May 3, 1995

ADL on Domestic Terrorism

My name is Thomas Halpern, and I am the Associate Director of the Fact Finding Department of the Anti-Defamation League. I am accompanied today by Jess N. Hordes, ADL Washington Representative, and Mira Boland, the League's Washington Fact Finding Director.

For more than 80 years, the League has fought racial and religious bigotry, and anti-democratic extremists of the far right and the far left. We have sought to inform and educate the American people about extremist groups, in the confident expectation that when Americans understand the true nature of these groups, the people will overwhelmingly reject them. The ADL monitors the activities of these groups, by observing their rallies and demonstrations, listening to their speeches and their radio and telephone propaganda messages, reading their literature, and collecting news reports about them. We share our research with Congress and the Administration, law enforcement, journalists, and the public at large, through various reports and special bulletins. In addition, the League has pursued legal and legislative remedies for certain kinds of extremist or bigoted behavior, including lawsuits against hate mongers like Tom Metzger of the White Aryan Resistance, and drafting model legislation - which have been widely adopted - to address hate crimes and paramilitary training.

Violent extremists of both the far left and the far right share a hostility to democratic principles and processes, and a demonstrated willingness to use terror and intimidation in an attempt to undo the basic freedoms that all Americans cherish. They reject the lawful rules and restraints of our society, and threaten the sense of security and civic order necessary for the peaceful exercise of Constitutional freedoms. From the ]radical leftists and pro-Nazi Bundists of yesteryear, through the Ku Klux Klan terror aimed at halting this country's progress in civil rights, to violent bombers of the Vietnam War era, and right up to today's heavily-armed and conspiracy-obsessed far-right groups, America has consistently faced challenges from home-grown extremists who have not hesitated to threaten and even to use deadly force.

Violence has been a hallmark of the organized far right hate groups in the United States. Picking up where Klan terrorists of the sixties left off, right-wing extremists of the 1980s were often characterized by a propensity for violence. Judging by their actions as well as their words, many regarded violent confrontation as not merely acceptable, but inevitable. A most dangerous component of this orientation was the establishment of paramilitary training camps where instruction was provided in weapons handling, in demolition, and even in guerilla warfare techniques. ADL's model anti-paramilitary training statute has been enacted in 24 states - and has made a difference.

The patterns ADL observed among far-right groups in the 1980s - regarding numbers, leadership, and, most importantly, tactics - reflect a paradox. The membership of hate groups, overall, declined during most of the decade, while the movement became more dangerous and troublesome, with certain elements resorting to a policy of open violence against society. Through their actions, these militant groups achieved a spectacular preeminence over older and larger factions. It is in the rabidly anti-government right-wing extremists of the 1980's that we may find some of the roots of today's anti-government militia groups and their sympathizers - some of whom, it now appears, may have been involved in the Oklahoma City bombing. These earlier groups shared a now familiar hatred of federal authority (which they regarded as controlled by the Jews), an extremist ideology, and a program of paramilitary training. They included the Posse Comitatus; the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (or CSA); the Arizona Patriots; and, most serious of all, The Order - an ultra right-wing revolutionary gang, based in the Pacific Northwest, whose crimes included bank robberies, armored car heists, counterfeiting, shootouts with federal law officers, synagogue bombings, and murders, including that of Denver talk radio personality Alan Berg. The Order had planned further bombings - designed to result in many deaths and in major devastation - that thankfully were thwarted by federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and BATF. The leader of The Order ultimately died in a fire fight with law enforcement, and several other members were eventually tried and sentenced to long prison terms.

Of particular interest, in light of the venomous anti- government views harbored by today's right-wing zealots, was a "Declaration of War" issued by 13 members of The Order in November 1984, as the authorities were closing in on them. They wrote:

"We from this day forward declare that we no longer consider the regime in Washington to be a valid and lawful representative of all Aryans who refuse to submit to the coercion and subtle tyranny placed upon us by Tel Aviv and their lackeys in Washington ....Let friend and foe alike be made aware. This is war!"

The statement went on to threaten the hanging of members of the U.S. Congress. It also designated as "combatants" in its war - and therefore suitable targets for killing unfriendly federal agents, local police officers, state patrolmen, members of the armed forces, bankers, journalists, judges and business representatives.

