Anger aplenty, but FBI sees little chance of copycat plots after Christian militants’ arrestBy Eileen Sullivan, AP
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
FBI sees little chance of copycat militia plots
WASHINGTON — There’s a lot of anger out there. But the alleged plot by Midwestern militants and violent outbursts by scattered individuals don’t signal any coming wave of extremist violence, federal investigators say.
There’s more fizzle than fight among self-styled militias and other groups right now, they say, and little chance of a return to the organized violence that proved so deadly in the 1990s.
Militia extremist statements “primarily have served as an expression of anger after a particular event,” according to an FBI intelligence bulletin obtained by The Associated Press. “The FBI assesses the likelihood of violent conflict from the remaining group members or other militia extremists as low.”
A group of Christian militants calling themselves the Hutaree stand charged with plotting attacks against police in Michigan, assaults that prosecutors say the militants hoped would inspire others to commit anti-government violence. There was no attack; authorities moved in and made arrests last weekend because, the prosecutors contend, the group was girding for action in April.
There is always a risk of a lone wolf launching an attack, and law enforcement officials cannot rule out the possibility that they have failed to detect larger, more organized plots still unfolding. But the FBI bulletin — it was issued to police departments — underscores that authorities have not yet detected clear signs of a revival of organized violence that would require a strong federal response.
Federal agents have seen an increase in “chatter” from an array of groups, which can include radical self-styled militias, white separatists or extreme civil libertarians. That information includes everything from public posts on Web sites to intelligence gathered through informants.
Last week one Web poster made a point about not injuring wives, children or other innocents when going after lawmakers because of their health care votes. Too soft: A responder wrote, “In real war there are no by-standers if they are on the side of evil they need to be taken out.”
Another posting over the weekend, after the Midwest arrests, said, “I just left a shouting match about 20 minutes ago with a little over a hundred militiamen who are on the move right now. The arguement was over not if but rather where to hit them.”
But such violent talk appears unlikely to lead to action, authorities believe.
One key: Law enforcement officials say the lack of an armed, deadly confrontation in last weekend’s arrests — as there was in the 1993 standoff in Waco, Texas — made it less likely any groups would attempt new violence.
According to the FBI bulletin, the arrests of nine suspected members of the Hutaree group in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, generated sympathy from other militia groups, but no copycats.
The militia movement came under intense scrutiny following the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, as law enforcement methodically investigated the hodgepodge of extremist groups around the country and jailed some of their leaders.
Fears about those groups subsided in the past decade, as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks led the public and the government to focus on the threat of international terrorism.
After last weekend’s arrests in the Midwest, law enforcement officials say that as serious as the Hutaree case is, the FBI sees a more widespread danger from homegrown violence, given a rash of such cases in the past year.
There were some warning signs last spring and summer: An abortion doctor shot dead in Kansas, three police killed by a white supremacist in Pittsburgh and a security guard gunned down at Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum. This spring, anti-government sentiments spurred a man to fly a plane into an IRS office in Austin and another to start shooting near the Pentagon before he was gunned down by police.
All those incidents proved unrelated.
Anti-government anger flared in some quarters after Congress passed the massive health care overhaul this month, and a few lawmakers received threats or even suffered vandalism. And the angry political rallies of conservative tea party members have been well publicized. Lost jobs have given millions plenty to be upset about.
The Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported an increase in what they define as right wing extremist and hate groups around the country.
In comparison, outbursts of violent extremism are minuscule.
Law enforcement officials point out that the extremist groups they do track are so diverse, with so many different motivations — anarchic, anti-tax, racist and on and on — that there is no defining principle other than a kind of general distrust of the government.
In the case of the Hutaree, investigators had been closely watching the group last summer, keeping tabs as they allegedly discussed scenarios in which they would kill a police officer, then attack that officer’s funeral with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in hopes of killing scores more.
Police moved in as the month of April approached, contending the group had planned a potentially violent “reconnaissance” operation in which members would be prepared to attack. Historically, April is an important month for anti-government extremists: The Oklahoma City bombing was in April, carried out on the second anniversary of the siege at Waco that ended in the fiery deaths of cult members.
Mark Pitcavage, the head of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, said he first came across the Hutaree group in September of 2008 and believes they formed early that year.
The plot the group is alleged to have been working on is not representative of a trend, Pitcavage said.
A main difference between now and the 1990s is that there has yet to be a modern-day Waco or Ruby Ridge — the 1992 standoff in Idaho between the FBI and white separatist Randall Weaver. Weaver’s wife and son were killed by an FBI sniper.
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