10 Years After Oklahoma City, Is There Still a Threat?

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."

Potential for Domestic Terror Remains

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.

No further arrests related to the Krar case have been announced.

The Radical Right

The Krar case exemplifies another of the reasons that some people express concern about whether law enforcement is focused enough on the radical right rather than on foreign terrorist groups or radical environmentalists like the Earth Liberation Front.

The FBI lists right-wing extremists as a lesser domestic terror threat than the ELF, even though that group has never killed a single person. ELF has caused more than $100 million in property damage over the past decade, according to the FBI.

Bureau Director Robert Mueller, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee recently, mentioned the threat from white supremacist groups, the right-wing Patriot movement and anti-abortion extremists. But he ranked higher the threats from radical environmentalists, anarchists and black nationalist groups.

Congressional Quarterly reported that a document it obtained from the Department of Homeland Security "appears to be an internal list of threats to the nation's security," but does not list right-wing groups at all.

"I think that's a grotesque mistake," Potok said. "It's not like the threat of another McVeigh has gone away."

The DHS did not reply to requests for comment on the report.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Krar case is that had a package containing false identification he was trying to send to someone in New Jersey not been mistakenly delivered to a man in New York, and had that man not unthinkingly opened it and turned it over to police, Krar could still be on the loose, with his chemical weapon materials and his arsenal of guns and bombs.

"All the more reason for DHS to be aware of the domestic terror threat," Potok said.

The lack of publicity the FBI and Justice Department gave the case led some domestic terrorism experts to believe that law enforcement is not taking the threat from the radical right seriously enough.

"Just because Oklahoma City happened 10 years ago, doesn't mean it's unlikely to happen again," said Dan Levitas, author of "The Terrorist Next Door." "One would be foolish not to expect it. Unfortunately, the law enforcement community is so singularly focused on terrorists from abroad and don't seem to acknowledge that the majority of terrorist acts perpetrated on American soil have come from the radical right."

It is not that they mean to diminish the need to defend the country from al Qaeda, but that they believe the attention focused on foreign terrorists should not come at the expense of the fight against potential terrorists within the United States.

"I certainly believe that al Qaeda is a greater threat to commit a major act of terrorism in the United States," Levin said. "That being said, the domestic groups have the greater ability to slip under the radar and get things done."

Lone Wolves

While Krar represents the extreme in terms of the amount of firepower he had put together, his case is by no means unique.

There is, of course, Rudolph, who killed one person and injured more than 100 with a bomb at the Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996 and killed a police officer and injured a nurse in an abortion clinic bombing in Birmingham, Ala., in 1998. He pleaded guilty to the bombings on Wednesday.

And there are countless others who were arrested before they could spill any blood.

Earlier this month, federal agents in Illinois arrested nine people in connection with the seizure of 50 machine guns, more than 100 other guns, 128 destructive devices and 115 improvised explosive devices along with silencers, gun powder and 19 wooden crates marked with Nazi insignias and containing thousands of rounds of ammunition.

They also found a Nazi flag and literature from the National Alliance in the Alton home, where someone had written "Hitler was right" on one of the walls.

And last August, Norman Somerville, an Antioch Township, Mich., man who had predicted a "quiet civil war" when he was arrested, pleaded guilty to weapons violations for a cache of 13 machine guns he had built from parts bought over the Internet.

Somerville, 44, had built a bunker on his 40-acre property and stocked it with thousands of rounds of ammunition, hundreds of pounds of gunpowder, and explosives and booby traps, as well as manuals on guerrilla warfare. He had also rigged up a van and a Jeep Cherokee with machine guns, described by police as "war wagons."

He said he distributed seven of the weapons to others in the state who shared his anger at the government, but as part of his plea deal agreed to help authorities in the hunt for what assistant U.S. attorney Lloyd Meyer called "a small group of angry militiamen who espouse violence and arm themselves to commit violence."

Militias Lose Members

At the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, that description might have fit a larger group of people than it does now, but the horror of what their ideology led McVeigh and Nichols to do turned many of the more moderate away from the militias.

"After the Oklahoma City bombing, a lot of people left," said Norm Olson, a former militia leader from Michigan who now owns a gun store. "They realized that this militia business wasn't fun and game, paintball in the woods on the weekend. It was all about life and death."

The militia movement grew sharply after the 1992 raid on the home of white supremacist Randy Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Weaver's wife and son were killed in the raid.

The 51-day standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, came a year later. It ended when federal agents fired tear gas into the group's main building, igniting a fire that killed 80 people, including 17 children and the group's 33-year-old leader, David Koresh. The Oklahoma City bombing occurred two years to the day after the fire at the Waco compound.

After Oklahoma City, law enforcement focused even more closely on the militia movement, arresting many people associated with it on weapons violations or conspiracy charges, and that increased attention from police also drove others from the movement.

Then came "the debacle of Y2K," as Levin called it. Many in the militia movement had predicted that when computers that regulated everything from banks to nuclear power plants were faced with the change from 1999 to 2000, they would crash, leading to worldwide chaos. When that did not happen, the credibility of those who made the predictions was damaged.

The al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and the surge of patriotism afterward led even more people with anti-government views to rethink their position.

"The militia movement is a shell of what it was at the time of McVeigh," Levin said. "But McVeigh was never a member of any organized militia."

Some of the other movements on the radical right have also fallen on hard times over the last decade. William Pierce, the charismatic leader of the National Alliance whose book "The Turner Diaries" inspired McVeigh, died in 2002. Richard Butler, leader of the white supremacist Aryan Nations, died in September.

"With the leadership dead, in jail, or incompetent, what is left is a folklore, a religion and a set of approved tactics that have been passed down through the years in this movement," Levin said. "What is left is a leaderless movement."

But the loss of these key figures has not stopped their followers from trying to spread their message and gain new supporters.

Trying to Promote Race Pride

The National Alliance has been carrying out an intensive leafletting campaign aimed at suburban neighborhoods, and through Resistance Records, a "white pride" label, has tried to disseminate the theme of race pride to young people through rock and folk music.

The featured MP3s on the group's site include "Browntown Burning Down" by Angry Aryans and "Ovens Again" by Fueled by Hate-Filled With Rage.

For the softer side, the National Alliance site offers Prussian Blue, a folk CD by twin blond teenage sisters, Lynx and Lamb Gaede, posed smiling in traditional German outfits.

Adults in many of the communities where the National Alliance has been leafletting have expressed outrage, but law enforcement officials say the fliers are protected speech.

Meanwhile, anti-Semitic incidents across the country are at their highest level in nine years, according to a report released April 4 by the Anti-Defamation League. The report blamed the spike in part on the National Alliance campaign. The number of incidents increased 17 percent over the past year, from 1,557 in 2003 to 1,821 in 2004, according to the report.

Another effect of the turmoil in these movements has been to pare them down to the most hardcore members, and to increase the feeling of being embattled and add a greater sheen of drama to the folklore.

"The violent and revolutionary worldview has gained street credibility on the paramilitary radical right over the last 20 years," Levitas said. "The dominant view of America across the spectrum of these organizations is that the United State has been totally politically corrupted by Jews and non-whites, and so culturally polluted by Jews and non-whites, that the only answer is violent action."

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...