Last year, a decade after the capture of the ringleaders of The Order, the ADL exposed the activities of a new strain of right-wing anti-government groups in this country: the "militias." As documented in ADL's report "Armed & Dangerous: Militias Take Aim At The Federal Government," these militias aim to lay the groundwork for large-scale militant resistance to the federal government and its law enforcement agencies, as well as to gun control laws. In the view of many such extremists, numbering in the thousands, America's government is the enemy, now widening its authoritarian control and planning warfare against the citizenry.

To the militia ideologues, gun control legislation - especially the Brady Law and restrictions on assault weapons - are major stratagems in a secret government conspiracy to disarm and control the American people and abolish their Constitutional right "to keep and bear Arms." They are also obsessed with the role of government in two recent events - the Branch Davidian confrontation in Waco and the Randy Weaver siege in Idaho - which they interpret as signs of impending tyranny. Their conspiracy-haunted views include the belief that mysterious "black helicopters" are surveilling Americans across the West, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is secretly establishing concentration camps for American dissidents (including militia proponents), and that the federal government, in league with some nefarious "New World Order," is planning a "takeover" of the United States by UN troops. The answer, say these extremists, is ultimately, necessarily, paramilitary resistance.

An armed and aroused citizenry, they assert, must be mobilized and ready for a call to war. For most, if not all, of the militias, the fear of government confiscation of their weapons is a paramount concern. Samuel Sherwood, head of the "U.S. Militia Association" in states: 'When they come around to collect weapons, we'll have the legal and lawful structure to say 'no' to that." Sherwood has stated further: "Go up and look legislators in the face, because someday you may have to blow it off." Randy Trochmann of the "Militia of Montana" gets tougher: "If and when the federal government decides to confiscate weapons, people will band together to stop them. They are not going to give up their guns." And the "enemy" easily becomes nightmarish: Robert Pummer, a leader of the "Florida State Militia," says that his group is "capable of defending ourselves against chemical and biological agents."

Although thwarting gun control is the chief aim of the militias, they seek to turn the clock back on federal involvement in a host of other issues as well, e.g., education, abortion, and environmental protections. A case in point is Norman Olson, until this past weekend a regional militia commander in northern Michigan. Olson, a Baptist minister who owns a gun shop, has envisioned violence erupting if present government policies continue, declaring: "We're talking about a situation where armed conflict may be inevitable if the country doesn't turn around." (Emphasis added.)

A further and vexing problem uncovered by investigation of the growing militias is the presence in some of them - even in leadership roles - of persons with histories of racial and religious bigotry and of political extremism. In the Northwest, for example, a prominent militia leader has in the past been a featured speaker at the Aryan Nations compound, and elsewhere we find other erstwhile neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The militias are of concern and doubtless will remain so in the coming months; they are driven by a combustible issue in American life which remains unresolved - that of gun control, an issue of urgency and passion in a society beset by violent crime. Coming head to head: a cry for weapons restrictions and the Constitutional "right of the people to keep and bear Arms." Most of those siding with the latter are law-abiding citizens who feel that guns are desirable for personal defense or for sport Of late, however, a segment of them are paying heed to the desperate and dangerous calls for"resistance" advocated by the militia movement

ADL estimates that militia membership nationwide is approximately 10,000, in more than half the states. While such numbers comprise only a tiny fraction of an American population of 260 million people, the danger they represent must be recognized. It does not take a great number of dedicated zealots to carry out horribly destructive acts - the tragic bombing in Oklahoma City proved that, if we did not know before. In addition, this new breed of extremist now has means of communication unavailable, indeed unheard of, in earlier periods, having mastered the contemporary technology of computers and telecommunications. They have also retained such old time recruitment and organizing techniques as rallies, mass mailings and the use of widely distributed propaganda organs, such as The Spotlight, published by the extremist, antiSemitic Liberty Lobby here in Washington, D.C.

Extremists in our society tend to try to exploit existing frictions and disagreements on public policy issues - such as crime, gun control, abortion rights, and race relations. These are legitimate issues to be passionately debated. But we must face and resolve such conflicts peaceably, and not allow them to be manipulated by those who would use them to promote their own violent anti-democratic agenda.

ADL supports the broad policy objectives addressed in counterterrorism legislative initiatives now pending before Congress. The American criminal justice system must be better equipped to cope with the potential threat posed by international terrorists and their supporters - as well as violent domestic hate groups - operating within the U.S. and abroad and targeting American citizens and institutions.

ADL commends this Committee for focusing crucial public attention on this netherworld of extremism. It is such public awareness, and effective, timely law enforcement activity that is our best hope of countering the destructive effects of hate and bigotry while maintaining our precious Constitutional liberties.