McVeigh factor destroys militias

The Arizona Republic/May 6, 2001
By Mark Shaffer

Eric Frizzell fondly remembers the heady days of the Yavapai Militia. More than 100 people from Black Canyon City to Chino Valley would gather twice a month to watch high-tech doomsday videos or grainy, black and white video of the Bataan Death March. They would create a stir among sheriff's dispatchers in Prescott by launching war games. They reveled in new weapons and old war stories.

Heck, Frizzell said, he even rose to the rank of general in one militia group he was affiliated with in Florida. Outrage flared after Randy Weaver's wife and son were shot to death by government agents at Ruby Ridge in Idaho and David Koresh's flock was incinerated near Waco, Texas.

Then, Timothy McVeigh, who had once visited Prescott seeking guidance in forming a militia in the Kingman area, bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. A year later, federal agents busted 12 members of a Valley militia group, the Vipers, on conspiracy, weapons and explosives charges.

"The whole militia movement in this state just basically disintegrated into chaos after that," said Frizzell, a Cordes Junction telemarketer. "Most people just got out, and the rest went so far underground that they haven't been heard from since."

Which has pretty much been the story of militias nationwide. McVeigh's desire to be the Lexington of the next American Revolution has instead led to the demise of the movement, those who study militias say.

But that's not the only reason. The Republic of Texas and Montana Freemen movements were brought to their knees after numerous arrests and long prison sentences for their leadership. A lawsuit effectively ended Richard Butler's Aryan Nation White-supremacist group in Idaho when it was bankrupted by a civil rights lawsuit after security guards attacked two passers-by.

Cas Mudde, an expert on international right-wing movements and a political science professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said the worst fallout for U.S. militias is that they were abandoned by "sizable moderate elements" in the aftermath of Oklahoma City and the other recent problems.

"The militia movement lost its fairly good reputation," Mudde said. "There is little chance it will regain it, either, as Oklahoma stands out as a defining event in recent U.S. history and anything related to the militia movement will inevitably be linked to Oklahoma and McVeigh."

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Ala., which monitors the country's hate groups, the number of militia Web sites decreased by 50 percent in 1999 and many of those that remained had not been updated in years. The law center, which documented 27 militia groups in Arizona in 1996, now says only five remain.

Donald "Mac" MacPherson, a Valley attorney who has represented tax protesters and militia members in the past, says that even acknowledging five militias in Arizona is overstating the situation.

"It's all quiet on the Western front. I haven't heard of any active militia groups in Arizona," MacPherson said. Once-influential militia leaders in Arizona and Nevada such as former Phoenix policeman Jack McLamb, former Vietnam Green Beret Bo Gritz and former Arizona legislator Jerry Gillespie have all left the area for Idaho, he said.

"By the same token, tax-protest and gun-advocacy efforts have never been stronger, and those are close cousins to militia activity," McPherson said. But the militias are in a world of hurt.

Even the Northern Michigan Regional Militia, which with 1,000 members claimed to be one of the nation's largest and which received widespread publicity after the Oklahoma City bombing, announced last month that it was disbanding because of lack of interest.

Al Shearer, a hate-crimes investigator for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, said he saw a large slowdown in militia activity after the Oklahoma City bombing.

"It seemed like a lot of people were embarrassed to align themselves with militias after that," Shearer said. "And now, when you look at militia message boards on the Internet, it seems like everything is just kind of fat, dumb and happy. I saw one posting the other day wondering about the availability of lime for latrines. Then, there's always Aryan maidens looking for (relationships with) Aryan warriors." All of which shows that events like Waco and Ruby Ridge are quickly fading from memory, Shearer said. "When you combine that with no big talk lately about gun control, that pretty much does it for issues. The primary concern there is the fear of losing firearms," Shearer said.

Or, an economy turned sour, said Bill Strauss, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Phoenix.

"A bad economic situation always breeds some ugly mind-sets," Strauss said. "But as it stands now, what militia activity that remains is primarily in the Midwest with just a few pockets here in the Southwest."

Strauss said investigators for the league also saw more evidence of militia stress during a gun show at the state fairgrounds last month: The Militia of Montana passed out materials in attempts to recruit members in Arizona.

"I guess when the mission is to battle it out with the federal government, it's not too popular of a cause," Strauss said.

There also have been infighting problems, said Stephen Gehring, a Payson paralegal and former militia member. "Much of the decline of the militia movement can be attributed to the mixing of religious beliefs and law. Now, they've created this big fruit salad, and they're all just a bunch of nuts," he said.

Gehring said that he has seen the dark side of assisting radical, anti-government groups. He said he was asked to help the Montana Freemen set up a legal basis for establishing a new currency, shortly before they faced an extended siege by federal agents.

"The more I studied and wrote about this, the more my findings proved that they were wrong, and it made them angry," Gehring said. Shortly after returning to Payson, Gehring said he lost $150,000 worth of possessions when a fire started by a "two-stage device at 3:30 in the morning" destroyed his home and legal-research library. No arrests were made in the arson case, Gehring said.

But Frizzell, the former militia commander, said the last thing he would expect is any more significant violence from the right. "They've buried themselves," Frizzell said. "I recently got some mail from the Montana Militia. I felt like writing them back and telling them to grow up."

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