Coping With the New Extremism
Oklahoma bombing exposes rise of anti-government groups
IF nothing else, the Oklahoma City bomb tragedy has revealed to Americans that the terrorist threat from within is just as dangerous as the threat from without.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Extremist groups motivated by virulent opposition to abortion, gun control, or the federal government have been spreading throughout the United States in recent years, experts say. The most radical adherents of this far-right fringe have increasingly turned to violence as an outlet for their rage.
Most of the members of these self-described militia groups may not want to do more with a weekend than plunk a few cans with a rifle. But their message of blame and paranoia drives some over the edge. Violence occurs when a ''true believer, driven by the ideology, takes it to its logical conclusion,'' says Rafe Ezekiel, a University of Michigan professor.
The idea of home-grown terrorism may come as a surprise to many in the US. For years the face of terrorism has been a foreign one, the result of years of news from the Middle East and Europe about car bombs, kidnappings, and hijacked airliners.
The news that the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building is allegedly the work of a person or persons from the heartland of the country could well raise mixed emotions in the US.
On one hand, it points out that no nation is free of the twisted reasoning that causes some to resort to bombs or bullets for their political causes.
On the other, US citizens may judge a threat from a domestic source less frightening, due to the fact that it is something US law enforcement officials can more easily track and control.
And the FBI and local police will surely now redouble their efforts to investigate and infiltrate these groups, many of whom were not seen as national threats in the past.
''The heat will be on,'' says Robert Wood, a North Dakota State University professor who teaches a class on terrorism.
Although its roots are obscure, the current rise of far-right disaffection likely began in the early 1980s with the formation of militia groups in rural areas of the country.
Convinced that lawmakers in Washington no longer defend the Constitution of the US as they interpret it, these ''militias'' arm themselves with assault rifes and train to defend their homes from their enemies: the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), and the UN.
Danny Welch, director of Klanwatch at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., says he knows of 17 states with militia groups, many of which have known connections to racists and white supremacists.
Welch's organizaton wrote Attorney General Janet Reno last October to warn her of what it judges the growing militia menace.
Intense cynicism pervades
The militia movement is part political fervor and part John Wayne macho posturing, say experts. If it has a central tenet, it is hatred of the federal government, and specifically gun-control efforts that emanate from Washington.
Its martyrs are, among others, Gordan Kahl, a tax protester killed in a shootout with federal agents in 1983; and the 78 people who died at the Branch Davidian compound two years ago near Waco, Texas.
The ideology of militia members can be a confused jumble, with bankers, illegal immigrants, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Gahli, Attorney General Janet Reno, and other figures joined together in a loose perceived conspiracy against the white male way of life.
Such hatred is not new. The current US political climate may have given it more resonance, however, says the University of Michigan's Dr. Ezekiel.
Militia-spawned violence, he says, may be an outcropping of the intense cynicism people feel about the federal government, a ''loss of faith that makes people on the wobbly extremes of society even wobblier.''