FBI Keeps Eye on Oklahoma City, Waco Anniversary

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

"CONFLICT START DATE: 19 APRIL 1998. VALID TARGETS: ALL FEDERAL BUILDINGS."

This announcement, posted on an Internet site frequented by antigovernment radicals, could be dismissed as the work of a disgruntled Web surfer with an overactive imagination or twisted sense of humor.

But the significance of the date - April 19 - is not lost on those who track far-right activism around the country. It is just one of many threats against the federal government, including at least one against President Clinton. As a result, law-enforcement officials are keeping a watchful eye on this tragic anniversary.

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"The FBI put out a terrorism advisory on the April 19 date in response to the [Internet] postings in late March that called for military action against the government," says a source involved with federal security programs.

In a related move, Defense Secretary William Cohen announced a federal program in which 10 squads of active-duty military personnel and National Guard soldiers will help local agencies respond to domestic terrorism.

FBI agents and other law-enforcement officials have been meeting with militia members in Texas and elsewhere in an attempt to build trust and keep a dialogue going in order to head off violent acts by more-radical activists. The low-key effort appears to be having a positive effect.

"This is psychological warfare," one militia advocate grumbled. "By sucking up to them, calling them by their chosen military title 'Colonel' or 'Major,' they have managed to convert quite a few to a cooperative stance."

But while the law-enforcement duel with antigovernment extremists, white supremacists, and other right-wing radicals escalates around April 19, many Americans are using the date to promote racial harmony and nonviolence.

A campaign called "Reclaim the Date" has been organized to rally opposition to hate groups and philosophies. It has been organized by the Center for New Community, a faith-based community-organizing group headquartered in Oak Park, Ill.

The purpose, says Devin Burghart, of the center's "Building Democracy Initiative," is to counter the significance of April 19 for the far right. In many cities religious and civic organizations will hold rallies and incorporate antihate messages into sermons and public discussions. In Denver, site of the Oklahoma City bombing trials, awards will be presented to those who helped families who came to Denver for those proceedings last year.

This kind of response is helping.

In northern Idaho, for example, a planned march by the "Aryan Nations" has been put off until July - if it happens at all - because of local pressure by citizens appalled that their community has come to be seen as the center for the philosophy and twisted religion that seems to have been behind many racial and antigovernment attacks in recent years.

While there have been no attacks as destructive as the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, a chronology of antigovernment extremist activity during a six-month period in 1997 (tallied by historian Mark Pitcavage) runs to 12 pages, single-spaced.

"Extremist and race-based terrorism is on the rise," says Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In Indiana, for example, the number of Ku Klux Klan groups has escalated from just one chapter in 1996 to 12 in 1997. The number of hate groups on the World Wide Web now stands at 163 sites - all but one of them started in the three years since the Oklahoma City bombing.

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