Computer glitches may not be the biggest threat the nation faces come the beginning of Y2K. More worrisome is the prospect of dysfunction in the human world.
"The threat posed by extremists as a result of perceived events associated with the year 2000 is very real," the FBI warns in an analysis prepared by its Project Megiddo and reported by the Washington Post. "The volatile mix of apocalyptic religious and [New World Order] conspiracy theories may produce violent acts aimed at precipitating the end of the world as prophesied in the Bible."
Federal authorities particularly worry about adherents of the Christian Identity movement, many of whom are white supremacists with a high potential for violence. This perverse "theology" is militantly racist and preaches that only straight whites of Northern European descent are God's children. Everyone else is subhuman. The FBI also warns of Odinists, also white supremacists, who believe in becoming "martyrs for the cause" of ethnic cleansing in the United States.
Federal investigators "have discovered that in preparation for the new millennium, certain individuals tied to these groups have been acquiring weapons, storing food and clothing, raising funds, procuring safe houses, preparing compounds, surveying potential targets and recruiting converts to their cause," the Post reported.
The Project Megiddo report warns that these extremists may target African Americans, Jews, gays and lesbians and their organizations and institutions; other racial and religious minorities; military installations, and U.N. personnel and facilities.
As Timothy McVeigh proved in Oklahoma City, these extremists can also be deadly. So the FBI is appropriately urging local and state law enforcement authorities around the country to step up their vigilance as Jan. 1 approaches.
This danger is no surprise. It results partly from the fixation many Americans - not only Christian Identity believers - have with the year 2000. Never mind that the Western calendar's new millennium doesn't actually begin until Jan. 1, 2001. The more fundamental issue is that our calendar is an artificial construct. The Gregorian calendar we now use dates back only to the late 16th century, when Pope Gregory XIII revised the old Roman calendar that had been in use since 45 B.C. While much of the rest of the world tolerates it for the sake of convenience, only countries in the Western tradition rely on Gregory's calendar. With its own calendar, the Islamic world, for example, is paying little heed to all the premature new millennium hoopla.
The white supremacists' Y2K threat also results from a perverse reading of the Bible, particularly the book of Revelation, attributed to the evangelist who wrote the Gospel of John. This final book of the New Testament appears to prophesy a titanic, apocalyptic conflict between good and evil, leading to the end of the world. It is widely regarded as the most difficult biblical book to interpret with any certainty.
Many mainline theologians read it - particularly its promise of the triumph of God and good - as a needed message of comfort and hope to Christians persecuted by Roman Emperor Domitian, who ruled from 81 to 96. Christian Identity believers, however, interpret it very differently. They regard themselves as warriors of God, everyone who isn't white and straight as evil, and ethnic cleansing as the trigger for Armageddon, the final battle they believe will end this sinful world full of too many subhumans deceitfully wearing human form.
Add to that already-volatile mix the widespread belief among white supremacists, based on an equally tortured reading of the U.S. Constitution, that the federal government is an illegitimate "Zionist occupation government" and that the United Nations' "New World Order" is conspiring to take this country away from its rightful - i.e., white, straight, Christian - owners.
"Those who believe the year 2000 will usher in the end of the world," the FBI report warns, may well be "willing to perpetrate acts of violence to bring that end about."
McVeigh's cold-blooded murder of 168 people at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995 leaves law enforcement authorities around the country no choice but to take this Y2K white supremacist threat seriously. The rest of us should, too.