The North Florida Survival Group teaches “patriots” of all ages to handle weapons and survive in the wild. Its goal is to defend “our Constitution against all enemy threats.” / Brian Blanco, Reuters
Thousands of them these extremists hide among us, right-wing militants who, since 2002, have killed more people in the United States than jihadis have.
By Kurt Eichenwald / 02.04.2016
Inside a storefront Chinese restaurant in upstate New York, neon light from a multicolored window sign glowed on the face of an extremist plotting mass murder. He had been seeking backing for his attack and, at this small establishment in Scotia, was meeting with a man who had agreed to take part in his scheme to build a radiation device, a weapon of mass destruction that would slowly and painfully kill anyone who walked near it.
“Everything with respiration would be dead by morning,’’ the man who devised the attack told his confederate in tortured English. “How much sweeter could there be than a big stack of smelly bodies?”
But there would be no attack. The purported accomplice at Ming’s Flavor restaurant in June 2012 was an FBI informant, and the discussion had been recorded. In the months that followed, another man joined the plot. Finally, in June 2013, with the conspirators hard at work on their ghastly weapon, armed FBI agents swooped in, storming a warehouse in Schaghticoke and arresting them.
Their names were Glen and Eric.
Crawford was accused of plotting to build a radiation device that would kill Muslims, as well as government officials in Albany, New York, and Washington, D.C. / Washington Post
Clearly, these were not the typical “Islamic terrorists” described in the boogeyman stories of American politicians who exploit fear for votes. Glendon Crawford, the industrial mechanic who conceived the plan, has all the panache of a Macy’s shoe salesman; Eric Feight, a software engineer who helped build the device, looks like a less impish version of Kurt Vonnegut. But their harmless appearance belies their beliefs—Crawford was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and the plot he hatched with Feight involved killing scores of Muslims, as well as officials at the governor’s mansion in Albany, New York and at the White House.
They and untold thousands like them are the extremists who hide among us, the right-wing militants who, since 2002, have killed more people in the United States than jihadis have. In that time, according to New America, a Washington think tank, Islamists launched nine attacks that murdered 45, while the right-wing extremists struck 18 times, leaving 48 dead. These Americans thrive on hate and conspiracy theories, many fed to them by politicians and commentators who blithely blather about government concentration camps and impending martial law and plans to seize guns and other dystopian gibberish, apparently unaware there are people listening who don’t know it’s all lies. These extremists turn to violence—against minorities, non-Christians, abortion providers, government officials—in what they believe is a fight to save America. And that potential for violence is escalating every day.
“Law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face,” the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported this past June, based on surveys of 382 law enforcement groups.
The problem is getting worse, although few outside of law enforcement know it. Multiple confidential sources notified the FBI last year that militia members have been conducting surveillance on Muslim schools, community centers and mosques in nine states for what one informant described as “operational purposes.” Informants also notified federal law enforcement that Mississippi militia extremists discussed kidnapping and beheading a Muslim, then posting a video of the decapitation on the Internet. The FBI also learned that right-wing extremists have created bogus law enforcement and diplomatic identifications, not because these radicals want to pretend to be police and ambassadors, but because they believe they hold those positions in a government they have created within the United States.
The unusual—and often daffy—world view of some right-wing extremists was on daily display during the January armed takeover of federal facilities at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Expressing dismay that two ranchers convicted of arson were ordered to serve out the remainder of their mandatory minimum prison sentences, members of various militia groups occupied a building at the wildlife refuge, declaring their willingness to fight the government and, if necessary, die for their cause. They proclaimed that the federal government was tyrannical, that the Constitution is under siege.
The Malheur occupiers were belittled on late night talk shows and social media as “y’all-Qaeda” and “yee-haw-dists,” but what was unfolding in Oregon wasn’t funny—it was frightening. These people speak of martyrdom, bloodbaths and killings, sentiments that can be heard on any Islamist recruitment video. And when law enforcement finally took action on January 26 in a mass arrest, one of the militia members, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum—who had proclaimed that he would rather die than go to jail—was shot dead.
The FBI says Finicum, who had said he’d rather die than go to jail for his role in the occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon, was killed as he reached for a weapon during a traffic stop. / Jarod Opperman, The New York Times, Redux
And while those right-wing militia members were occupying federal land, other extremists around the country were hard at work. Fliers seeking recruits for the KKK appeared on lawns and doors in Alabama, California, Georgia, New Jersey and Oklahoma. In Johannesburg, California, police discovered bombs and booby traps in the home of a man who threatened to blow up the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal buildings. In Colorado Springs, a white supremacist suspected of being connected to the 2013 murder of Colorado’s prison chief was shot and wounded in a firefight with police. In Lafayette, Louisiana, officials released the diary of the man who killed two people at a movie theater this past summer—it was filled with rage against the federal government and praise for a racist killer. In Oakdale, and the day after the first arrests of the Malheur occupiers, a New Hampshire man who told an FBI informant he was part of a group that wanted to bring back “the original Constitution,” and had as much as $200,000 on hand for explosives and rockets, was taken into custody after he illegally purchased hand grenades.
Who are these right-wing militants? And what makes them believe Americans have to engage in armed combat with their own government rather than vote, kill their fellow citizens rather than tolerate differences, blow up buildings rather than just get a job? Billions of words have been written and spoken on violent Islamic extremists. The time has come to do the same for the good old-fashioned Americans who may pose the greatest threat to us all.
A Fairy Tale of Violence
They aren’t all like Timothy McVeigh.
McVeigh, the infamous anti-government extremist, murdered 168 people in 1995 when he detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. But not all of these violent right-wing radicals agree with McVeigh’s beliefs or have the capability to execute such a devastating attack. In fact, these militants are a surprisingly diverse lot. Experts say there are three distinct groups, including some factions that despise one another.
Persian Gulf War vet McVeigh was executed in 2001 for the bomb he planted in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 that killed 168 people and injured more than 600.
According to Arie Perliger, director of terrorism studies at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, the three ideologies within the violent American far-right are racist, anti-federalist and fundamentalist. Each has subgroups—the racists include white supremacy groups such as the KKK, neo-Nazis and skinheads, which can differ in subtle ways. The anti-federalists include militias, self-defined “patriot” groups and what are so-called “sovereign citizens,’’ who hold that they are legally bound only by their personal interpretation of common law and are otherwise not subject to federal, state or local laws. The fundamentalists are primarily Christian identity groups that believe the biblical war of good vs. evil is between descendants of Anglo-Saxon nations and all other ethnic groups. Tangential to the fundamentalists are the anti-abortion attackers, who also invoke religion as a foundational motive for their violence. These disparate groups of people—violent and nonviolent—pine for different versions of a highly idealized past.
The granddaddy of the three in the United States is the racist movement, the modern iteration of which is usually traced to the formation of the KKK in 1865. The Christian Identity movement began a few decades later, with the emergence of believers who subscribed to the theology of John Wilson, a British man who argued that the lost tribes of Israel had settled in northern Europe. The anti-federalists are much younger, exploding onto the scene in the early 1990s with prominent groups such as the Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia; many experts maintain that the movement was a product of the financial crisis for farms in the 1980s, rapid economic and cultural change, and the adoption of gun control and environmental protection laws. In recent years, an explosion in the number of militias has been linked by experts to the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007 and the election of Barack Obama months later. In 2008, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 42 militia groups; today, there are 276.