Ten years after the Oklahoma City bombing, many of the right-wing movements that apparently helped motivate Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols are in disarray. Yet watchdog groups that track anti-government militias and white supremacists say law enforcement should not let down its guard.
The number of militia groups in the country has dropped from 858 in 1996 to 152 in 2004, according to a count by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. The charismatic leaders of two of the most prominent white supremacist groups in the United States have died in recent years and others are in jail, leaving a vacuum in leadership.
But McVeigh, though influenced by the anti-government and racist ideology of militia and white supremacist groups, was a member of none of them. Like Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph, he was essentially a lone wolf who acted on his own.
"That's where the danger is," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino. "If there's anything Oklahoma City demonstrated, it's that a committed domestic terrorist doesn't need to be a part of an organized group to have a devastating effect."
There has been no attack committed by domestic terrorists on the scale of Oklahoma City in the 10 years since, but that does not mean the potential has not been there. And the lack of leadership, rather than weakening the threat, could make it worse.
"As extreme as the ideology of these leaders is, it essentially serves a breaking function on their members," said Mark Potok of the Montgomery, Ala.-based law center. The leaders seem to fan the flames, essentially saying, "'Yes, yes, we'll kill the Jews, but that will be tomorrow, boys. Keep your guns in your holsters.' "
Take, for example, William Krar, the Texas man who was arrested, to almost no fanfare from the FBI or U.S. Justice Department, in April 2003 and charged with possessing sodium cyanide, a toxic chemical that when combined with three other ingredients forms extremely lethal cyanide gas. Investigators found the three other ingredients in a storage facility he had rented.
Krar had enough of the chemicals to create a toxic cloud that could have killed thousands of people.
Federal agents also found automatic weapons, a half-million rounds of ammunition, dozens of pipe bombs, remote control bombs described as briefcases, literature explaining how to use sodium cyanide to make a chemical weapon, and white supremacist and antigovernment books, pamphlets and magazines.
Krar had no known connection to any organized group, yet investigators said he seemed to have been influenced by the ideologies of the radical right. Though he never told the authorities if he had a planned target, had he chosen one, the carnage could have equaled that caused by McVeigh.
"What was Krar going to do with this stuff? That's what we want to know -- and we don't know," assistant U.S. attorney Brit Featherstone, the federal government's anti-terrorism coordinator for the eastern district of Texas, told the Los Angeles Times.
"There is no legitimate reason to have this stuff. The bottom line is that it only had one purpose, and that was to kill people. And it's very troubling that we have yet to figure it out," Featherstone told the newspaper shortly after Krar, his common-law wife and another man all pleaded guilty.