When the first jetliner slammed into the World Trade Center that morning, Jimmy Wynn was in bed asleep after working the night shift. Within minutes, his phone began ringing, his e-mail bleeping. This is the beginning of the end, the messages all said.
By the time the second plane hit, Wynn had seized the helm.
"Take it easy," he says he told callers. "And if you think you're going to have to run out of town, go ahead and pack your survival gear."
As commander of the Militia of Georgia, Wynn, 44, keeps his finger on the pulse of those who distrust government and see a broad conspiracy to strip people of their individual rights.
After years of declining numbers, Sept. 11 has breathed new urgency and a renewed sense of purpose into the paramilitary organization, Wynn says.
"As far as recruiting, it was a boon," he says.
Short and stocky with dark hair and a mustache, Wynn speaks gently but writes aggressively in his monthly newsletter about the threat to civil liberties since Sept. 11. The survival preparedness group eschews violence, and once rejected as a member a man who wanted to blow up Buford Dam, Wynn says.
Last weekend, he put out a statewide call to anyone interested in honing survival skills and getting out of town at a moment's notice.
On a near-perfect, springlike day, about a dozen survivalists spent their afternoon near Winder, practicing the fine points of reading a compass and maps to navigate their way through the woods.
"I've heard rumors that they're now training the Georgia defense forces for how to search your house and seize your weapons," Wynn told them as they sat in rows in a makeshift shack. "They're getting ready to come around with the new world order, the national ID."
After an hour of classroom instruction by Jaimie Blackstone, a camouflage-clad consulting engineer and expert in land navigation, they spent the rest of the afternoon trekking through the woods and practicing what they'd learned.
The way Wynn sees it, the terrorist attacks were not the work of Osama bin Laden and his henchmen; they were the work of the U.S. government.
"The Bushes want a one-world government," he says. "When George Bush Sr. was president, he said over and over, 'New world order.' Those are the same words Hitler used. . . . Hitler wanted to identify everybody with a tattoo. George [W.] Bush wants to identify everybody with an identity card."
Wynn believes the CIA attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to justify passage of new laws that take away constitutional rights.
"A year ago, if somebody came to this country and said they wanted to have a national ID, total gun control and monitor everything you did from the womb to the tomb, we would have kicked them out of the country," he says.
"So they created the problem, which is terrorism. Then they offered the solution. They say the majority are willing to give up civil liberties in exchange for safety."
Wynn joined the Militia of Georgia to protect gun rights. Since 1994, he's been commander off and on of an organization whose hierarchy includes majors, unit captains and a rules committee.
But experts say militias in general have fallen on hard times.
Wynn has had trouble getting people to meetings, but he disputes the numbers are on the decline. Statewide, he estimates there are 20 units with a total of 300 hard-core members, although he admits the numbers are loose.
Some enlistees exist only on the Internet. "I call them the Cyber Space Patriots, because you never really meet them," Wynn says. "The Internet's taken over everything." He claims to have a mailing list of 3,000 and says he gets regular hits on his group's Web site.
Last weekend, Wynn told the group he wants to step up the meetings from once to twice a month. He hopes to change the group from "an eat, meet and retreat study group" into one more focused on survival preparedness and education, like last weekend's exercise.
At home, Wynn keeps 55 gallons of drinking water in case "these people hit the water supply with anthrax."
"We try to maintain a defensive posture," he says, adding that President Bush's Office of Homeland Defense is a waste of money. "We already have homeland defense. It's called militias."