In 1994, John Trochmann preached his militia gospel to a few hundred angry souls in drafty halls in small Northwestern towns. These days, the cofounder of the Militia of Montana is a celebrity. In recent weeks, the self styled "educational entrepreneur" has traveled to "Preparedness Expos" and other gatherings in California, Nevada, Colorado, and Texas.
Attendance at the two-to-three day events averages about 6,000, up from a few hundred in 1989. There, Trochmann can talk about the imminent takeover of the united States by the United Nations and hawk the items in his 32 page Militia of Montana catalog--"God, Guts and Guns." He has offered testimony to the U.S. Congress and spoken to the Yale University Union.
Two years after the Oklahoma City bombing, anti-government groups appear to be growing in numbers. Some have burrowed more deeply underground, breaking into tiny cells of "leaderless resistance." These are the ones who are seen by law enforcement officials as posing the greatest danger of committing acts of violence to commemorate the April 19, 1995, explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah building. The fact that jury selection has begun for the trial of bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh redoubles police concerns.
OUT OF THE SHADOWS. But the real surprise is that since the bombing, many antigovernment groups have shed their subculture status and begun attracting support from a broader range of economically struggling Americans. Experts say all 50 states now harbor organized antigovernment groups. Since 1995 the number of militia and patriot organizations has increased by 6 percent to 858 identifiable groups, including 380 armed ones. according to the Southern Poverty Law Center's Klanwatch. Those figures don't even include secessionist campaigns, which deny that Texas, Hawaii, and Alaska are legally part of the United States; property rights and land use advocates, who deny the legality of environmental and other federal laws; and tax protesters, who refuse to pay taxes on the grounds that the IRS is an illegal entity. (Nor do the center's figures include radical environmentalist, ultra fundamentalist, or survivalist groups.) Moreover the emergence of a more sophisticated economic infrastructure and information network has given a sense of permanence to what experts are now calling a "movement".
In part, the groups are finding a receptive audience because of the same economic challenges that confront many other Americans. Military downsizing, the decline of the family farm, and the general loss of blue collar jobs have created pockets of unemployment that have stimulated interest in protest groups. Efforts by environmentalists to limit the private use of public lands have also infuriated forestry workers and ranch hands in Western states. Terry Nichols, indicted for helping to plan the Oklahoma City Bombing, started his patriot career by becoming involved in groups that helped farmers hold onto their land by fighting the government and banks. Arthur Hawkins, a 40 year old father of six, joined a series of antigovernment groups after he lost his job as a corrections officer in Kansas. Bob Fletcher became a spokesman for the Militia of Montana, and then a talk-radio host, after his Georgia based toy company went bankrupt. He claims he was driven into bankruptcy by government plots connected to the Iran-Contra scandal.
As the number of groups multiplies, so does the industry that supports them. More companies now sell gold, survival rations, weapons, communications gear, and other products to help Americans preparing for a race war, the coming of the Messiah, or invasion by United Nations forces. The Center on Hate and Extremism at Stockton College in Pomona, N.J., estimates that 50,000 hard core members of anti-government groups plus 150,000 sympathetic followers spend $100 million a year on their gear. Brian Levin, the center's director, says the number of people attracted to these causes plateaued after the Oklahoma bombing but that now "we're seeing clear and measured growth."
Few of the companies in this emerging industry are based in major cities such as New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, and their marketing is pitched toward lower-income Americans. Companies like Nitro-Pak Preparedness Center in Heber, Utah, and Major Surplus and Survival in Gardena, Calif., sell books, videos, weapons, survivalist paraphernalia, tax resistance materials, and legal training.
The internet has become a militia shopping mall. On the U.S. Militia site, home shoppers interested in arming themselves can buy everything from explosives to computer mouse pads to bumper stickers that say "Have you cleaned your assault weapon today?" According to the "Hate Directory," assembled by the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission, there are at least 250 web sites, chat rooms and mailing lists, including Skinheads USA, White Nationalist Page, the Klu Klux Klan Home page, Library of a White Tribalist, Aryan Nations, and other splinter groups. "They're doing a great job of exploiting the new media opportunities that are available," says Raymond Franklin, who tracks the groups. "Its very sophisticated." The internet has the advantage of preserving the anonymity of militia members, as sites don't have to disclose who their operators are or where they are located.
