|Whither America's Homegrown Terrorists?
In rush to fingerprint foreign visitors, has government lost sight of
America's homegrown, religiously-inspired antigovernment terrorists?
Bill Berkowitz, WorkingForChange, January 7, 2004
Just before Christmas, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the
terrorist alert level from yellow -- an elevated risk of terrorist attack
-- to orange -- indicative of a high risk of attack -- after "indications"
that terrorists may have been planning attacks to coincide with the holiday
season and beyond. The Secretary encouraged Americans to go about their
holiday plans because... you guessed it... "if we alter our plans...then
they [terrorists] have won because they have dislocated activity, they have
caused economic loss and made us act in ways simply by threatening us and
we cannot be burdened by that threat or fear."
According to Ridge, "some of the intelligence information that prompted the
alert level change indicates that al-Qaeda is once again seeking to use
airplanes as weapons of mass destruction as it did in the September 2001
attacks on New York and Washington," Voice of America reported.
Once the alert level was raised, America's cable news networks had a field
day: They brought out their "War on Terrorism" banners and focused
unswerving attention on the myriad potential threats from overseas. An
atmosphere of fear was created, a climate that has prevailed for better
than two weeks. Actions by government officials ranged from the
cancellation of several Air France flights to the US, because they
supposedly contained al-Qaeda operatives -- a charge that was quickly
proven false -- to an FBI warning to be on the lookout for people carrying
almanacs -- a patently ridiculous directive.
While it's wise for the government to be vigilant about al-Qaeda-type
threats, are law enforcement officials so fixated on foreign groups that
they're overlooking threats from America's homegrown terrorists? Is the
mainstream media so consumed by "chatter" that they're giving America's
antigovernment and religious extremists a pass?
Since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City,
domestic terrorists haven't succeeded in carrying out a major act of
terrorism on US soil -- but that's not for lack of trying. When most
Americans think about terrorism against the homeland, they envision the
threat coming from outside the United States. However, despite the collapse
of the militia, individual right wing fanatics, paramilitary groups and
"leaderless cells" of antigovernment activists continue to plan major
Last May, federal agents uncovered a storage locker filled with deadly
chemicals near the East Texas town of Noonday. The cache included sodium
cyanide and other highly toxic chemicals, as well as land mine components,
briefcase bombs, trip wire and more than 60 fully operational pipe bombs.
Also found were machine guns and other illegal weapons; hundreds of
thousands of rounds of ammunition; and a variety of neo-Nazi literature.
Most chilling of all, however, was the discovery of an entirely functional
sodium cyanide bomb capable of killing anyone "within a 30,000 foot
facility" as well as "documents indicating that unknown coconspirators may
still be free to carry out what appeared to be an advanced plot."
Three antigovernment activists were rounded up: Edward Feltus, 56, a member
of the New Jersey Militia movement; William Krar, a 62-year-old tax
protester with ties to the New Hampshire militia and a range of hate
groups; and Judith L. Bruey, 54, Krar's common-law wife. Last November,
Krar pleaded guilty to federal charges of "possessing a dangerous chemical
weapon" and faces up to life in prison. Bruey and Feltus also pleaded
guilty to different charges. According to CBS news, hundreds of federal
subpoenas were issued during the course of the investigation, intelligence
experts were alarmed enough to include mention of the case in President
Bush's daily intelligence briefings, and more deadly cyanide bombs may
still be in circulation.
Like the arrest of alleged abortion clinic bomber Eric Robert Rudolph in
Murray, N.C., last May, the discovery of deadly weapons arsenals in Texas
points to the continuing danger posed by the domestic terrorists of the
radical right. Yet there has still been no word from US Attorney General
John Ashcroft about the Texas case -- no high-profile news conferences or
sharply worded denunciations of the threat of terrorism coming from Timothy
McVeigh's political descendants and ideological comrades-in-arms.
Writing in Salon.com about the prosecution of Clayton Waagner, the Army of
God foot-soldier who "mailed hundreds of envelopes stuffed with white
powder and threatening letters to abortion clinics and reproductive rights
organizations" shortly after Sept. 11, veteran investigator Frederick
Clarkson observed that the two-week trial was "remarkable, not so much for
its verdict as for the near-complete lack of media attention that it
attracted." Waagner was charged with more than 50 federal counts, including
threatening to use weapons of mass destruction. "[However], in a news
culture obsessed with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and overseas
terror threats, few reporters were there for the denouement."
The lack of widespread coverage of the Waagner trial has been the rule
rather than the exception when homegrown terrorists are involved. One
journalist who has closely followed all these developments is Daniel
Levitas, author of The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the
Radical Right (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, Nov. 2002, 520 pp.
