Long overshadowed by the foreign jihadist threat posed by al-Qaeda and it's allies, the domestic terrorism threat in the form of shadowy militia groups and militant neo-nazis remains a potent and sincere threat to U.S. national security.
There is a significant threat to the American way of life. The true potential of this threat remains unknown or forgotten by most Americans, and is often overlooked by the media and law enforcement agencies.
This particular terrorist threat does not originate from the desert sands of the Middle East rather it hails from the pristine plains and rolling hills of the American Midwest and from the cascading mountain ranges and crystalline waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest.
Its combatants do not yell “Allah Akbar” as their victory or battle cry, though they have been known to shout “white power.”
And rather than having dark exotic eyes and an olive skinned complexion like their Middle Eastern counterparts, these terrorists are fair skinned with some even possessing the ideal Aryan physical attributes of blond hair and blue eyes.
The right-wing militant movement and the threat it poses to public safety and overall national security is poorly understood by most Americans but is nonetheless very potent.
America’s right-wing extremist movement includes a vast array of deviant social movements that include militia groups, holocaust deniers, tax protesters, anti-abortion extremists, sovereign citizens, neo-confederates, neo-Nazis, militant white supremacists and white nationalists.
Over the past several years, there has been a rather significant increase in activity by right-wing extremists in the United States with some of that activity being of a violent nature.
Analysts belonging to watchdog groups that monitor far-right extremist activity as well as federal law enforcement agencies have noted the increase in activity.
Graph by the Southern Poverty Law Center charting the rapid rise in white supremacist groups nationally.
Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), one of the lead monitors of right-wing extremist activity, released a report in which it revealed there were 824 militia groups in the U.S. last year, an immense increase from the 149 counted in 2008.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), yet another lead monitor of violent extremists, also noted a significant rise in the activity of militias and white supremacist hate groups.
Most analysts who track domestic terrorism note that the intensity of activity in the right-wing militancy movement is very high and has not been as great as it currently is for over a decade.
Dark Resurgence: The Return of the Militant Right-Wing Extremist Movement
The right-wing patriot movement gained momentum in 1994 after federal authorities used violence to shut down groups during sieges at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993.
It was on a sunny morning on April 19, 1995, that anti-government extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols detonated a 7,000 pound truck bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City. The two saw the attack as just revenge for the controversial conclusions to the Ruby Ridge and Waco sieges by federal law enforcement agencies.
At least 168 people were killed in that terrorist attack, including 19 children in a day care center situated inside that office building. Another 500 people were wounded or maimed.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial at dusk as seen from the base of the reflecting pool.
Both men had ties to militia and “patriot” groups.
McVeigh and Nichols were captured and convicted of this act of terrorism during a very high-profile and emotional courtroom trial that gripped the nation’s conscious for many months.
Nichols was sentenced to a life term in prison while McVeigh received the death penalty. He was executed via lethal injection in June 2001.
The Oklahoma City bombing would remain the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil until the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The right-wing militant movement peaked after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and began to fade.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says the number of openly violent right-wing groups dropped from more than 1,000 to about 100 after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing because of negative public sentiment.
However, the movement’s rise began anew in 2008, after the election of the nation’s first African-American president, Barrack Obama and the beginning of the recession.
According to analysts, the truly stunning growth came in the anti-government militia and “patriot” movement – conspiracy-minded groups that see the federal government as their primary enemy.
The roots of the “patriot” movement can be traced back to 1994 as a response to what was seen as a violent repression of dissident groups at Ruby Ridge and Waco, along with anger at gun control and the Democratic Clinton Administration in general. The “patriot” movement peaked in 1996, a year after the Oklahoma City bombing with 858 groups, then began to fade. By the turn of the millennium, the “patriot” movement was reduced to fewer than 150 relatively inactive groups.
However, the movement came roaring back beginning in 2008 with the commencement of the recession and the subprime collapse and the election of president Obama.
