New Tactics Rein In Radicals
Law-enforcement agencies are prosecuting militias, tax protesters more successfully.
When militia leader Floyd "Ray" Looker was sentenced last Friday to 18 years in federal prison, it was just one in a string of recent successes in the fight against antigovernment radicals.Skip to next paragraph
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Across the United States, law-enforcement agencies are winning important court battles against militia members, tax protesters, white separatists, and those who threaten local officials with liens and other phony legal tactics.
Several things are involved in this effort, according to expert observers and participants in this crackdown: Excellent police intelligence based on infiltrators and turncoats. A kinder, gentler approach toward armed malcontents holed up and ready to shoot it out (as opposed to the gun-blazing tactics at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, which were public-relations disasters). New no-nonsense state legislation aimed at "common-law courts" and legal filings designed to gum up the legitimate court system. And a crackdown on tax-avoidance and other financial schemes often promoted by "freemen," "sovereign citizens," and others who consider themselves independent of federal and state law.
In Mr. Looker's case, for example, authorities used an informant to foil a plot to blow up an FBI building in Clarksburg, Va. Meanwhile, state prosecutors in Utah have begun winning convictions against antigovernment types who refuse to pay taxes.
It's the same philosophy used against mobster Al Capone, says Utah Assistant Attorney General Wade Winegar, who heads the effort: "If we can't get them on their most egregious offense, we go after them under the tax laws."
"All of these groups that have strong opposition to the government seem not to pay taxes," he says.
Looker's sentencing, in addition to the sentencing of a hate-group leader in Pennsylvania last week, the recent arrest of three terrorist plotters affiliated with a Michigan militia group, and the ongoing trials of the freemen in Montana and the "Republic of Texas" defendants are also putting antigovernment groups and individuals on notice that they could end up in jail.
This has reduced the number of "fence-sitters" who may have been tempted to participate in illegal activity, says Summit County, Colo., judge Jeff Ryan. He points to one common-law court in Colorado that was disbanded when those who had threatened local officials were aggressively prosecuted.
"People saw this wasn't going to be a slap on the wrist," he says.
The radical fringe
At the same time, though, the hard-core types are feeling more isolated these days and therefore may be driven to radical action says Judge Ryan, a former prosecutor in Colorado and Illinois. A recent coup d'tat in the Michigan Militia, for example, saw the moderate leadership tossed out by those more inclined to espouse white-supremacist philosophies and armed action.
"Among white separatists, we've seen the emergence of a surprising number of small groups with revolutionary aims," says historian Mark Pitcavage, who specializes in right-wing radical groups. Among these are such groups as the New Order, the Phineas Priesthood, and the Aryan Peoples Republic.