The charge that a Missouri couple was plotting to kill presidential candidate Jesse Jackson is a sign that radical-right groups may be resurfacing in rural America. On Tuesday, a US magistrate determined that Londell and Tammy J. Williams of Washington, Mo., should be held without bail until a grand jury hearing. They are charged with conspiring to kill Mr. Jackson and possession of illegal weapons. According to police, the Williamses also threatened to kill a government informant.
The couple was arrested last Friday after federal officials recorded conversations between the informant and Mr. Williams, who revealed his intentions to kill Jackson and claimed to be a member of a white supremacist group.
The charges come in the midst of what progressive rural groups call a modest resurgence of the far right after its activity peaked in the early '80s.
For the most part, the new thrust of such groups seems to be more educational than violent, according to watchdog groups that monitor the far right.
``The white supremacists over the past year have been working very hard to recruit and organize,'' says Eva Sears, a spokeswoman for the Center for Democratic Renewal, an Atlanta-based group that monitors the far right.
In a memo sent out last month, Dan Levitas of the farm group Prairiefire noted more than a dozen meetings of such groups in the farm belt during February.
A major reason for the switch, these observers add, is that a federal crackdown on racial violence has made the white supremacist groups more circumspect. When acts of racial violence occur, ``they are far less likely to take credit for the acts,'' Ms. Sears says.
A puzzling piece of the Missouri case is that Williams, the defendant, claimed he was a member of the Order. The Order, an armed group that was targeted and prosecuted by federal authorities after the slaying of Denver radio personality Alan Berg, is believed to be defunct. But it was unclear whether Williams was actually a member.
According to the court complaint, Williams told the informant he would execute Jesse Jackson on July 4 ``because he was getting too close to being president of the United States.''
This is not the first time white supremacists have threatened Jackson's life. Last November, a former member of a South Carolina group called Sir Knights of Camellia said that the group planned to assassinate Jackson that month. But a group spokeswoman says no members were prosecuted because of it.
The informant passed his information on to an Alabama watchdog group which passed it on to law enforcement officials. Presidential campaign aides and federal officials are reluctant to talk about supposed threats made against candidates. The Jackson campaign would not comment except to say that the incident would not distract the candidate from spreading his message. The Bush campaign wouldn't say whether the vice-president had received any death threats. Any such information is given to the Secret Service.
``The more publicity this type of incident receives, the more problems it causes,'' says William Corbett, special agent for the Secret Service.