From 149 groups in 2008, the number of militia and “patriot” organizations skyrocketed to a staggering 1,274 in 2011. Last year’s total was reportedly more than 400 groups higher than the prior all-time high, in 1996: the year following the Oklahoma City bombing.
A graph developed by the Southern poverty Law Center documenting the rise of the resurgence of the militia movement. From 149 groups in 2008, the number of Patriot organizations skyrocketed to 512 in 2009, shot up again in 2010 to 824, and then, last year, jumped to 1,274. That works out to a staggering 755% growth in the three years ending last Dec. 31. Last year’s total was more than 400 groups higher than the prior all-time high, in 1996 - a year after the Oklahoma City bombing.
Southern Poverty Law Center
According to the SPLC, Michigan has the largest number of militia and “patriot” groups with 79, followed by Texas with 76, California with 59 and Washington State with 50.
However, not all facets of the right-wing extremist movement have seen an increase in their ranks. There have been declines in some hate groups. Most notable is that of the Ku Klux Klan whose chapters fell to 152, from 221.
The growth of the militant far-right is being fueled by fears generated by economic dislocation, the changing racial make-up of America, a proliferation of demonizing conspiracy theories, and the prospect of four more years under a black president who many in the movement view as an enemy to their country.
Experts fear that these extremists will continue to grow in number and build upon their violent activities until they culminate in one massive act of terrorism akin to that of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Right-Wing Domestic Extremists On Par With Foreign Jihadist Threat
Prior to the events of 9/11, the phrase “homegrown terrorism” referred to right-wing radicals carrying out bombings, shootings and other attacks. Today, that phrase is used almost exclusively to describe self-starter or amateurish jihadists who have become inspired by Islamic extremist rhetoric – either in printed form or online - and now plot to wage war with the U.S. through low-level but nonetheless disruptive and potentially lethal acts of terrorism.
An American neo-nazi militant holding a holding a 30-.06 rifle against the backdrop of a Nazi flag.
There is a popular refrain among the American law enforcement community, the media and the public that international terrorism in the form of Islamic extremists poses the real terrorist threat while militant right-wing extremists are considered small-time and light weights.
However, analysts that track militias and militant hate groups and other domestic terrorism threats within U.S. borders deeply dispute this popular belief and hold the view that domestic right-wing extremists are on par with their global jihadist counterparts with regard to the dangers they pose to the American public and its national security.
Analysts say that the capacity for a terrorist attack by militant right-wingers is very real and has the potential to be as deadly as any foreign jihadist attack.
Though al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists undeniably have a far more extensive track record and expertise in the realm of violence and are the top national security threat to the U.S., experts say this should not be cause for discounting the right-wing terrorist threat.
In an interview on right-wing domestic terrorism with Huffington Post, Daryl Johnson, the author of a forthcoming book on right-wing extremism and a former Department of Homeland Security senior analyst, was quoted as having said:
There were more firearms possessed by the [alleged right-wing extremist] Hutaree militia than by all 200 Muslim extremists arrested in the U.S. since 9/11.
Analysts have noted the fact that many of America’s domestic extremists, particularly the militia groups, are very well armed with guns and explosives and often have extensive paramilitary at several clandestine training camps located throughout the U.S. as well as a lengthy track record on violence.
A memorial tile with the logo of the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) on Murrah Plaza at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Several federal law enforcement agencies had offices in the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Downtown Oklahoma City. At least 17 federal agents belonging to the ATF, U.S. Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Customs Service (now a major part of the Dept. of Homeland Security) were killed in the April 19th truck bombing of the building.
Some of these groups have been stockpiling weapons and ordnance of all types since the 80’s.
Past plots to kill countless thousands by attacking a chemical plant in Texas and the manufacture of a “cyanide bomb” that had the potential to kill every person in a crowded shopping mall proves that right-wing militants take a backseat to no one when it comes to terrorism and dream vividly of death on an apocalyptic scale as much (if not more) as their Islamic jihadist counterparts hailing from abroad.
