Federal authorities charged 12 members of an Arizona militia Monday with conspiring to train themselves and others to conduct terrorist assaults on federal and local government buildings in the Phoenix area, including those housing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Secret Service and the IRS.
A paramilitary group calling itself the “Viper Militia” had been engaging for more than two years in training exercises in which members practiced with illegal fully automatic weapons and constructed and detonated ammonium nitrate bombs and rockets, according to the seven-count indictment issued Monday by a federal grand jury in Phoenix.
By late afternoon all 12 arrests had been made without incident. Federal officials said that authorities had confiscated more than 70 unregistered assault rifles fitted for fully automatic fire, hundreds of blasting caps, eight grenades and at least 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer along with other ingredients to produce ANFO, a powerful explosive of the same type used in last year’s Oklahoma City bombing. The materials were found at residences and storage lockers, the officials said.
All 12 of those indicted, including 10 men and two women, were charged with conspiracy to manufacture and possess unregistered destructive devices. Six were charged with conspiracy to illegally instruct persons in the use of explosive devices to create civil disorder. Three were charged with illegal possession of machine guns.
The indictment describes several training sessions in recent months that involved the firing of weapons and the detonation of explosives. The charges do not mention plans for any specific acts of violence against government personnel or facilities. The major discussion of any threat to government buildings in the indictment involves a 1994 videotape that includes detailed views of the structures and evaluations of their vulnerabilities to attack.
The arrests followed a six-month undercover investigation and “avert a potentially dangerous situation,” said Attorney General Janet Reno in a statement.
Raymond Kelly, Treasury under-secretary for enforcement, said state and local authorities had brought down an “armed and dangerous” militia group bent on causing “civil unrest.”
The investigation began after the ATF obtained the videotape in which a militia member is allegedly shown discussing various targets. The videotape recorded in May of 1994 “contains descriptions of the target buildings’ exteriors, parking facilities, approaches, security measures, communications equipment,” the indictment states.
“The video also contains instructions for the placement of explosive devices, illegal entry, control and destruction of targeted buildings,” according to the indictment. An ATF agent infiltrated the group a short time later.
About the same time ATF obtained the videotape, authorities started receiving reports of paramilitary training activities in the Arizona desert, including the detonation of explosives, that apparently had been under way for some time, federal officials said.
In December, four of the militia members met and viewed a videotape of an explosive device that created a crater of about 6 feet in diameter and about 3 feet deep, the indictment states. The next month militia members held another meeting and allegedly began discussing training additional members in bomb making. A training exercise a few days later resulted in an explosion creating a crater 12 feet in diameter and the display of a rocket that fired a projectile 400 yards, according to the indictment. Multiple meetings and training exercises continued regularly through June, the indictment said.
Members of the Viper Militia were preparing for “Armageddon,” an all-out battle with a federal government that they believed to be increasingly under the control of foreign countries, a senior Treasury Department official said. “They were looking for some type of action or sign from the government and then they were going to act.”