The Threat from the Patriot Movement


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But as Americans try to understand the social currents that could wash a homegrown terrorist up to the front doors of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, they are taking a second look at people like Miller. It's not because Miller shows any signs of violent tendencies herself, but because she is one of the disseminators of a virulent antigovernment philosophy that may have helped plant thoughts of insurrection in someone else's head. Miller's own first thought upon hearing of the bombing was, "Oh, my gosh, I hope some idiot calling himself a patriot didn't do this." She admits that her own unarmed group, the Sons of Liberty, had attracted a "loose cannon," a young man who tried to join last summer. "He was saying things like, 'We ought to blow up the federal building,' "she recalls. The Sons of Liberty promptly tossed him out.

But what ideas do these fringe characters decamp with? Where do they go? And what, if anything, are they up to now? What is most perplexing is the vague intersection between those so-called patriots who merely spread the word Paul Revere-style, those who are arming themselves in anticipation of a fight to defend their rights, and those who are already taking aim at perceived enemies. In recent months there have been several incidents between armed, angry citizens and government agents that have prompted officials to take these groups more seriously.

Last September, for instance, three men driving a Saturn were stopped in Fowlerville, Michigan, by a police officer after their vehicle crossed the center line. According to the town's police chief, Gary Krause, an officer found the car packed with weapons, including a .357-cal. revolver, three assault rifles, three 9-mm semiautomatic pistols and 700 rounds of ammunition. The three men identified themselves as bodyguards of Mark Koernke, the self-promoting militia propagandist. "They said they had just completed maneuvers," Krause recalls. While those three men didn't show up for their arraignment six days later, dozens of militia members did, turning out in camouflage fatigues and taunting police officers.

How many people have reached that breaking point with their Federal Government-and are they acting alone or together? If you count just the people who are arming themselves against the day when U.N. tanks roll through the heartland to establish the one-world order, estimates range only as high as 100,000. But if you include all the people in as many as 40 states who respond to the patriot rhetoric about a sinister, out-of-control federal bureaucracy -- all the ranchers fed up with land- and water-use policies, all the loggers who feel besieged by environmentalists, all the underemployed who blame their plight on NAFTA and GATT -- then the count soars upwards of 12 million. "People are drawn in under this soft umbrella of anger at the government and soon taken into the more violent part of the movement if they continue to express interest," says Mary Ann Mauney of the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal, which monitors hate groups in the U.S.

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