Militant Hate Groups and Domestic Extremism 101
The militant right-wing extremist movement is composed of a vast array of deviant social movements that include militia groups, holocaust deniers, tax protesters, anti-abortion extremists, sovereign citizens, neo-confederates, neo-Nazis, militant white supremacists and white nationalists.
The following are some of the more popular entities in the overall movement:
Ku Klux Klan – white supremacist ideology: the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is America’s oldest terrorist organization. The group has a white supremacist, white nationalist ideology with popular targets for attack including blacks, Latinos, Jews, Native Americans, Asians, non-white immigrants, gays and lesbians. According to the ADL, the KKK has a relatively high association with criminal activity, ranging from hate crimes to acts of domestic terrorism including the bombing of a Baptist church in Alabama that killed four African-American girls.
The KKK originated during the Reconstruction-era immediately following the American Civil War. It was formed by Confederate war veterans, bitter at not only having lost the war against the Union but also at the newly granted liberties and rights to former blacks who had originally served whites as slaves during the existence of the Confederacy.
The Klan was largely a vigilante group that roamed the Southern region of the U.S. intimidating and attacking blacks to prevent them from enjoying basic civil rights as well as their newly granted right to vote in elections. The terror entity also physically attacked whites who advocated for or befriended blacks.
Attacks on blacks included murders, beatings, lynchings, rapes, robberies, house burnings as well as tar-and-feathering.
Because the KKK frequently struck at night while galloping on horses and wearing their trademark uniforms that consisted of white sheets and hoods, they were frequently referred to as “the night riders.”
Ku Klux Klansmen and women at a cross lighting in on November 12th, 2005.
Confederate till Death
According to the SPLC, since the 1970’s the Klan has been greatly weakened by internal conflicts, court cases, and a seemingly endless series of splits and infiltrations by federal law enforcement. While some factions have preserved an openly racist and militant approach, others have tried to enter the mainstream, cloaking their racism as mere “civil rights for whites.” Today, the SPLC estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members, split among dozens of different-and often warring-organizations that use the Klan name.
National Socialist Movement – white supremacy and neo-Nazi ideology: The National Socialist Movement (NSM) is currently the most popular militant hate group in the U.S. The NSM is a white supremacist, separatist and neo-Nazi group.
The group specializes in theatrical and provocative protests which have generated a large amount of attention from the news media. NSM is also popularly known for its members wearing Nazi uniforms or military-style black “Battle Dress Uniforms” at their meetings and public rallies.
The organization idolizes Adolf Hitler and has recently created its own hate rock music label.
According to a special profile on NSM composed by the SPLC, the group strongly believes that only Heterosexual “pure-blood whites” should be allowed U.S. citizenship and that all nonwhites should be deported, regardless of legal status.
The NSM first gained national attention on December 10, 2005, when they announced plans to protest gang violence with a march through an African-American neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio. The appearance of the group was enough to send hundreds of mostly angry black residents of the neighborhood into the streets and triggered a four hour riot by those residents that cost the city over $336,000 in damages and led the police to impose a curfew upon the city. Meanwhile, the NSM escaped the violence and were not liable for any of the destruction.
The true purpose of the provocative rally in Toledo seemed to be the aggravation of the black community and to goad residents into overacting in an outrageous way. After the riots NSM leader Jeff Schoep was reported as having said, “The Negro beasts proved our point for us.”
There are reports from the SPLC that as many as a dozen heavily armed NSM members have begun patrols along the U.S.-Mexican border in an effort to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking. NSM members armed with pistols and high-powered assault rifles have reportedly stormed an abandoned building and apprehended three Mexican citizens attempting to cross over into America illegally. However, SPLC notes that such reports from the NSM have yet to be independently verified.
NSM is reported to be headquartered in Detroit and has a total of 400 members located in 61 chapters in 35 states which currently makes it the largest and most popular hate group in the nation.
