The Justice Department today announced a 20-count racketeering indictment against 23 members of a neo-Nazi terrorist cell called "The Order," and said the heavily armed group has been "neutralized."

Deputy FBI Director William Baker said the far-reaching indictment should "send a message" that even peripheral involvement with groups engaged in violence can lead to serious federal charges.

"There are a lot of people out there who have sympathy for these groups," Baker said. "If the person on the fringe of a hate group thinks he is only minimally involved, he'd better take another look."

The indictment centers on about a dozen neo-Nazis, several of them ex-convicts, charged with counterfeiting, armed robbery, arson and two murders, including the gangland-style slaying last June of a Jewish radio personality in Denver.

But the indictment also takes in people whose alleged role involved hiding group members in their homes or holding stolen money.

Under the racketeering statute, normally used against organized crime and drug-running syndicates, all 23 members of the "criminal enterprise" are liable for the same penalties, including prison terms of 20 years or more and seizure of their money and property.

Baker said that Justice Department guidelines limiting the FBI's power to infiltrate political and philosophical groups had not hindered the investigation of The Order. Some conservatives have argued that the guidelines unnecessarily shackle law enforcement.

Sixteen of those indicted today are in custody. Most of those named in the indictment have been connected with the Aryan Nation, a white supremacist group based in Hayden Lake, Idaho, and led by Richard Butler, a minister who preaches that Jews and blacks are descended from Satan.

Butler, who has said he recruited some of those indicted today into the neo-Nazi movement, was not among those charged. Asked about Butler's involvement, U.S. Attorney Gene S. Anderson replied that "our investigation is continuing."

Although Anderson said the group has been "neutralized", he warned that those at large can be dangerous. Hours after the indictment was announced, a man using an alias sometimes used by David Tate, one of those still sought, killed one Missouri state trooper, wounded a second and escaped.

Today's indictment charges five members of The Order with the machine-gun slaying of Alan Berg, a Denver talk show host. This was the first formal charge in the Berg case, but Denver prosecutors are expected to bring murder charges against the same five men.

The indictment also charges the neo-Nazis with murdering one of their own members, Walter E. West. FBI officials said the killers evidently believed that West was cooperating with police.

The indictment indicates that the neo-Nazi group accumulated more than $4 million in cash through counterfeiting and robbery. It says the group recruited an employe of the Brink's armored car company, who was charged in a $3.6 million robbery in northern California.

But the FBI reported recovering only about $480,000 in cash from group members. Anderson suggested that some of the cash still is hidden.