The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Apr. 19, 2003
Apr. 19–Ten years ago today, the Branch Davidian compound near Waco burned during an FBI raid. Eighty died. Eight years ago today, a truck bomb gouged out the side of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168.
The first event was seen by some as the government waging war on its citizens. Some saw the latter as retribution. The bombing caused many Americans to fear an insidious enemy within.
Sept. 11, 2001, may have pushed April 19 out of America’s consciousness. But while the public has largely forgotten domestic-born terrorism, federal authorities haven’t.
“The federal government has had remarkable success in [the past year] getting rid of many of the most vocal leadership” of home-grown extremist groups, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism in San Bernardino, Calif. “Hate Takes a Hit,” crows the Southern Poverty Law Center’s most recent “Intelligence Report,” which tracks extremist groups and militias.
Last week, David Duke started serving a 15-month prison stint for fraud. Last July, William Pierce, whose book “The Turner Diaries” is believed to have inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, died of a heart attack. In January, World Church of the Creator leader Matt Hale was charged with soliciting a federal judge’s murder.
And last month in Georgia, Chester Doles Jr., a former Ku Klux Klan leader and a leader in the National Alliance, a racist group founded by Pierce, was arrested by the FBI on charges of a felon owning guns.
“The old guard has collapsed; there is a void in [the extreme right] movement,” said Levin. Law enforcement has targeted leaders on tangential criminal charges to damage those groups.
“The idea is that any time we can nail someone who is potentially dangerous, we do it,” he said. “It’s now a prevention — however you can do it. The heightened response to international terrorism has ensnared domestic terrorists in their net. It’s one of the byproducts of 9/11.”
Rick Schwein, supervisor of the FBI’s Asheville, N.C., office, agrees.
“The number one priority of the FBI is preventing terrorism,” said Schwein, the agent leading the hunt for indicted Centennial Olympic Park and abortion clinic bombing suspect Eric Rudolph. “And locking up people for criminal violations has a preventative effect.”
It’s not just feds on the hunt. About 300 law enforcement officials from eight states recently attended an Anti-Defamation League seminar in Atlanta on domestic terrorism. The course — with April 19 and 20 (the latter is Adolf Hitler’s birthday and the date of the Columbine High School massacre) in mind — included how to profile for extremists. Authorities are told to look for tattoos, insignias, associations and literature (such as “The Turner Diaries”).
“It’s easy to dismiss them as wingnuts, there needs to be a seriousness in evaluating them because of their potential for violence,” said Joanna Liebross, who coordinated the conference.
But some worry the efforts may be going too far. David Trainor, an attorney for Doles, who was arrested at his Dahlonega home, said Doles was targeted more for what he thinks, not what he did.
Doles, the 42-year-old father of 11, had personal ties to National Alliance founder Pierce, and had tried to ally the group with other white racist organizations. Doles, a thick-necked man with a crewcut and a swastika tattooed on his hand, was investigated for two years.
“I found it odd that the [FBI] agent [who led the investigation] was with the domestic terrorism task force and they had spent so much time investigating him,” said Trainor. “There is nothing to say Mr. Doles has done anything subversive. He says things not mainstream and they can instill some kind of fear.
“This climate of calling everything a war on something gives a push to go after such groups,” he said. “It’s a belief they might do something.”
Jimmy Wynn, commander of the Militia of Georgia, claims he has felt that investigative heat.
About four years ago he was charged with simple battery after a fight with his girlfriend and says FBI agents later asked him to become a confidential informant and infiltrate groups like the Klan and the National Alliance. He admits knowing members of those groups from gun shows and some have attended militia meetings. He said he refused to work as an informer.
“It’s so easy to demonize people in America,” said Wynn, who thinks the government is using the post-Sept. 11 terrorism sweep to mop up all types of groups. “People think the ends justify the means, but it sends bad precedent. If they can go after those in the name of terror, how long before they come after you or me? Because you call yourself a militia, you’re a target.”
Tonight, several members of the Militia of Georgia, listed by the SPLC as a “patriot group,” will gather at a Ryan Family Steak House to celebrate “Militia Day” and fret about what they see as their eroding freedoms. Wynn doesn’t know how many members belong to his group. “There’s so many paranoid people come into it, they don’t like being kept track of,” Wynn says.
The splinter groups are splintering. Jack Sullivan, a locksmith from Marietta, quit Wynn’s group last year and started an independent chapter, Militia of Georgia Inc. He incorporated his group to gain legitimacy, saying too many militias have bad images. Militia numbers are down greatly from height in the mid-1990s. Sullivan derides Wynn’s chapter saying, “We’re gainfully employed,” a jab at Wynn who was laid off from Lucent Technologies.
Fissures are also seen in the Klan and other organizations.
J.J. Hudson, a Cordele computer programmer and head of the Georgia chapter of the American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan said he formed a split-off group when other Klan members aligned themselves with the Aryan Nation. He said he wants to distance himself because, “People who ask for trouble usually get in trouble.”
Hudson’s chapter is listed by the SPLC, but it is questionable how threatening he is.
Hudson, who answered the phone to the sound of yapping dogs at his home, has been ridiculed as a “one-man Klan.” He said he has not been scrutinized by the FBI.
Mark Potok, researcher for the SPLC, said the scrutiny given such groups should not be discounted. “Without question, some of the people are buffoons,” he said. “But the white supremacist movement is filled with deadly criminals.”
The federal effort has driven many groups underground. Doles, a month before his arrest, announced he was stepping down from his National Alliance leadership role, saying his organization — and others like it — were infested with informants.
Experts say smashing those organizations takes away the food that helped nourish aberrant mindsets like Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph.
But they worry about the “lone wolf” terrorists employing “leaderless resistance.”
“The most extreme and dangerous people don’t need a leader and a network,” said Levin. “They know who the enemy is.”