Since Oklahoma City, extremist groups wane but remain threats

The Seattle Times/April 20, 2005
By Lois Romano

A decade after the Oklahoma City bombing, the number of paramilitary militia groups has dropped dramatically and other radical-right groups have splintered and fallen into disarray, according to terrorism analysts and law-enforcement officials.

But those authorities say the threat from domestic terrorists remains strong and is worrisome because of "lone wolf" actors. They point to people such as Eric Rudolph, who pleaded guilty last week to attacks at an abortion clinic and the 1996 Summer Olympics that killed two people.

Two years ago, federal agents in Texas arrested William Krar, a white supremacist who possessed enough sodium cyanide to kill 6,000 people, half a million rounds of ammunition and 60 pipe bombs. Krar, who had ties to anti-government groups, pleaded guilty to possessing a chemical weapon and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, much of the federal government's focus -- along with the nation's worries -- has turned to foreign threats. But advocacy groups say cases such as Rudolph's and Krar's show domestic threats still bubble dangerously close to the surface.

Ten years ago yesterday, Army veteran Timothy McVeigh -- fueled by an intense hatred of the government -- blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in what was then the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

William Krar had a sodium-cyanide stockpile.

Investigators initially suspected foreign terrorists, and Americans were stunned to learn the attack was by one of their own. It drew unprecedented attention to the ferocity of anti-government sentiment in this country, as well as to the extraordinary number of hate groups with a long reach.

Since then, terrorism experts and law-enforcement officials agree that many of the militia and other organized radical groups -- such as white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Christian Identity adherents -- have weakened, in large part because they felt the heat of law enforcement and negative public perception after the Oklahoma City bombing. They said the number of militia groups has dropped from about 900 right after the bombing to 150 today.

Timothy McVeigh was driven by hatred of the federal government.

"If we want people to rally around our cause, how do we gain by destroying public property and killing our fellow Americans?" said David Trochmann, co-founder of the Militia of Montana, one of the original patriot groups.

In some ways, observers say, the domestic-terrorism threat is broader today because of recruitment on the Internet, and because it comes not only from the radical right but also from left-wing radical environmental groups, which have caused tens of millions of dollars in property damage but no fatalities yet.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported the existence of more than 762 hate groups last year, an increase from previous years. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 15 law-enforcement officials have been killed by anti-government extremists in the past 10 years.

"What has changed is that the numbers of the committed have steadily dropped since the Oklahoma bombing, but those who are committed have hardened views," said Daniel Levitas, author of "The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right."

The Oklahoma City bombing came at an apex of the anti-government movement, preceded by the 1992 standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the 1993 raid at Waco, Texas.

Yet despite McVeigh's radical affinities, the attack, as well as the one at the Olympics a year later, were not under the banner of a specific organization. "Both Rudolph and McVeigh were essentially operating on their own," said Michael Barkun, a specialist in radical movements at Syracuse University.

Eric Rudolph confessed to abortion-clinic and Olympics bombings.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI acknowledge that since the Sept. 11 attacks they have viewed foreign threats as a higher priority than domestic ones. A recent department internal assessment of threats did not list Militias, white-supremacist groups and violent anti-abortion activists. The assessment, first reported by Congressional Quarterly, did mention radical environmental groups and animal-rights activists as potential threats.

Both agencies noted that in recent years there has been heightened communication with local law enforcement to help identify domestic-based threats. The official added that although the domestic groups have been relatively quiet since the 1995 bombing, the FBI has hundreds of ongoing probes involving extremist groups nationwide.

Experts attribute the weakened state of most hate groups to the death of prominent leaders in the extremist movements that left a power vacuum and dwindling membership because of infighting. Others, they say, simply distanced themselves after the Oklahoma City bombing.

One of the most significant losses for anti-government zealots was the 2002 death of National Alliance founder William Pierce. Pierce wrote "The Turner Diaries," considered McVeigh's blueprint for the Oklahoma City bombing. Last fall, Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler died, dividing the once formidable group into two factions, hampered by lawsuits and arrests.

The conviction of white supremacist Matt Hale in Chicago for threatening a federal judge gutted his World Church of the Creator, which advocated that "white people are the creators of all worthwhile culture and civilization."

The late Richard Butler, founder and leader of the Aryan Nations.

Consequently, there has been no one strong voice articulating a cause, which leaves angry but aimless dissidents.

Others argue that the most dangerous times can be during a power vacuum. "You have more marginal people trying to act out and hard-core believers trying to fill the void," said Ken Toole, director of the Montana Human Rights Network, which tracks militia and hate groups. He added, "Everyone has to understand that they are just regrouping -- a new generation will come in."

And maybe some of the old voices will bridge the gap. After notorious former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was released from prison last spring, where he had served more than a year for fraud, 300 people turned out to hear him speak in New Orleans on Memorial Day -- and 67,000 tuned in through the Internet. "It just shows you just how hungry they are," said Joe Roy, chief intelligence analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Even as authorities have cracked down and organizations have splintered and lost leaders, domestic extremists continue to spawn violence and use an array of strategies to market themselves.

Much of the effort has been on the Internet, where anti-government and supremacist Web sites, such as Stormfront, are flourishing, offering literature, chat rooms, interactive experiences and deeper links.

Stormfront offers Web radio of a town hall with Duke. The Klan and the American Nazi Party have adopted roads. The National Alliance runs a white power music label, Resistance Records. It also launched a video game called "Ethnic Cleansing." The group has advertised on trains and billboards and during the recent Daytona 500 had a plane with a trailing sign saying: "Love Your Race."

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