Defense Secretary William J. Perry's visit to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico on May 1 had the stiff formality of 1,000 other military ceremonies -- martial music, flags snapping in the high desert breeze and fraternal greetings for the German defense minister, on hand to inaugurate a new training program there for German pilots.

Nobody in the U.S. military was prepared for what followed.

In the next week, denunciations of the German pilots' presence zinged across the Internet and the airwaves of right-wing and extreme nationalist radio talk shows. Air Force public affairs offices across the nation were jammed with calls from Americans angry about what they feared was a violation of U.S. sovereignty, and debasement of the American flag.

Many callers, stoked in part by rumors circulated by militia groups, expressed fears the German trainees would use their jets in a conspiracy by President Clinton and the United Nations to herd Americans into concentration camps. The story was that Clinton had called in the U.N. army after concluding American troops might mutiny at orders to fire on fellow citizens. "They've out-Hitler'ed Hitler," radio talk show host Anthony J. Hilder recalls telling his audience. "It's all tied to a Faustian financial fraternity hellbent on controlling the world. . . . It's necessary to have those foreign troops here because they would fire on Americans, whereas American troops would be reluctant," said Hilder, who is based in Los Angeles.

"What in the world is in it for the American citizen, other than the first part of a global plan by the United Nations nitwits to control the world?" said radio host Chuck Harder, based in White Springs, Fla., on his widely syndicated "For the People" program on May 2. "I never thought I'd live to see the sovereign United States cede a part of its territory," added Harder. "It's the biggest story of the century."

Pentagon officials were caught off guard by criticism of the facility, which eventually will house 900 German Air Force personnel flying 66 German Tornado and F-4 Phantom jets.

Military officers say the episode demonstrates they have much to learn about how information flows beneath their radar coverage, zapping across media like the Internet, fax networks and shortwave radio. Many right-wing and extremist groups are using these forums to publicize their belief that forces of something labeled the "New World Order" are bent on subjugating America and other nations under one global government. Pentagon officials also acknowledge they're struggling to understand the public fears vented in the rumor campaign, which died down earlier this month. It's not an academic question, because U.S. armed forces are increasingly joining allies in joint training, war-fighting and weapons purchases.

The flareup harkens to the controversy about Army Medic Michael G. New, recently lionized by conservatives for refusing to wear a U.N. insignia on his uniform for assignment to Macedonia. Now military officials are sorting through new evidence that some Americans, this time mostly on the right, question the U.S. military's motives -- the mirror image of the 1960s, when the skeptics were on the left.

"Throughout my career, I've felt the American heartland deeply respected the military, put us on a pedestal, because we were seen as doing honorable things for honorable reasons," said Lt. Col. Virginia Pribyla, a top Air Force spokeswoman. "What I saw here was a 180-degree turnaround. . . . People thinking the U.S. military would put down the American people, that's terrifying to me."

Pentagon officials are flabbergasted as to why this happened now, because U.S. troops have trained with foreigners for years. Pilots from many European nations practice at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, for example, and former Warsaw Pact troops have drilled at Louisiana's Fort Polk.

"We help teach foreign militaries about our values of civilian control of the military and respect for human rights," said Robert Bauerlein, the Air Force's deputy undersecretary for international affairs. "It builds coalitions for the future."

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl made that point in the early 1990s in seeking new Luftwaffe training sites. The U.S. government accommodated him to repay German hospitality for American forces, who had spent four decades during the Cold War tromping through German fields and awakening citizens with nighttime aircraft maneuvers.

Holloman -- home of the U.S. Air Force's 49th Fighter Wing and its F-117 fighters -- seemed a perfect place for German practice runs. German pilots were frequently grounded by their country's fog and rain, and a citizenry resentful of military planes flying its congested airspace. New Mexico's skies are wide open for aerial daredevils, and sunny year-round.

But militia groups saw nothing sunny about Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney's 1992 agreement to let German pilots onto Holloman. Many militias believe such joint training exercises are evidence of plots by the U.S. government and international bodies to declare martial law here, confiscate guns and imprison protesters.

U.S. military planners weren't focused on that in planning Perry's visit to the base with German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe to inaugurate the new German hangars. To the Pentagon flacks, the story was upbeat -- the first military facility leased by a foreign government in this country.

