of Disdain

The trend is seen as an odd reflection of the political mood across the country that still holds federal authority in disdain.

Most people do not embrace the radical theories put forth by the hard-core militias about the coming one-world government. And they deplore the attack against the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, allegedly carried out by two defendants who had militia sympathies.

But in many regions, public sentiment remains tolerant or even sympathetic to the idea of bucking the powerful government role in American life. Over the last year, this has helped to insulate the militias from blame associated with the terrorist strike, while the exposure they have received from the incident has only helped them thrive.

"Unfortunately, they've literally been able to get their paranoid, hateful message out to the world through this tragedy in Oklahoma," said Danny Welch, director of Klanwatch in the Deep South organization.

Rather than being scorned, militia members have found a ready forum for their views. The major blows in stature to their longtime nemeses, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other federal law enforcement agencies have emboldened them further. The current standoff in Montana between fugitive "freemen" holed up on a ranch and FBO agents wary of going in after them has done nothing to detract from the image of strength.

"We may not see shooting," says Carroll, musing about what the future holds for the movements, but the militia may leave a lasting mark. "Ultimately, we're going to see some major changes in our banking laws and our tax code and other issues that the movement wants to make over."

At least for now, the militias are clearly on a roll.

Even in Oklahoma, the state traumatized by the bombing last April, militia groups are more vibrant, perhaps buoyed by a segment of public opinion that shares their belief that the government had some role in the blast.

In New Hampshire, Ed Brown recently sat back in his chair next to the wood stove, chain-smoking Ultra Light 100s, boasting about the movement's successes and warning all the louder that change ("war," he calls it) is coming.

"Oh, boy, Oklahoma City," he said. "Oklahoma City brought is around. A lot has been going on in the last year. Oh, boy, a lot. People are becoming much more comfortable with us."

Selling of the Militias.

Elsewhere, others are touting their new clout.

  • Extremists leader John Trochmann was the keynote speaker at a Preparedness Expo last month in Las Vegas, one of countless conferences he has appeared at in the last year.

A top official of the Militia of Montana, the bearded, fiery-eyed Trochmann emerged as the guru of the telegenic far-right after his debut before a Senate panel convened in the wake of the bombing in Oklahoma City. Now he drives the talk-show circuit. (He never flies; he said he can't get his guns past the airport metal detectors.)

"Attendance is up," he declared in an interview in Las Vegas, surveying the several hundred-person audience that was about to hear his 30-minute spiel in which he sells his books and videos.

"We're having more meetings. I'm going to California for four days of meetings soon. I'm on the road 40% of the time now. People want their country back."

  • In West Los Angeles, Bob Fletcher has moved into a second-story suite of rooms on Pico Boulevard. A former Trochmann associate in Montana, he too gained fame as a witness at the Senate hearings and is now putting together his own mass-market videos and radio spots, also looking to cash in on the growing interest in the cause.

His first five videos will deal with such anti-government topics as CIA mind-cotrol and new federal law enforcement weapons. "And I mean weapons being planned to shoot us down," he said. Before the bombing, the best gig he could get was the "Donahue" show. "I do special engagements now," he said. "I sell my video tapes. I've eliminated all my debts."

  • Down the coast in Del Mar, Charlen Alden and Terry Sanders are enthusiastic about a "Constitutionalists March" on Washington they are planning for this summer, much like the "Million Man March" last year.

They are veteran crusaders against big government, the tax code and America's court system. "I've been in this for 25 years," Alden said. "I felt back then I was like a voice crying on an island. Today I realize that the American people know something is wrong and that the tide is changing."

  • John Harrell runs a paint horse ranch in Eufaula, Okla. But his real passion is spreading the word against government abuse, something he finds comfortable doing even though he lives in the same state where 168 people died and 600 were injured in the federal building bombing.

He calls Atty. Gen. Janet Reno "the head killer." He asks: "Who do you think pulled the trigger in Waco?" He said he has helped organize 40 militia members to prepare for the people's final armed showdown with the government.

"There's plenty of us," he said. "And there are more that are getting smarter every day."

Views Vary

How many there truly are is difficult to gauge. The groups are diverse. Some espouse racial hatred, while others want power returned to the local sheriffs. Others call for taking up arms against a global United Nations-controlled world they fear is forming.

According to Klanwatch and the Coalition for Human Dignity, a monitoring group in the Northwest, there are 25,000 hard-core white supremacists in the United States. Another 150,000 active sympathizers purchase literature and attend extremist group meetings.

Militia leaders and other extremists say their numbers have multiplied seven times over since the bombing, April 19, 1995. Some claim they are a force of 250,000.

Regardless, they are more open, vocal and confident of their mission than before.

Before the bombing, the militia phenomenon was slowly creeping into the national mind-set.

Morris Dees, chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center and its Militia Task Force, has had success tracking hate-mongers. Six months before the bombing, he wrote Reno in Washington, warning her about the "growing danger posed by the unauthorized militias that have recently sprung up in at least 18 states."

But two months after the bombing, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which also monitors hate groups, militias alone - not counting the other anti-government groups - were active in 40 states. Membership had climbed to about 15,000.

In a report last week, Dees' group identified 441 militias, double the number it was a year ago.

In California, the ADL said, "more than 30 militias are presently operating, apparently having benefited from the larger amount of publicity the movement has received in recent weeks" since the bombing.

Federal law enforcement officials refuse to discuss the militias now, at least not while the freemen standoff remains volatile in Montana.

But a week before the bombing, the Dallas FBI office sent out a wire advisory to its Texas offices, advising agents that they "may wish to consider utilizing tactical resources" when dealing with militias. The wire also noted that the bureau had "corroborated" that "law enforcement officers are also involved with militia groups."

Immediately after the bombing, many of the far-right groups seized on their sudden notoriety.

On April 21, 1995, the day Timothy J. McVeigh and terry L. Nochols were taken into federal custody in the bombing, 600 people attended a Christian fundamentalist meeting in the nearby Missouri Ozarks. David Barley of the America's Promise Ministry in Idaho was already calling the explosion the work of the government. "They say we are a bunch of white supremacists," he told the crowd. "You bet we are."

Many others have become equally brazen in their rhetoric. Much of it is slanderous, hatelful and fanciful.

With Oklahoma City their bully pulpit, this is what they foretell:

JOHN PARSONS of Burke, S.D., head of the Tri-States Militia fraternity:

"Here's our threat - that if there is a move to do away with our Constitution and Bill of Rights, or to move us into some fuzzy global world under the United Nations, we're going to fight and die with guns, bullets and tanks and whatever we can get our hands on."

CLAY DOUGLAS of Tijeras, N.M. publisher of "Free American," a conservative newspaper with a wide national distribution:

"Anyone with any intelligence had to realize the government was involved in Oklahoma City. When I saw it on television, I turned to my wife and said I would no longer allow something like this to happen again."

ED BROWN, Plainfield, N.H.:

"Nobody in America is going to dump on us. Not you. We're going to dump on you. We're going to crush you and we're not going to let you take our country."

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