Right-wing militia groups in the United States have been quietly gaining members and increasing their paramilitary training programs in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a new study issued Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League.
The ADL report, titled “The Quiet Retooling of the Militia Movement,” contends that after a period of decline in the late 1990s, militia groups have been mobilizing new cells in 32 states with the aid of Internet discussion groups and mailing lists.
The anti-government militia groups, already worried that the government is going to take away their constitutional right to bear arms, are now concerned about the consequences of the USA Patriot Act, adopted in response to the September 11 attacks, which gives sweeping new powers to law enforcement agencies, the ADL report says.
“These militia members tend to view the ‘war on terrorism’ as a war directed at themselves, not foreign terrorists like Osama Bin Laden, and consider anti-terrorism measures such as the ‘Patriot Act’ merely a prelude to mass gun confiscation and martial law,” the report states. “Much of what agitates the ‘new’ militia movement is a post-September 11, 2001, fear of conspiracies and government power.”
The report focuses on militia activity during 2004, according to the ADL’s fact-finding director, Mark Pitcavage. “The genesis for it was that it had dawned on us as we were monitoring different groups and forums that there seemed to be a rise in the number of paramilitary training programs being offered by people in militia groups,” he said.
Pitcavage described right-wing militias as “a particular type of right- wing extremist group that is characterized by paramilitary training, New World Order conspiracy theories and extreme anti-government ideas.”
The militia movement burst onto the scene a decade ago, in the wake of deadly standoffs involving federal law enforcement officials at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993, the report stated. Pitcavage said that during its heyday in the mid-1990s, there were an estimated 25,000 militia members, and after a sharp decline, there might be about 5,000 today.
Pitcavage said the ADL report is based on monitoring militia Web sites, discussion forums, message boards and newsletters.
Dan Yurman, an Idaho resident familiar with his region’s militias, said he agreed that there seemed to be a resurgence of militia activity in his state and neighboring Montana.
“Anti-immigration sentiments and the Patriot Act have been two motivators accounting for these groups gaining some energy, at least in western states,” he said. “Are they a threat to anyone is the real question. I don’t know.”
One domestic terrorism expert, Daniel Levitas, criticized the ADL’s methods and conclusions, saying the study failed to provide adequate evidence to back up its conclusions.
Levitas, author of “The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right,” rejected the notion of a resurgence among militias.
“What I see in this report is a string of individual quotes culled from chat rooms and message boards, and that doesn’t provide substantive evidence of anything,” Levitas said. “One of the weaknesses in this report is it confuses what militia activists say they are doing with what they are actually doing.”
Levitates criticized ADL for relying on Internet sources instead of on eyewitness analysis.
“In order to determine what [militias] are doing, you have to infiltrate these groups. The more interesting point to me is that this report seems to reveal the ADL is spending a great deal of time monitoring the chat rooms, but ADL has little capacity to penetrate these groups where it matters, on the ground, in the field.”
The ADL report relies heavily on information produced from monitoring the Internet.
To prove that militias are using new Internet-based technologies to connect with each other and seek recruits, the report cites a June 2004 message posted by the East Central Mississippi Militia, based near Meridian, Miss., asking for “like-minded folks to be part of a mutual aid group, and possibly join our unit.”
As evidence that the new militia movement is being driven by fear that the government is out to get them, the ADL report points to several computer message board comments, including one from Jack Keck of the South Carolina Minutemen. In February, Keck wrote that “the time is at hand for what can and must be done. Big Brother is stripping us of our rights daily and we all know what is coming and what we must do.”
With regards to increased recruitment and training efforts, the ADL report gives several examples culled from reports made online by groups, including the Washington State Militia, and an unnamed Florida militia organizer who, in June, began inviting people to attend an upcoming November militia training session in Lee County.
The ADL study also lists several militia-related arrests and convictions.
It cites the May conviction in Texas of New Hampshire anti-government extremist William J. Krar. He received an 11-year sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to possessing an arsenal of more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition, more than 60 pipe bombs, machine guns and a sodium cyanide bomb.
“This is a call for people to look in their community and see if there are any problems because of the militia’s past history of violence and extreme and conspiratorial views,” the report stated.