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Homegrown Terrorists and Homeland Security
Ten years after Oklahoma City, why doesn't the Department of Homeland Security see America's homegrown right-wing terrorists as a major threat?
by Bill Berkowitz
April 18, 2005

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In the run-up to April 19, the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and wounded more than 500, there has been a fair amount of ink about the state of right wing white-supremacist/anti-government/militia movements. Many observers believe that the threat from these folks has been dialed down substantially.

Coincidentally, less than a week before this somber anniversary, Eric Rudolph -- who had nothing to do with that bombing but was involved with three other attacks -- passed up his opportunity to stand before a jury. Rudolph participated in the bombings during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, an attack at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama -- which killed an off-duty police officer and critically injured a nurse -- and another strike at a clinic in Atlanta. Instead of standing trial, in exchange for pleading guilty and leading authorities to a cache of hidden explosives, the anti-abortion/anti-gay/white-supremacist who avoided capture for more than five years will receive a series of life sentences without the possibility of parole.

In an 11-page manifesto handed out by his attorneys -- a statement described as being "laced" with Bible verses -- Rudolph explained why he bombed the abortion clinics: "Because I believe that abortion is murder, I also believe that force is justified in an attempt to stop it. Because this government is committed to the policy of maintaining the policy of abortion and protecting it, the agents of this government are the agents of mass murder, whether knowingly or unknowingly."

Surging or fading

Despite the signs of diminished organized white-supremacist/militia activity, there are still ominous signs out in the heartland.

Militia leaders in Michigan tried to organize what they were calling "Operation Resurrection," an attempt to spirit Terri Schiavo from her Pinellas County, Florida hospice death bed to an undisclosed location; the head of Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group, took to praising the militants of al Qaeda, urging his followers to get that "jihadic feeling"; federal agents seized a weapons cache consisting of "more than 50 machine guns and seven hand grenades in what authorities described as the largest weapon seizure in Southern Illinois," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported; and more than 1,000 armed civilians -- operating as "The Minuteman Project" -- began a month-long campaign to stop illegal immigrants from coming into the US.

In old business, Matthew Hale, the leader of The Creativity Movement (formerly known as the World Church of the Creator), was sentenced to forty years in prison for urging the murder of a judge. And the Associated Press reported on April 14 that as a result of Eric Rudolph's manifesto, "justifying the use of violence to stop 'the worst massacre in human history'... abortion clinics around the country" were "bracing for [possible] attacks." Vicki Saporta, head of the National Abortion Federation, which represents 400 U.S. clinics, said that "when one of these extremists puts out a call to action, often times, others do try to follow in their footsteps. He clearly is speaking to the extremists who believe in justifiable homicide."

Homeland security

Against this backdrop, it might be said that a January 2005 Department of Homeland Security document entitled "Integrated Planning Guidance, Fiscal Years 2005-2011," that didn't list right-wing domestic terrorists and terrorist groups as a threat to national security may have been shortsighted and pre-mature.

"According to the list... between now and 2011, DHS expects to contend primarily with adversaries such as al Qaeda and other foreign entities affiliated with the Islamic Jihad movement, as well as domestic radical Islamist groups," the Congressional Quarterly's Justin Rood recently reported.

While so-called left-wing groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) are considered terrorist threats, "white supremacists and other radical right-wing movements, which have staged numerous terrorist attacks that have killed scores of Americans," are conspicuous by their absence.

"They are still a threat, and they will continue to be a threat," Mike German, a 16-year undercover agent for the FBI who spent most of his career infiltrating radical right-wing groups told the Congressional Quarterly. "If for some reason the government no longer considers them a threat, I think they will regret that," said German, who left the FBI last year. "Hopefully it's an oversight."

Right-wing homegrown terrorists have been far more deadly in their actions -- witness the Oklahoma City bombing and the murder of abortion doctors and clinic workers by radical anti-abortionists. Over the past few years, however, the FBI has made "left-wing" groups that focus on the destruction of property, its number one domestic priority.

In early June 2004, the FBI distributed its weekly intelligence bulletin to some 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, warning that eco-terrorists were planning a "day of action and solidarity" that could involve violent actions in a number of U.S. cities.

The FBI's concentration on "eco-terrorists" may in part be due to the long-term caterwauling of right wing activists like Ron Arnold, widely considered to be the "Godfather" of the anti-environmental Wise-Use Movement. Since 9/11, Arnold, the executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, has focused his attention on convincing government authorities that environmental activism is a breeding ground for homeland terrorism.

Arnold isn't new to branding environmentalists with the "eco-terrorist" label. In their book Banana Republicans, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber point out that Arnold "has been tossing around the term... for years, defining it as 'any crime committed in the name of saving nature,' which 'includes but it not limited to crimes officially designated as 'terrorism' by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.'"

According to the Congressional Quarterly, several pages in the DHS document "are marked 'Sensitive -- Do Not Distribute Outside the Department of Homeland Security -- Draft.' Each paragraph in the document is marked '(U/FOUO),' which typically indicates it has been reviewed by a government censor and determined to be unclassified, but 'for official use only.'"

In a section headed "Threat and Vulnerability Assessment," CQ reports that the document deals with the "Who are the adversaries?" question. The number one target continues to be al Qaeda and its affiliates, followed by foreign offshoots of al Qaeda remnants that "could try to supplant" al Qaeda and "would see a Homeland attack as a way to attain that goal," the document states. In addition, domestic radical Islamic groups remain an interest because of their potential as a "recruiting pool."

DHS officials "are not convinced that any of these organizations acting alone would pursue a major attack against the Homeland."

As a final item, the list notes the threat of eco-terrorists, who "will continue to focus their attacks on property damage in an effort to change policy." The document notes that although "publicly ALF and ELF promote nonviolence toward human life... some members may escalate their attacks."

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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