Author sees much to fear in hate groups on U.S. soil

A Rulo, Neb., survivalist cult is among those profiled in “The Terrorist Next Door.”
Omaha World-Herald, Sep. 8, 2002
http://– BROKEN URL -/pages/newsreal/Story.nsp?story_id=32820545

Daniel Levitas gets a lot of mail from hate groups delivered to his Atlanta, Ga., post office box.

He expects it. He subscribes to it.

Levitas gets newsletters, videotapes, audiotapes and other hate material. He does not leave it openly on his coffee table. Neighbors do not see it and need not fear him.

Levitas is a watchdog. Often called as an expert witness in federal and state courts, he delves into the innards of such right- wing groups as the Posse Comitatus, the Ku Klux Klan, anti-Semitic groups, Holocaust deniers, skinheads, the Aryan Nations, white racist prison gangs and the militia movement in general.

He has put what he has learned into a book due in November from Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press – “The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right.”

The 416-page book contains two chapters on two murders in the 1980s that took place on property near Rulo, Neb., occupied by a survivalist cult led by Michael Ryan.

Levitas spoke by phone from his Atlanta home, which he prefers not to describe other than to say it is on a wooded lot. He has enemies.

From 1989 to 1992, Levitas served as executive director of the Center for Democratic Renewal and Education in Atlanta. It is a nonprofit organization that monitors hate groups.

A graduate in environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, Levitas became involved in his present activism when he worked as a research director for PrairieFire Rural Action in Des Moines.

Levitas said his book grew out of his Iowa experience and the aftermath of Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

The threat from foreign terrorists is real, Levitas says, but McVeigh was one of our own.

“The immediate analysis, as in 24 or 48 hours, of most of the pundits was this must have been foreign terrorists,” Levitas said. “For those of us in the business of tracking right-wing hate groups, and at that time watching the militia movement, that actually was the thing farthest from our minds.”

It became clear to Levitas that as active, violent and committed as the homegrown right-wing terrorists were, most people did not take them seriously or know what they were about.

But the book began with the author’s work for seven or eight years with PrairieFire.

“We were involved in working with farmers and organizing farmers during the height of the farm crisis, lobbying the State Legislature in Des Moines for farm credit relief, and establishing the mediation service and working nationally on farm policy, doing a fair degree of tilting at windmills, sadly, in an attempt to change federal farm policy.”

Levitas and his colleagues in Iowa came to realize that they had competition. Right-wing groups also were trying to organize farmers.

He said they were “feeding farmers propaganda, inviting them to meetings, telling them bogus remedies for their legal ills, driving them deeper into debt and deeper into despair, and preaching hate to them all the way along about the fictitious international Jewish banking conspiracy.”

Those groups also told the farmers that nonwhite races were going to come out of the cities and invade the rural areas. The end was nigh, they said, and there would be the mother of all battles in the cornfields and the wheat fields.

“So in a sense,” Levitas said, “the book was really born out of my experiences in the 1980s countering those groups and working very aggressively with a lot of different organizations, church groups, religious organizations, labor unions, farm groups.

“We worked with just a whole range of groups to try to counter what we thought was a very negative influencing of rural communities.”

Levitas visited farm families, toured their farms and had Sunday dinner with them. He freely handed out advice, only to be told, “Yeah, that is great advice, you know, but the Jews are really behind this.”

“I would look at them,” Levitas said, “and say, ‘You’re looking at somebody Jewish right now, and I don’t think I am trying to take your farm and I don’t know anybody else who is.'”

Levitas said a lot of the homegrown terrorists he writes about, has testified against or has encountered committed their hate crimes inspired by some sort of theology.

Fortunately, he said, there is no one leader of the radical right.

“And frankly, many of these organizations are fractured, and there’s a lot of jealousy and competition. People on the right wing are as eager to go to war among themselves over seemingly meaningless doctrinal differences as they are to go to war against the rest of the world.

“That is one thing that keeps some of them at bay. They are so busy arguing among themselves that they have less time and resources to go after other targets.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday September 12, 2002.
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