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

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."

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...