Sovereign Citizens Movement – anti-government ideology: Authorities and monitors of militant right-wing extremist groups are increasingly concerned about the threat posed by a subset of anti-government radicals called “sovereign citizens.”
Sovereign citizens are a segment of the overall anti-government movement and believe the government is illegitimate and has no authority over them. They believe that they are not subject to U.S. laws or taxation.
The movement is a loosely organized collective of individuals and groups with a largely anti-government ideology that was first developed decades ago in white supremacist circles.
In a September 2011 report the FBI noted that six law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty by lone wolf sovereign citizens since 2000.
The report warned:
The sovereign-citizen threat likely will grow as the nationwide movement is fueled by the Internet, the economic downturn, and seminars held across the country that spread their ideology and how they can tap into funds and eliminate debt through fraudulent methods. As sovereign citizens’ numbers grow, so do the chances of contact with law enforcement and, thus, the risks that incidents will end in violence.
While many in this movement are well-armed and some have undertaken criminality, it should also be noted that the overwhelming majority are nonviolent though very extreme in their anti-government beliefs.
Skinheads – white supremacy ideology: the origins of racist skinheads can be traced back to the late 80’s in the Pacific Northwest region. Skinheads are often referred to as “the shock troops” of the militant right-wing extremist movement
The average skinhead is a male ranging in age from late teens to early 30’s, though there may also be some as old as 40.
Since the late 90’s analysts have also witnessed an increase in the number of young women joining skinhead groups.
There are several dozen skinhead groups (often called “crews”) throughout the U.S. though the Hammerskins are the only skinhead group to have a national presence.
Most skinhead groups only operate on a regional level or within their home state.
Skinhead groups have a notable online presence and are as active in spreading their racist beliefs and recruiting new members in the virtual world as they are in the physical world.
Criminal activity by skinheads typically includes vandalism, hate crime beatings and distribution of the drug known as crystal meth. Trafficking of the illicit stimulant is one of the primary fund raising sources for skinheads.
Originally considered a street gang there are now concerns that skinheads may pose a domestic terrorism threat. Because of their close relationship with militant neo-Nazis, white supremacists and militia groups, an increasing number of skinheads are becoming more proficient in paramilitary tactics and have begun to stockpile weapons and explosives.
At least three dozen deaths have been linked to skinhead groups since the 80’s. Most of these deaths have been the result of beatings or shootings of racial and ethnic minorities and in some cases even former skinheads who have renounced white supremacy.
Violent Aspirations: Plots and Acts of Violence by Right-Wing Militants
The following are some of the violent crimes and terrorist plots attributed to right-wing militants since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
April 1997 – Wise County, Texas: The FBI arrests four members of the True Knights of the Ku Klux Klan after a plot by the group to attack a chemical plant in Bridgeport containing thousands of tons of highly toxic hydrogen sulfide gas. According to authorities, if the KKK had successfully attacked the facility up to 30,000 thousand people living in the town of Bridgeport and Wise County could have lost their lives.
In a statement to the news media, FBI agents said the group was targeting tanks containing hydrogen sulfide, in a plot they believed could "wipe out half of Wise County."
The arrested KKK members included Shawn Dee Adams, 37; his 35-year-old wife, Catherine Dee Adams; Edward Taylor Jr., 34, and Carl Jay Waskom Jr., 34.
According to The New York Times, the FBI’s six-week surveillance operation of the perpetrators began with a tip by a concerned resident who had supposedly witnessed preparations for the bomb plot, including the detonation of small practice bombs at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Grassland.
Upon arrest of the KKK members the FBI uncovered AK-47 and SKS assault rifles, ammunition, handguns, gas masks, bulletproof vests, explosives, handcuffs as well white supremacist material and Confederate flags and even manuals that included the ''Improvised Munitions Handbook'' and other terrorist training material.
