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Domestic Extremist Groups Weaker but Still Worrisome

Militias Waned After '95 Bombing

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page A03

A decade after the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people and turned a spotlight on violent anti-government extremists, the number of paramilitary militia groups has dropped dramatically and other radical-right groups have splintered and fallen into disarray, according to terrorism analysts and law enforcement officials.

But those authorities say the threat from domestic terrorists remains strong and is worrisome because of "lone wolf" actors who may have associated with extremist groups and remain committed and violent. They point to people such as Eric Rudolph, who pleaded guilty last week to attacks at an abortion clinic and the 1996 Summer Olympics that killed two people.

Darlene Dohi, right, hugs daughter Dina Abulon at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Dohi's husband, Peter Avillanoza, was killed in the bombing. (Bill Waugh -- Oklahoma City Oklahoman Via AP)

Two years ago, federal agents in Texas arrested William Krar, a white supremacist who possessed enough sodium cyanide to kill 6,000 people, half a million rounds of ammunition and 60 pipe bombs. Krar, who had ties to anti-government groups, pleaded guilty to possessing a chemical weapon and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, much of the federal government's focus -- and the nation's worries -- has turned to foreign threats. But advocacy groups and experts in homegrown terrorism say cases such as Rudolph's and Krar's show that domestic threats still bubble dangerously close to the surface.

"If Krar had a Middle Eastern name, we would have had the military in there," said Ken Toole, director of the Montana Human Rights Network, which tracks militia and hate groups. "The war on terror continues to focus on the external threats, but do not kid yourself. The hard core is still out there in this country."

Ten years ago today, Army veteran Timothy J. McVeigh -- fueled by an intense hatred of the government -- blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in what was then the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

Investigators initially suspected foreign terrorists, and Americans were stunned to learn that the attack was by one of their own. It drew unprecedented attention to the ferocity of anti-government sentiment in this country, as well as to the extraordinary number of extremist hate groups with a long reach.

Since then, terrorism experts and law enforcement officials agree that many of the militia and other organized radical groups -- such as white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Christian Identity adherents -- have weakened, in large part because they felt the heat of law enforcement and negative public perception after the Oklahoma City bombing. They said the number of militia groups has dropped from about 900 right after the bombing to 150 today.

In some ways, observers say, the domestic terrorism threat is broader today because of recruitment on the Internet, and because it comes not only from the radical right but also from left-wing radical environmental groups, which have caused tens of millions of dollars in property damage but no fatalities.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported the existence of more than 762 hate groups last year, an increase from previous years. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 15 law enforcement officials have been killed by anti-government extremists in the past 10 years.

"What has changed is that the numbers of the committed have steadily dropped since the Oklahoma bombing, but those who are committed have hardened views," said Daniel Levitas, author of "The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right."

David Trochman of the Militia of Montana said in an interview that members are "much more private" about belonging to a militia since the bombing but that his members remain unhappy about what is happening in the country, particularly what he sees as liberal border policies.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI acknowledge that since the Sept. 11 attacks they have viewed foreign threats as a higher priority than domestic ones. A recent department internal assessment of threats did not list militias, white-supremacist groups and violent antiabortion activists. The assessment, first reported by Congressional Quarterly, did mention radical environmental groups and animal rights activists as potential threats.

John Lewis, deputy chief of the FBI's counterintelligence unit, said authorities had seen the "resourcefulness" of foreign terrorists. "That being said, we are very committed to investigating domestic threats," he said.

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