Federal agents searching the homes and caches of Arizona’s Viper militia said Tuesday that they found bombs, hundreds of pounds of bomb-making material, more than 200 blasting caps, about 70 shotguns and rifles and a .30-caliber belt-fed Browning machine gun the Vipers called “Shirley.”
The agents pressed their search for 12-inch aluminum rockets carrying a half-pound of explosives apiece that they said the Vipers were designing to be fired from AR-15 rifles. They said the Vipers bragged that each of the rockets could “take out a police car” at 500 yards in what the militia called its upcoming war against “the government.”
The explosives and the armament were found one day after agents arrested 12 Viper militiamen in what Attorney General Janet Reno called a plot to destroy buildings in Phoenix that house several federal agencies.
Experts on extremist groups said Tuesday that the Vipers were one of at least 12 anti-government militia organizations in Arizona, which is particularly congenial to such groups because of its permissive gun laws.
Among the dozen suspects were a house painter, an apartment maintenance man, a doorman at a strip joint, an air conditioning repairman, a telephone company worker and an unemployed doughnut maker. Ten of them pleaded innocent to federal charges that they conspired to commit civil disorder. The two others were scheduled to be arraigned Friday.
The search for weapons and explosives, conducted throughout Tuesday, was aided by an undercover agent from the ATF who had infiltrated the Vipers for the past six months. He helped authorities tape-record and videotape Viper meetings and bomb tests in the Arizona desert and led them to an apartment in nearby Glendale used to store explosives and the machine gun.
“We have had a finger on their every move,” said John D’Angelo, an ATF spokesman. “If we ever thought there was an imminent threat to public safety, we would have shut them down.”
At the end of the day, the agents said they had found more than 70 guns in all. They included semiautomatic weapons, the agents said, as well as automatics.