Short wave radio and satellite syndication of talk shows have become a key means of getting the message out. About a dozen stations have Nationwide reach, the most prominent being WWCR in Nashville, Tenn. Its 100,000-watt transmitters beam shows that allow militia sympathisors and survivalists from across the country to compare notes. For $150, anyone can buy an hour's worth of time. "We are a station that airs from the left, from the middle and the right," says Managing Director George McClintock, though his definition of "left" means slightly more moderate than the Patriot Movement. Chuck Harder, a Florida based talk show radio host, was once heard on more than 300 radio and 90 television stations nationwide, but he lost most of them last year when a business deal went sour. Still, says his producer, Brice Warnick, Warner has been adding stations at a rate of six or seven a month and now has 130. Jack McLamb, a former Arizona law enforcement officer, espouses his global-conspiracy views 5 nights a week on radio stations in 30 states--the most extensive audience he has reached in 17 years of propagating his message. He also has a Web site, E-mail, newsletter, fax service, and five phone lines, and last year he toured Australia and New Zealand. "Our work is increasing as the government becomes more oppressive, anti-God, and seeks to impose a new-world system," he says.
PARANOIA STRIKES DEEP. The sources of paranoia are manifold. Nick Begich, a speaker at Preparedness Expos, believes that the US government has developed an electromagnetic system for waging environmental and "geophysical warfare" against the citizenry. Terry Cook, a former Los Angeles deputy sheriff who attended the expo, says the new world order will eventually implant microchip identification devices in everyone's hands. American Survival Guide: The Magazine of Self Reliance, a magazine based in Orange Calif., includes articles about the likely outbreak of biological warfare and about how the "Klinton" administration and the "First Fornicator" are attempting to strip away the right of Americans to own guns. Letters from readers inquire about how the world is going to end. "I would like to see addressed in an article...a scenario of how things are going to start to fall apart in the last days," one reader asks. To help readers cope with coming chaos, advertisements in the magazine offer 72 hour supplies of food and water and Israeli gas masks ($18.95). Circulation is up to 60,000 magazines a month--double what it was four years ago. We're doing better than we've ever done," says Editor Jim Benson. He emphasizes the positive side of being prepared for earthquakes and other foreseeable events but concedes that the presence of guns on his cover is essential for overall sales of the magazine. "If we take guns off the cover, sales plummet," he says. Other magazines that have sprung up to compete for the antiestablishment audience include American Freedom. Backwoods Home, Media Bypass, and Antishyster.
HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE. Book publishers catering to the hard core antigovernment movement have seen business grow. Paladin Press of Boulder Colorado, sells 750 titles--hundreds of thousands of copies a year of books and videos such as the popular How to Kill series and others that describe bomb making. For $14.95--major credit cards accepted--you can get Ultimate Sniper: The Video. Paladin has been sued by the family of a woman murdered by someone who had read one of Paladin's books, Hitman, which describes specific techniques and procedures for killing people. The case is still pending. Paladin won't disclose the exact size of its revenues but acknowledges that it has become a "multimillion dollar" company.
Even some mainstream religious publishers are making money off the fear of Armageddon. Most of the books and music from Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville, the largest Christian publisher in the United States, are inspirational or biblical. But one reason the $300,000,000 a year company is growing at a double digit rate is the success of a book entitled Beginning of the End: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Coming Antichrist. Priced at $10.99, it is in its seventh printing and is circulating among patriot and militia circles. It is shaping up as one of the bestselling books in the company's history. President Sam Moore says the book isn't specifically targeted at antigovernment groups, whom he calls "fanatics."
Much of the face-to-face contact among vendors and antigovernment groups has traditionally taken place at the thousands of gun shows around the country. The new trend is to congregate at the events sponsored by Preparedness Expos Inc., which is running conventions in six cities this year (up from four in 1995). Some 125 exhibitors sponsor booths to sell diversified survival-oriented products ranging from homeopathic medicine ("Cell Tech Super Blue Green. superfuel for your brain and body") to bulk foods for apocalyptic shut-ins.
