The Threat from the Patriot Movement


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Despite the popularity of these exercises, the militia stripped Olson of his command last Friday after he sent inflammatory faxes to the news media blaming the Oklahoma explosion on the Japanese government. When a Time reporter knocked on Olson's door later that day, Olson appeared in a blue bathrobe. "Why are you bothering me?" he asked. "Can't you see I'm trying to stop World War III?" The next day, both Olson and Southwell, who had helped prepare the fax, resigned under pressure from the militia.

As befits these go-it-aloners, militia members favor decentralization in their own ranks. The movement has "no national structure, no central command and no central leadership, either recognized from within the movement or without," says Jonathan Mozzochi, executive director of the Coalition for Human Dignity in Oregon. Partly, he believes, this is because it is a "grass-roots upsurge," but the lack of clear structure is intentional as well.

In 1987, Robert Miles, a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon who was convicted in 1971 of burning school buses in Pontiac, Michigan, articulated the idea of "leaderless cells," an organizational structure of small autonomous groups that effectively thwarts infiltration and defuses culpability. "Miles compared his new concept to a spider web," says Richard Lobenthal of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. "You can put your hand in it and it gives, and when you remove the hand, it is still there."

That web is further fortified by the information revolution, which enables people to disseminate their ideas widely, cheaply and often under the safe cloak of anonymity. Bomb recipes have been transmitted across computer bulletin boards. CB and shortwave radios enable militia members not only to communicate between themselves but also to monitor the communications of law-enforcement officials. In the gray split-level house that serves as the nerve center of the Michigan Militia there are 15 phone lines, four computers, multiple fax machines, a professional printing press and a full television-production facility.

Less well-funded patriots mount inexpensive programs on public-access or satellite TV. Or they can make and market their own videotapes-a propaganda tactic that insulates the patriot evangelists from any direct blame for the antigovernment acts they may inspire. The handful of celebrities on the patriot circuit-people like Koernke, attorney Linda Thompson and Militia of Montana founder John Trochmann-all have tapes in circulation that promote their theories about the plot to take over the world. In a two-hour video called America in Peril: A Call to Arms, Koernke, an Ann Arbor janitor who goes by the handle "Mark from Michigan," ominously reviews the "evidence" of one-world conspiracy. At fema, he asserts, fewer than 64 employees are engaged in disaster work; the other 3,600 are "there to manage the system after they take over." The incursion is inevitable, he argues, and the only choice is "to lock and load."

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