Coping With the New Extremism
Oklahoma bombing exposes rise of anti-government groups
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People who join these groups are often on the margins of society. They are disaffected with life and want to feel powerful, says Danny Welch of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Add the fact that many of them have had military training, he says, and it's a ''recipe for disaster.''Skip to next paragraph
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Economics plays a large role as well, he notes. More people in rural areas are in economic trouble and contemptuous of the federal government. ''When you're hungry, he says, you're going to look for someone to blame.''
Even though militia groups are denying responsibility for the Oklahoma City attack the seedy side of this movement might drive some of the more stable people out. Many of them might recognize the absurdity of calling themselves a militia to protect the state.
''When was the last time we needed the militia, 1775?,'' says Welch.
Laws and public education needed
What can 100 men with rifles really do against a modern army, anyway? While Welch says militias can seem laughable, ''add hatred and automatic weapons and the the laughter ends.''
In the near term, Welch says that states have to consider adopting laws that forbid paramilitrary training, or repealing antiquated laws, like one in Arizona, that allow citizens to form armed groups. The public also has to be educated about issues concerning militias, and about the second amendment.
Both Ezekiel and Welch note that these groups feel provoked, and that in some ways, they are already at war with the government.
US law enforcement officials are now investigating whether, in fact, a conspiracy existed among a number of militia groups to carry out the attack on the Oklahoma City federal building.
Suspect Timothy McVeigh has been linked to the Arizona Patriots, a right-wing group once accused of planning to blow up an Internal Revenue Service building in Utah, as well as the Michigan Militia, a fast-growing group headquartered in the northern part of Michigan's lower peninsula.
For their part, Michigan Militia leaders strongly deny any part in the Oklahoma City attack and say that McVeigh was never a real member of their group.
Some militia members admit that McVeigh was present at group meetings.
Michigan Militia leaders held a long-planned rally in celebration of their one-year anniversary over the weekend. Asked if he felt his groups shared any blame for the Oklahoma City events, Michigan Militia chief of staff Ray Southwell said ''absolutely not.''
Southwell said that blaming his group was akin to blaming the US Post Office for deranged postal workers that fire on their fellows, or holding the National Collegiate Athletic Association responsible for any vandalism that followed in the wake of the UCLA victory in the NCAA basketball tournament last month.
Southwell, however, also condemned ''the terrorists within our federal government . . . for their role in the deaths of Branch Davidian members in Waco, Texas.''
''While senseless violence serves no purpose, we pray that this tragedy in Oklahoma will shake the halls of government,'' Southwell said.
Terry and James Nichols, brothers held as material witnesses in the Oklahoma City investigation, have also been linked to the Michigan Militia.
The basic beliefs of Michigan Militia members are grounded in a conviction that the UN is poised to overthrow the sovereignty of the US.
Members believe that large numbers of UN troops are massed on US military bases in preparation for attack and that highway signs may contain coded messages to guide the foreign troops.
Powerful individuals within the federal government are helping the UN, militia members believe, by eroding constitutional rights -- especially the right to bear arms.