FBI Warns '2000' May Spark Violence
By David A. Vise and Lorraine Adams
The FBI is warning police chiefs across the country that it has discovered evidence of religious extremists, racists, cults and other groups preparing for violence as New Year's Eve approaches and is urging law enforcement agencies to view the dawn of the next millennium as a catalyst for criminal activities.
The FBI says those most likely to perpetrate violence are motivated either by religious beliefs relating to the Apocalypse, or are New World Order conspiracists convinced the United Nations has a secret plan to conquer the world.
In a 34-page report prepared by the bureau's domestic terrorism unit, the FBI says some members of militias and racist groups, including one called "Christian Identity" and another called "Odinism," are acquiring weapons and surveying targets in anticipation of the millennium.
FBI officials plan to brief law enforcement officials about the millennial threat at a closed-door meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in North Carolina on Tuesday.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, says that local law enforcement officials need to monitor radical groups for behavior such as stockpiling weapons and food that may indicate they are preparing for violence.
Neil Gallagher, head of the FBI's national security division, said in an interview that the bureau is not predicting that terrorism or violence will occur on or around Jan. 1. Instead, he said the report is aimed at making local law enforcement officials "more sensitive" to the heightened security risks posed by the year 2000. He also said the public needs to be "aware but not scared" of such threats. The report says the risks will increase as Jan. 1 approaches.
"If a cult sells its property and personal effects and purchases guns and explosives, we need to be more concerned about what that cult will do on January 1," Gallagher said.
Computer problems brought on by Y2K glitches could be a triggering event for some groups, the FBI believes. While most people understand that power outages or other problems resulting from Y2K problems can be explained rationally, the report notes that some radical groups or individual extremists may view these events either as signs that the end of the world is near or as part of a larger conspiracy that they must violently oppose, the report says.
"The threat posed by extremists as a result of perceived events associated with the Year 2000 (Y2K) is very real," the FBI report says. "The volatile mix of apocalyptic religious and [New World Order] conspiracy theories may produce violent acts aimed at precipitating the end of the world as prophesied in the Bible."
The report is the result of a nine-month intelligence-gathering effort called "Project Megiddo" by the bureau's domestic terrorism unit, which also relied on information gathered by agents in FBI field offices. The effort is intended to serve as a "strategic assessment" of the potential for domestic terrorism linked directly to the coming millennium, rather than a general assessment of the terrorist environment.
The agents have discovered that in preparation for the new millennium, certain individuals tied to these groups have been acquiring weapons, storing food and clothing, raising funds, procuring safe houses, preparing compounds, surveying potential targets, and recruiting converts to their cause.
In its report, the FBI describes several groups that it says have some members that pose a violent threat. "Christian Identity" followers, comprising loosely knit groups throughout the country, are "ardently opposed to race mixing" and believe that the "white Aryan race is God's chosen race." Christian Identity provides the "unifying theology" for a number of "right-wing" groups that pose a threat, the report says. "Odinists" also adhere to a white supremacist ideology and can be dangerous because many members believe in becoming "martyrs for the cause," the report says.
Fringe members of the Aryan Nations white supremacist group may pose a threat because extremist members will not necessarily adhere to their leader Richard Butler's public renunciation of violence, according to the FBI. In addition, radical U.S. members of a group called the "Black Hebrew Israelites," who are proponents of "an extreme form of black supremacy," also pose a threat.
"Current intelligence from a variety of sources indicates that extreme factions of [Black Hebrew Israelites] groups are preparing for a race war to close the millennium," the FBI report says.
While most of the report focuses on domestic threats, an entire portion is devoted to Jerusalem, where the FBI says an influx of tourists making pilgrimages and millennial cults will add to the danger. The study also says violence in Jerusalem, a holy city for Christians, Jews and Muslims, could lead to problems in the United States and around the world. The FBI report--"Project Megiddo"--is named after a hill in northern Israel that has been the site of many battles. The Hebrew word "Armageddon" means "hill of Megiddo," the study says.
"Israeli officials are extremely concerned that the Temple Mount, an area already seething with tension and distrust among Muslims and Jews, will be the stage for violent encounters between religious zealots," the study says. "Additionally, several religious cults have already made inroads into Israel, apparently in preparation for what they believe to be the endtimes."
The FBI report said potential targets of domestic violence include military facilities; United Nations buildings and personnel; institutions associated with the African American and Jewish communities and other racial and religious minorities; gay men and lesbians; and foreign military units residing on U.S. bases.
"Armed with the urgency of the millennium as a motivating factor, new clandestine groups may conceivably form to engage in violence toward the U.S. government or its citizens," the FBI report warns.
The FBI's Gallagher, who declined to release a copy of the report, said the bureau is in the process of distributing the study to police chiefs and is considering making public a redacted version on its Web site.
Gallagher said it is extremely difficult to make accurate predictions about terrorism. "Acts of violence in commemoration of the millennium are just as likely to occur as not," the FBI report says.
While much of the focus related to the millennium has been linked to the prospect of computer failures, Gallagher intends to advise the police chiefs this week that it is important to prepare now for the unusually wide range of interpretations people may bring to random events occurring on or near Jan. 1, 2000, and the role that the Internet may play in spreading information--or misinformation--rapidly.
"The name 'Megiddo,' " the FBI report begins, "is an apt title for a project that analyzes those who believe the year 2000 will usher in the end of the world and who are willing to perpetrate acts of violence to bring that end about."
© 1999 The Washington Post Company