U.S. Gains Ground On Militias But High-Profile Victories In Court Haven’t Eliminated ‘Hard-Core’ Element, Experts Say
With the convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols on charges stemming from the April 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, federal law enforcement authorities have bagged the country’s most notorious anti-government militants.
But McVeigh, convicted and sentenced to death in June, and Nichols, found guilty Tuesday and awaiting a sentencing proceeding that will begin Monday, are not the only ones feeling the hot breath of federal prosecutors on their necks in recent months.
From the Inland Northwest to Arizona to West Virginia, federal and state law enforcement authorities have been reaping a harvest of convictions and guilty pleas from right-wing militia members and other government opponents, the result of a far more aggressive approach to preventing domestic terrorist attacks that began after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
But even with the crackdown succeeding in court, groups that monitor anti-government organizations say that while there has been a “winnowing” process in the movement, the most committed and potentially dangerous of its adherents remain active.
“The hard core has not gone away,” said Mike Reynolds, who studies extremist groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center, “and the more sophisticated and more intelligent of those who are committed to this may not have surfaced yet.”
Nichols and McVeigh had no formal ties to militia or patriot groups, but according to extensive testimony at their trials, they had some of the same fundamental beliefs, including fears of a “New World Order” being imposed through the United Nations and hatred for federal law enforcement agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Prompted by the Murrah Building bombing, the FBI, ATF and other federal agencies adopted a pre-emptive strategy of trying to uncover anti-government conspiracies before they can fully develop. In the past few months, they have begun to see results in court:
In November, three followers of the Christian Identity movement, a white-separatist religion, were sentenced to mandatory life prison terms in Spokane for a series of bombings and bank robberies.
In August, the leader of the Mountaineer Militia in West Virginia was convicted of conspiracy to engage in the manufacturing of explosives, part of what federal authorities said was a plot to blow up the FBI’s national fingerprint center.
Last March, most of the dozen members of the Arizona Viper Militia group arrested in July 1996, and charged with plotting to blow up federal buildings, pleaded guilty to lesser charges of conspiracy and weapons violations and received jail terms.
Undercover investigations continue to yield arrests in other cases as well. Two weeks ago, for example, a federal grand jury in Little Rock, Ark., indicted three men from Washington, Idaho and Oklahoma on murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges stemming from an alleged plan to overthrow the federal government and create an “Aryan People’s Republic” they intended to populate quickly through polygamy.
And last summer, law enforcement officers in four states arrested seven people in an alleged plot to attack military installations where the group believed U.N. troops were stationed, beginning with an attack on Fort Hood, Texas, during its annual Fourth of July open house. Two members of the group were arrested on July 4 at a state park west of Fort Hood and had in their possession weapons, 1,600 rounds of ammunition, a night vision scope, bulletproof vests and a militia manual.
These and other successes, said Reynolds of the Southern Poverty Law Center, are in part linked to greater cooperation and collaboration between federal authorities and their counterparts at the state and local levels. The Fort Hood group, for example, was broken up after Missouri state police undercover agents infiltrated a conference of paramilitary groups in Independence, Mo., last April.