$16.95 paper, $27.95 cloth), soon to released in paperback.
In an e-mail exchange, Levitas told me that he was curious about the lack
of media coverage of the Tyler, Texas case so he telephoned the chief
Department of Justice antiterrorism coordinator for the Eastern District of
Texas, who is an assistant US attorney. According to Levitas, "He confirmed
all of the details as previously reported in the media and then some. This
case was huge," the assistant US attorney told Levitas. "The real facts of
this case are as bad or 'worse' than all previous reports and it does not
appear as if media exaggeration is at work," Levitas said.
Levitas, who has testified for nearly two decades as an expert witness in
state, federal and Canadian courts about the activities of far right and
neo-Nazi groups, pointed out that during his discussion with the DOJ's
antiterrorism coordinator, he discovered that:
"The sodium cyanide device was fully functional and could have killed
anyone within a 30,000 sq. foot facility;
"Krar's stockpile contained more than 100 explosives, including 60 fully
functional pipe bombs, as well as land mine components, det cord and trip
wire and binary explosives; machine guns and other illegal weapons; and
racist, anti-Semitic and antigovernment literature, including William
Pierce's Turner Diaries;
"Krar, a tax protester who has never been indicted for his tax-related
offenses, is from New Hampshire and has numerous ties to white supremacist
and militia groups;
"Feltus was a member of the New Jersey Militia;
"The statute under which Krar was prosecuted has been used only five times
or fewer in its entire history because of the rarity of finding individuals
with bona fide chemical weapons"; and
"Federal authorities have served more than 150 subpoenas in connection with
the case, but still remain concerned that others may be involved, and the
investigation is ongoing." Although Levitas didn't pursue the issue of
whether information about the Krar investigation was included in the
president's daily intelligence briefings, he said that "judging from the
veracity of all previous reports, I'd bank that this, too, is accurate."
Why the severely limited coverage of the original arrests? Levitas believes
that the Tyler, Texas arrests came at a time when the media was
"distracted" by the invasion of Iraq. However, "unlike the numerous arrests
of suspected Al Qaeda militants, Attorney General John Ashcroft said
nothing about this case."
In response to a telephone interview Dan Yurman, a long term Idaho human
rights activist who has closely followed militia-type movements, thinks
that the Texas case didn't get as much attention as it deserved because of
the way the news media routinely conducts its business these days --
through the extensive use of "automated search tools."
"The DOJ/FBI press release did not use the term 'domestic terrorism' in the
text of their press release," Yurman told me. This is significant because
"the term 'domestic terrorism' is a key search term for automated search
tools used by the news media." Given that the news media relies heavily
upon these "automated search tools" -- commercial services such as
Lexis-Nexis, Factiva (Dow Jones/Reuters), etc., as well as noncommercial
services including Yahoo and Google -- "many of the prior cases involving
chemical/biological weapons have been described by the government with the
phrase 'domestic terrorism'... made it easier to flag those stories."
Often, "the decision to follow up on a government press release hinges, in
part, on whether it contains this phrase," Yurman said.
Levitas agreed with Yurman's assessment that "had the DOJ and early news
reports more prominently mentioned 'Domestic Terrorism' in bold type, then
there would have been greater attention paid to the arrests. However,"
Levitas adds, "the terms 'chemical weapons' were used and that should have
been picked up relatively easily on a search."
If "there been a news conference in Washington, DC, featuring the Attorney
General and highlighting the discovery of chemical weapons in the home
state of President George Bush, rest assured this would have become a major
national news story," Levitas maintains. "For reasons known only to John
Ashcroft and the PR department at Justice, the decision was made to not
give this case the same prominence as other terrorism related arrests.
Somehow, I do believe that if suspected Al Qaeda operatives had been
arrested with a fully functional sodium cyanide bomb in East Texas or
anywhere else in the nation for that matter, this would have been a page
one story. It is only now that Krar has pleaded guilty, that more news is
getting out and this case is becoming more visible."
"Press coverage of domestic terrorism has come in fits and starts and has
never been consistent," Frederick Clarkson told WorkingForChange. While
Clarkson also believes there are many reasons for this, he said that
"perhaps the leading reason is that many of our domestic hate groups and
terror groups are religiously motivated and it would be hard to imagine a
news outlet -- or for that matter, the Justice Department -- having the
nerve to call them 'faith based' groups. News media and government
officials are deeply fearful of offending people's religious sensibilities
or being accused of being anti-religion and this fact alone profoundly
inhibits coverage of important news stories and long term trends."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His
WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies,
players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.