Guards of the Millennium

After FBI Warning, Cities Eye Apocalyptic Groups 10, 1999
By Buck Wolf

What would you do if you thought the world was going to end?

Essentially, that's what several law enforcement agencies are asking themselves, bracing for the possibility that religious cults or apocalyptic groups may turn to violence to fulfill their prophecies of Armageddon as the year 2000 approaches.

FBI Director Louis Freeh warned last week of such groups at a congressional hearing on counterterrorism. He cited "rogue terrorists," such as Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, as probably the most urgent risk to U.S. interests worldwide. But he said the domestic threat could not be ignored, especially as the millennium approaches.

"The possibility of an indigenous group like Aum Supreme Truth cannot be excluded," he said, referring to the cult responsible for the 1995 nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway system.

"With the coming of the next millennium, some religious apocalyptic groups or individuals may turn to violence as they seek to achieve dramatic effects to fulfil their prophecies," he said. Law Enforcement Weighs Threats

While New York, Los Angeles and several other cities deny that they have specific initiatives to deal with apocalyptic groups, several officers say that they were aware of the issue before Freeh made his warning and take the matter seriously.

"Internally, we are looking at it," says Houston Police Officer M.I. Montanvo. "As far as putting out alerts, it hasn't come to that."

Still, they're more cautious about over-reacting.

"You have to be careful about any warning before there is a solid threat," says Public Information Officer John Quigley in Atlanta. "You don't want to whip up fear."

Outside the United States, some cities are already making plans. Britain's Scotland Yard has launched a $10 million operation to protect the Greenwich section of London, especially the new Millennium Dome - a giant, $1.2 billion exhibition hall.

British authorities told local papers a few weeks ago that because Greenwich crosses the prime meridian of 0 degrees longitude, it might be targeted by end-time terrorists, including the Denver-based Concerned Christians.

Israel last month deported 14 members of the Concerned Christians on suspicion of planning violence to hasten the apocalypse. Because religious artifacts attract religious fringe groups, Israel recently announced an $11.5 million security plan to protect holy sites from potential millennium attacks.

Freeh: 'Disturbing Trend'

Freeh noted "a disturbing trend" toward the pseudo-religion of Christian Identity - and other hate philosophies - that provided both a religious base for racism and anti-Semitism as well as an ideological rationale for violence against minorities.

"Many white supremacist groups adhere to the Christian Identity belief system, which holds that the world is on the verge of a final apocalyptic struggle ... and teaches that the white race is the chosen race of God," he said.

Many of those who believe in this credo are engaged in survivalist and paramilitary training, storing foodstuffs and supplies and caching weapons and ammunition.

Freeh said that as 1999 came to a close, Christian Identity's more extreme members could prepare for Armageddon by carrying out armed robberies to finance the upcoming battle, destroying government property and targeting Jews and non-whites.

But the FBI had "little credible intelligence" at this time indicating that terrorists, either domestic or international, were preparing to attack the United States, the director said. FBI's Millennium Poll

Late last year, Robert Blither the FBI's former chief of domestic terrorism and counterterrorism, told the Southern Poverty Law Center that he had conducted an "informal polling" of the bureau's field offices to investigate possible millennium violence.

"The millennium is certainly an event that a lot of extremists are focusing on. There probably is some sense that something will happen," Blitzer says.

"We're not seeing anything in the cases that we've been working pointing to any particular planned violent action around that time. But a lot of the groups are very security-conscious and operate in a clandestine fashion, so we won't always know when something is about to happen."

If such an attack does come, the chance for surprise is great no matter how much law enforcement prepares, says Rich Abanes, author of End-Time Visions: The Road to Armageddon? published by Four Walls Eight Windows.

"If something happens - and it could - it is likely to come from a group nobody has heard of. There are just too many out there," he says.

"Few people had heard about the Branch Davidians before Waco. It's like that."

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