Public-power facilities in the Western United States were alerted to guard against terrorist acts last month after members of the “patriot movement” allegedly threatened to bomb part of the power system to protest the arrests of some of their compatriots.
No incidents occurred, and no evidence was found that anyone tried to damage power stations or transmission lines.
But officials said they took the threat seriously because members of the patriot movement have advocated violence and armed resistance against government authority.
The alert, reported Wednesday by The Seattle Times, occurred six weeks before a bombing linked to similar right-wing radicals ripped apart the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing scores of people.
The sequence of events leading to the alert began March 3, when sheriff’s deputies in Musselshell County, Mont., stopped and arrested two members of a group called the Freemen in a pickup that had no vehicle registration tags. The deputies discovered concealed handguns.
When three armed members of the Militia of Montana showed up later that day in Roundup, Mont., to demand the pair’s release, deputies arrested them and found two more armed people, including a militia founder, John Trochmann, sitting in a car. They, too, were arrested.
The Freemen don’t consider themselves a militia organization. But the Freemen, militias and other radical right-wing groups share elements of a philosophy that distrusts the federal and state governments, takes a very narrow reading of the U.S. Constitution and fears a “new world order” in which Americans would lose individual rights.
A suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh, is believed to have connections to the Militia of Michigan.
Musselshell County Attorney John Bohlman said that on March 6, he and others were notified through the U.S. Marshal’s Office that “20 men were leaving Medford, Ore., to protest the arraignment and to blow up a power station.”
No specifics were given, but public-power agencies across the West were notified.
At the Fort Peck hydroelectric plant in eastern Montana, and at power facilities in North Dakota and South Dakota, entrances were checked more frequently, telephone calls were logged and video cameras were reviewed, said Bob Lachance, chief of security and law enforcement for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Omaha district.
At the Colorado-based Western Area Power Administration, which covers 15 states from Minnesota to Texas and west to California, employees were told to be alert to the people and vehicles around them.
Visitors were checked more closely for identification, gates that were normally open were closed and locked, and packages were opened before going through the gates.
In the Northwest, the Corps of Engineers kept a close eye on transmission lines and switching stations in southwest Washington and Oregon.
“Though the threat is generic … it should not be viewed lightly. It would be prudent to notify your project managers and suggest vigilance and to report … any suspicious activity,” a March 13 Army Corps memo said.
In Roundup, concealed-weapons charges are pending against the two Freemen. Charges against the others were dropped for lack of evidence.
But officials at public-power facilities said they remain wary of the threat of terrorism.
Gary Morgan, director of security for the Western Area Power Administration, said he’s opted to keep last month’s tightened security measures in place, at least until “I feel comfortable” again.
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