April 2003 - Noonday, Texas: White supremacists William J. Krar, 62; Judith Bruey, 54, Krar's common-law wife; and Edward Feltus, 56, were arrested by FBI agents on charges of stockpiling an illegal arsenal of high-powered weaponry, explosives and chemical weapons.
Investigators raiding a large walk-in storage locker belonging to the militant trio at Noonday Storage uncovered an arsenal of nearly 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 65 pipe bombs, and briefcase bombs that could be detonated by remote control. Authorities also seized several machine guns and assault rifles with silencers. Even more, pamphlets on how to make chemical weapons, as well as anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-government books were uncovered.
However, what was most disturbing was the discovery of two pounds of sodium cyanide and a crude but lethal device that the racist terrorists referred to as a “cyanide bomb.”
An analysis by the FBI revealed if acid were mixed with the sodium cyanide, it would release enough toxic gas to kill everyone inside a 30,000 square-foot facility a space roughly as large as a shopping mall or a small-town civic center.
The device was capable of claiming thousands of lives.
Daniel Levitas, author of a book on right-wing extremism, The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right, told The Guardian, a British news agency that the discover was
It was clearly one of the most lethal arsenals associated with the U.S. paramilitary right in the past 20 years.
Though Krar’s “cyanide bomb” is now in the possession of the FBI, the agency is unsure if it was the only one of its kind. The FBI believes that Krar may have had plans to manufacture several of these destructive devices and distribute them to militant white supremacist, neo-Nazi, militia and other anti-government groups throughout the nation.
The three terrorists all had links to white supremacist and anti-government groups. In fact, Feltus, a resident of Old Bridge, New Jersey, is a member of an anti-government militia group in that state.
Federal authorities believe there are several conspirators involved that remain free.
In an interview with CBS 11, Danny Coulson, a former ranking FBI agent who was once in charge of the Dallas Field Office of that storied law enforcement agency, cautioned that while it was important to pursue the high-profile Islamic terrorism threat, authorities should take care not to forget or discount domestic groups.
Coulson told CBS 11
It’s scary when you look at their capabilities.
He went on to say
Look at the vulnerabilities of our society. We don’t have to concern ourselves only with foreign terrorists, but we need to concern ourselves with domestic terrorists too. And these guys are very dangerous.
Coulson was one of the FBI’s premier experts on domestic terrorism. He was also one of the founders and the original leader of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team, America’s most skilled SWAT team, which has tangled with both foreign jihadists and right-wing militants on numerous occasions.
On May 4, 2004, Krar was sentenced to 135 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to building and possessing chemical weapons. Bruey was sentenced to 57 months after pleading to "conspiracy to possess illegal weapons.
According to the FBI, this incident triggered the largest domestic terrorism investigation since the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.
April 4, 2009 – Pittsburg, Pennsylvania: White supremacist Richard Poplawski shot and killed three police officers of the Pittsburgh Police Department.
The officers were responding to a 9-1-1 call that they received from Poplawski’s mother, Margaret, at around 7 a.m. requesting that her son be removed from her home after the two had a heated argument.
The responding officers were unaware that the young man was a well-armed and violent hardcore white supremacist.
Upon their arrival and entry into the Poplawski household, the officers were greeted by a bulletproof vest clad Richard Poplawski, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle.
He quickly cut down all three officers, killing them instantly.
After a tense multi-hour long standoff with police, Poplawski surrendered without further incident. His mother was unharmed during the affair.
In June 2011, Poplawski was convicted at trial by a jury for the murders of the officers and was sentenced the death penalty.
June 10, 2009 – Washington D.C.: James Wenneker Von Brunn, 88, a white supremacist and holocaust denier, goes on a shooting spree with a rifle at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Stephen Tyrone Johns, a security guard at the museum, is struck by von Brunn’s gunfire and dies hours later from his injuries. Von Brunn, himself, is wounded by other armed security guards who returned fire while a third person suffered minor injuries from shattered glass.
