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Many Dread Anniversary Of Bombing Federal Officers On Alert Year After Oklahoma City

A lot of people probably wish April 19 fell on a weekend this year so they could just stay home.

Instead, as government and business workers head for the office on Friday, many will recall the devastation of last year’s fertilizer truck bomb in Oklahoma City.

April 19 is a new day of infamy, a day for some to vent rage at the U.S. government.

Experts see no ebbing of the anti-government anger that federal prosecutors say led to 168 deaths in Oklahoma City a year ago Friday.

That prompts some troubling questions:

Could it happen again? Could it happen here?

Yes and yes, say law enforcement and domestic terrorism experts.

They won’t speculate about how some anti-government groups might mark Friday’s anniversary. But they say security and alertness are a high priority.

Throughout the United States, the federal government has spent $100 million for security improvements since last year’s bombing. Amounts of regional expenditures aren’t available.

Still, there is guarded nervousness, even in the Northwest.

Adding to the mix this year is a neo-Nazi skinhead convention this weekend at the Aryan Nations near Hayden Lake, Idaho.

Fifty or more skinheads from throughout the West are expected to accept the invitation of Aryan leader Richard Butler to commemorate the birthday of Adolf Hitler.

Other anti-government critics and militia leaders see April 19 as the day when governments around the world move against the people.

On that day 221 years ago, the Revolutionary War began with fighting at Lexington and Concord, Mass. The Nazis attacked the Warsaw ghetto on April 19, 1943, and the FBI launched its final assault on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993.

Many still believe the bomb that exploded in Oklahoma City was the secret work of the government.

“That’s the government’s date, not the people’s date,” said Randy Trochmann, co-founder of the Militia of Montana in Noxon.

“This year, we’re going to be here in our office, crossing our fingers,” he said.

That kind of concern is widespread.

Authorities are stepping up security at the U.S. Courthouse in Spokane and federal buildings in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, said Doyle Shackleton, team leader for the Federal Protective Service.

Other government buildings, private and public utilities and some private businesses also will tighten security.

Washington Water Power Co. provides security for its nine hydroelectric dams and 105 electrical substations.

“Security increases when circumstances warrant, and this could be one of those times,” said WWP Vice President Rob Fukai.

The Federal Protective Service provides security for 83 federal buildings managed by the General Services Administration in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

The U.S. courthouses in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene rank high on the government’s own list of potential trouble spots. Government security experts rate them as Category 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest risk.

The two federal buildings are the biggest government office complexes in a region that produced neo-Nazi terrorists, known as The Order, and Randy Weaver, a modern-day folk hero for the anti-government movement.

Sometime before the Oklahoma City bombing, suspect Timothy McVeigh visited Weaver’s cabin, near Naples, Idaho, The Washington Post has reported.

That visit hasn’t been confirmed through other sources, including law enforcement officials. But they believe that if McVeigh visited North Idaho, he had friendly tour guides here.

Not long after the Oklahoma bombing, federal authorities disclosed the Spokane federal building was the target of another fertilizer bomb plot that didn’t materialize.

The suspect in the plot was never charged.

Nine days after the Oklahoma bombing, crews in Spokane put 4,000-pound “Jersey” barriers on the courthouse plaza to keep vehicles away from the building. They’ve been replaced by heavy concrete planters.

Armed security guards and Federal Protective Service officers patrol the building’s perimeter.

Shackleton of the Federal Protective Service won’t give specifics and says the best security is that which isn’t always easily seen.

Next year, it will be even harder to see. April 19, 1997, falls on a Saturday, and most government offices will be closed.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo; Graphic: Building security

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