CAPTIVE NATION. One of the popular services offered at the expos is paralegal training. That is because filing court documents has emerged as an important tool for movements such as the Republic of Texas "government", a new group that is attempting, to the consternation of the elected Texas state government, to declare Texas an independent nation. For the past year and a half or so, organizers have engaged in a running skirmish with the Texas attorney general's office, several international banks, and local law enforcement officials over the group's claims that Texas is a "captive nation." The Republic has flooded courts, banks, and government offices with paperwork. Many of the documents have been liens filed against property holders ranging from George Bush to the pope, ostensibly for "reparations" for various injustices. Such liens have great harassment value, making it difficult for the landowners to get loans or sell property. "God I love court documents," says the Republic's "special ambassador" (to the United States) Rick McLaren.
Part of the reason these groups seem to be gaining ground is that there are plenty of Americans who deeply distrust all forms of state power, especially the federal government. A U.S. News poll showed that 71 percent of men without a college education agreed that "the U.S. government interferes too much in people's lives. "It's not just the militias who feel the federal government no longer represents the interests of the average citizen," says Jack Levin, director of the Program for the study of Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston. "People who would never go to a patriot meeting feel there are terrible problems that institutions just aren't addressing."
Some of the antigovernment sentiment has been channeled into nonviolent action. Richard Mack quit his job as sheriff of Graham County, Ariz., and filed a lawsuit arguing that the feds didn't have the right to tell county sheriffs how to enforce the Brady gun-control law. His suit is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. He has also written a book, From my Cold Dead Fingers: Why America Needs Guns. In Catron County, N.M., elected officials have won several court cases against federal environmental regulations, most recently in March when a U.S. District Judge ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service had to submit its own environmental impact statement on the effects of protecting the Mexican spotted owl habitat in the county. "People here don't trust the government because there's no reason to trust the government," says Jim Catron, the county attorney. "They've broken their promises for over a hundred years."
DISLOCATION BREEDS DISCONTENT. Here again, the roots of the anger seem to be as much economic as ideological. Timber sales are just 10 percent of their levels in the early 1990s, partly because of wildfires and a shakeout among timber companies, but also because of federal environmental rules. The government controls 70 percent of the county's 6,900 square miles and restricts its use. Earlier this year, Kit Laney, who manages and owns the Diamond Bar Ranch in the Gila National Forest, was ordered by a federal judge to remove his cattle from the area because the judge ruled that their grazing was damaging the surrounding public land. "Our best shot is bankruptcy," he says. "Maybe we'll walk away with our furniture and a milk cow or two." The Laneys are now actively involved in a regional group disputing the authority of the federal government to regulate local lands.
Still what distinguishes these antigovernment groups from, say, traditional conservatives who mistrust government is that their anger is fueled by direct threats to their livelihood--and they carry guns. "We recognized that if we didn't do something, there would be brown-and-green [forest service] pickups with bullet holes in them," says Howard Hutchison, the executive director of the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties for Stable Economic Growth, a group that has tried to combat government authority through legal means.
As for the most militant antigovernment activists, they actually may get together less often than they used to, largely because of fear that their groups have been infiltrated by informants and law enforcement plants. Some militia members believe these paid agents have themselves instigated violent acts. Militia members in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, and a few other states were convicted of various explosives-related crimes. A study by the hate and extremism center in new Jersey showed that from 1994 to 1996, 22 percent of 60 patriot-related crimes involved explosives. The result of the law enforcement attention has been the formation of hundreds of small cells of true believers who avoid contact with all outsiders and don't rely on any central command-and-control leadership. Brian Levin believes that "moderate-intensity terrorism" --such as pipe bombings--will grow, while "mass catastrophic incidents" will be less common.
The roots of this broad antigovernment movement, in both the violent and nonviolent forms, lie in the sense of alienation some Americans feel toward their national institutions. This sense of vulnerability and anger is now being fed by a small industry. That means the mainstreaming of the militia movement has just begun.