The news media’s fascination with militia groups and their virulent strain of anti-government rhetoric may have faded somewhat since the groups first burst upon the national consciousness following the April 1995 bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, but there is plenty of evidence suggesting that militias have not simply gone away and law enforcement seems well aware of this.
On several occasions, suspects who were alleged to be members of militia groups were implicated in plots against the government, including a plan by one group to blow up several Federal facilities in Phoenix and another in which bombs were to be planted at the FBI’s identification center in West Virginia.
The interest of law enforcement in such groups continues to grow as an increasing number are linked to criminal activity. Law enforcement agencies in five northern Idaho counties, a region used by right-wing extremist groups as a base of operations, hired a terrorism expert, former Los Angeles police officer Bill Litsinger, to coordinate intelligence and provide training about the nature and activities of militia-style and other right-wing extremist groups. His expertise will be available to all law enforcement officers in Bonner, Boundary, Benwah, Kootenai and Shoshone counties in the Idaho panhandle.
News coverage of militia groups, which is never particularly flattering, didn’t seem to affect the movement, whose leaders claim they have increased their membership sevenfold since the Oklahoma City bombing, to a high of 250,000. In May, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Militia Task Force reported having identified 441 militias, twice as many as in 1994. The Anti-Defamation League found active militias in 40 states, with a membership of about 15,000.
Now that Richard Jewell, the security guard initially suspected and later cleared by the FBI in the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park during the Summer Games in Atlanta, is no longer a suspect, it is safe to say that right-wing militia groups remain under scrutiny by investigators trying to solve the blast, which killed one woman and injured scores of others. Several Georgia-based militia groups already were being watched by law enforcement in the months before the Games began.
And for several months, a group of Montana tax-resisters who called themselves the Freemen holed up in their ranch compound for nearly three months, resisting calls from authorities to surrender some of their members on tax fraud and weapons charges. The Freemen, who don’t recognize U.S. law, finally surrendered on June 13, abandoning threats of a violent confrontation if authorities tried to move in on the compound. For their part, Federal law enforcement officials seeking to apprehend Freeman suspects displayed Job-like patience in waiting out the standoff, averting fears that it would end in violence. [See related article, Page 11.]
Meanwhile, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the two men charged in the Oklahoma City bombing, will soon have their day in court. In October, a Federal judge ruled that McVeigh and Nichols will be tried separately when proceedings against the two begin sometime next year in Denver. Defense lawyers applauded the ruling, which they said will allow them to pursue independent strategies to prove their clients’ innocence.
Among the high-profile criminal cases linked to militia and other extremist groups in 1996:
¶ Seven members of a paramilitary group involved in an alleged plot to plant bombs at the FBI’s identification center in Clarksburg, W.Va., were arrested Oct. 11 by Federal agents. Among those arrested was the leader of West Virginia Mountaineer Militia, Floyd R. Looker, who was charged with transporting explosives across state lines and plotting to bomb the center. Court documents, however, show there is little indication that any member of the group took specific steps to bomb the FBI facility.
¶ Three men believed to belong to the Phineas Priesthood, a white supremacist group, were charged in Spokane, Wash., with bank robbery and conspiracy. Charles Barbee, Robert Berry and Jay Merrell allegedly twice robbed a Spokane bank in April and planted three pipe bombs set to go off during the heists to divert authorities.
¶ Federal authorities have backed away from their initial claims that members of Arizona’s Viper militia had planned a coordinated bombing attack on several government facilities in Phoenix. Twelve alleged Viper members were arrested on explosives and firearms charges following a raid on July 1. All have pleaded not guilty, and some were released from custody under tight supervision.
The self-styled militia group allegedly plotted to blow up government offices, including the city’s police headquarters. In October, charges of promoting civil disorder were reduced from two counts to one each for six of the 12 defendants. A new indictment handed down in early October does not the use the term “training persons in the making and use of explosive devices for use in obstructing the Federal Government.
Authorities moved in after the group had become increasingly strident in its anti-government rhetoric. During raids on the homes of alleged Viper members, authorities found hundreds of pounds of bomb-making materials, three bombs, a stick of dynamite, blasting caps, ammonium nitrate and a chemical that an ATF official said was “twice as sensitive as nitroglycerin and 10 times as explosive as flash powder.”
In a highly unusual move, Federal investigators deputized an employee of the Arizona Fish and Game Department who went undercover posing as a neo-Nazi. To avoid suspicion and gain members’ confidence, the undercover agent took the “Militiaman’s Oath,” participated in militia shoots and joined other members in an agreement “to kill anyone attempting to infiltrate the militia and seek retribution if any member was arrested,” according to an affidavit.
¶ Authorities say that some militia groups are financing themselves through scams such as putting fraudulent liens against property or paying for goods with counterfeit money. They estimate that half a billion dollars in bogus checks and money have been passed by these groups. The Family Farm Preservation in Tigerton, Wis., allegedly sent out bogus financial papers, including $63 million in fake checks and money orders over the last three years, resulting in losses of $200,000 to Federal and state agencies. The group is believed to be a reincarnation of the Posse Comitatus, members of which engaged in a bloody shoot-out in 1983 that left two U.S. deputy marshals in North Dakota dead.
¶ Three members of a self-styled militia in Georgia were convicted of conspiracy Nov. 6 for stockpiling pipe bombs for use against the Federal Government. A Federal jury also found that Robert Starr 3d, who was the leader of the 112th Georgia Militia, and Troy Spain and Jimmy McCranie, both members of the group, guilty of possessing an unregistered destructive device.
Prosecutors alleged that the three intended to use pipe bombs on roads, vehicles, bridges and power lines, and as well as against Federal law enforcement officials. Kevin Barker, a government informant and prosecution witness, testified in October that the three had hoped to use some of the bombs at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. But Federal officials backed away from initial reports that the group planned to disrupt the Games, saying the group apparently wanted to store the bombs to ward off government invasion.
¶ Also in Georgia, three members of the Georgia Militia were indicted on charges of organizing a “special operations team” that would be sent to Washington in the event that any action was taken against the group. The indictment charged that members of the team would be responsible for and trained to assassinate politicians starting “at the highest level.”