While awaiting trial for his crimes, von Brunn died on January 6, 2010.
Von Brunn had previously been arrested and convicted for entering a federal building with various weapons in 1981 while trying to place the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, who he considered to be treasonous, under citizen’s arrest.
March 2010 – Adrian, Michigan: Nine members of the Hutaree militia are arrested by the FBI after plotting to attack and kill local police officers in the state of Michigan.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Hutaree allegedly planned “to kill an unidentified member of local law enforcement and then attack the law enforcement officers who gather in Michigan for the funeral.”
The statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office does not specify which police department in the state of Michigan the Hutaree were planning to target though much of their activities were centered in Adrian or the area surrounding it.
The nine had been indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit on charges of seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.
The indictment said that the Hutaree planned to attack police vehicles during the funeral procession for the officer or officers they planned to kill, using explosively formed penetrator improvised explosive devices (which under federal law are considered weapons of mass destruction).
Explosively formed penetrator improvised explosive devices are very similar to the IEDs encountered by U.S. troops that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past several years.
The Hutaree also allegedly planned to launch a secondary attack with high-powered assault weapons designed to kill any officers that were maimed but still alive after the IED attack.
In a federal indictment, the government said:
The group is an anti-government extremist organization that planned war with the U.S.
Though most were taken into custody without incident, there was a brief standoff with at least one or two of the fugitive militia members.
The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, a Joint Terrorism Task Force and Michigan State Police conducted several raids in and around Adrian that resulted in the arrests of the Hutaree militia members.
March 2011 – Fairbanks, Alaska: Five members of a militia group known as the Alaska Peacekeepers Militia were arrested for allegedly plotting to kidnap or kill Alaska state troopers and a Fairbanks judge.
The Alaska Department of Public Safety (state police) revealed to the local media that the heavily armed militia had an arsenal of explosives and weaponry that would be considered prohibited by federal or state laws. It was also revealed by state authorities that the militia had conducted extensive surveillance on the operations of state police troopers working in the city of Fairbanks and in some cases even followed them home and continued their surveillance there.
The five militia members arrested include Francis “Schaeffer” Cox, Coleman Barney, Michael Anderson, Lonnie Vernon and Karen Vernon.
Cox, is the leader of the Alaska-based militia and is a self-declared “sovereign citizen,” a movement that preaches armed and violent resistance to law enforcement. According to the FBI, followers of the obscure movement have killed several police officers in the past few years.
The arrests were carried out by the Alaska state troopers’ Special Emergency Reaction Team as well as the Fairbanks Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service and a FBI-led joint terrorism task force.
The Alaska Peacekeepers Militia has an estimated 150 members state-wide.
Staying Vigilant of the Terrorist Threat From Within
The stark increase in activity by right-wing extremists in recent years have made it clear that the American public cannot discount this unique threat.
Though militants in the far-right movement are considered to be on the radical fringe of American society, the fact that they are so willing to utilize violence means they can cause harm in amounts far disproportionate to their numbers.
Some extremist movements have adherents within their ranks that are absolute “true believers,” persons who are so devoted and committed to the cause that they are willing to use violence to realize their dark vision.
Hate crimes that are perpetrated by right-wing extremists affect communities while acts of terrorism affect the entire nation.
After the foreign threat by Islamic extremists, right-wing extremists are the top terrorist threat to the nation.
A persistent fear by analysts is that while officials and the nation as a whole are focused on the headline making and high-profile threat of Islamic-based terrorism from abroad, the nation will be blindsided by the sleeper terrorist threat of right-wing militancy.
Daryl Johnson, the former Department of Homeland Security senior analyst, relayed his fears to SPLC on this special threat
“My greatest fear is that domestic extremists in this country will somehow become emboldened to the point of carrying out a mass-casualty attack, because they perceive that no one is being vigilant about the threat from within. This is what keeps me up at night.”
Experts warn that the American people ignore this enduring terrorist threat at their own peril.