Local officials in Alamogordo, N.M., also were cheerful because the German airmen and their 2,000 dependents expected there by 1999 will pump $20 million annually into the desert region's economy.

The May 1 ceremony at Holloman went off flawlessly -- except for one hitch. Cable News Network reported the German flag was hoisted higher than the American flag -- verboten under American ceremonial rules -- adding this was "the first time the U.S. has allowed another country to establish a permanent military base on U.S. soil. . . . Perry finds himself a guest in his own country."

The Pentagon disputed the CNN report. The American flag, officials said, dipped below the German flag only briefly during the event because the Air Force's female flag-bearer was shorter than the male German one. Moreover, the Germans aren't occupying the Holloman facility permanently, but under a 10-year lease, they said, and U.S. Air Force officials decide when and where the Germans fly.

But the military was late getting its word out. The protests started within hours after the 10:42 p.m. airing of the CNN report on May 1. Rush Limbaugh -- who when compared with some others in the universe of conservative talk radio is a figure of Perry Como-esque blandness -- simply clucked sarcastically over a wire service account of the ceremony, Air Force officials said. But other radio hosts went further.

Many people calling the Pentagon said they had heard about the Germans from radio host Harder, a vituperative populist whose network is partially funded by labor unions. Others cited Bob Heckler, a talk show host on Los Angeles AM station KMPC, who devoted several broadcasts to it.

Other radio hosts who flogged the Holloman issue are much more extreme. Among those are William Cooper, a militia advocate who broadcasts the "Hour of the Time" program and who the New York-based Anti-Defamation League said advocates armed resistance to one-world government; and Tom Valentine, whose radio program has endorsed a "paranoid-style politics" that blames America's problems on Jews and international bankers, the Anti-Defamation League said.

"Like any occupation, the purpose is to annihilate the enemy and terrorize through fear," militia activist Linda Thompson said in an interview, describing her belief that the Germans' mission is to suppress militias. Thompson, who is based in Indiana and whose followers disseminated their views on the matter over the Internet, added that the Germans went to Alamogordo "to condition our troops that they're going to serve under foreign commanders."

The Internet sang with angry words, under headings like "German Troops (Hessians) on Our Soil," and "Day of Reckoning." "The military is to be used to suppress you and me, folks," read one posting in the "alt.conspiracy" newsgroup on the Internet. "We all need to WAKE UP."

"Our phones started ringing off the hook," said the Air Force's Pribyla. "It was driven by talk shows, from California to Ohio, Salt Lake, Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, throughout the West and Midwest. . . . Many questions started with the assumption something sinister was up, like, Is this is a precursor to U.N. action in the U.S.?' Some of it is too far out for me to link up with intellectually."

"Some callers weren't interested in the facts," said Brig. Gen. Bruce Carlson, Holloman's commander. "A small but vocal community that uses the media well worked this issue hard. . . . We were shocked. We'd been {planning the German project} so long, nobody around here thought it was a big deal."

Congressional offices were swamped with calls, and about 60 Congress members called the Air Force asking about the Germans.

The firestorm perplexed the Germans, said Pentagon officials, who fear it will complicate relations with Germany. German Embassy spokesman Detlef Lingemann said, "This is an example of excellent cooperation between NATO allies. . . . Those rumors are totally unfounded." Some Pentagon officials say the lesson is that they must know more about media like shortwave radio, which has become popular with right-wing groups because it's cheap -- it costs talk show hosts only about $200 an hour for time on a number of large shortwave stations. Militia activists say they trust news on shortwave because the stations are only loosely regulated by the government.

"The alternative media is not prostituted and sanitized," said shortwave host Hilder. "When we talk about freedom and government crimes, you don't read about it in the controlled media." Talk show host Heckler, more a mainstream conservative than Hilder, said institutions like the Pentagon should learn from this experience. "People are afraid and think they're being lied to," he said. "That's what makes talk radio grow. It's the only open forum left. We shake people up." CAPTION: German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe, left, and Defense Secretary William J. Perry were on hand at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico on May 1 to inaugurate a program for training German pilots there.