The Anti-Government 'Patriot' Movement Is Exploding in Size and Reach
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“There is a contingent of malcontents out there who are exceedingly hostile,” Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations, told the Christian Science Monitor for an article last year on the rising number of shooting deaths of police officers. “It’s a really complex phenomenon in that it’s a whole combination of factors where on one end you’ve got people like sovereign citizens, who are actually deliberately targeting police, as opposed to your garden-variety bad guy who’s carrying a gun and will not hesitate to use it.”
The FBI agrees. Last September, it issued a bulletin to law enforcement officials entitled “Sovereign Citizens: A Growing Domestic Threat to Law Enforcement” that describes the movement as “domestic terrorist.” The bulletin notes that sovereigns have killed six law enforcement officers since 2000 and that Terry Nichols, convicted in the Oklahoma City bombing, was a sovereign.
The largest group of organized sovereigns, the Alabama-based Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), last year took a new step toward organizing a kind of government-in-waiting by adding a “Congress” with voting representatives in 49 states. The group says it is in the process of “reinhabiting” the government.
Although it can sound threatening, RuSA has not engaged in any known violence. But that’s not true of all other Patriot groups, two of which are alleged to have engendered major terrorist plots aimed at police and others last year.
In March 2011, Alaska Peacemakers Militia leader Schaeffer Cox and four followers were arrested on weapons and conspiracy charges related to an alleged plan to kill Alaska state troopers and a judge. A state court later ruled that hundreds of hours of secret recordings made by informants would not be admissible, leading to the freeing of one of Cox’s followers. But Cox and the other three still faced federal weapons charges and, this January, a superseding federal indictment again charged them with conspiracy to murder. In a related development, a woman who was the militia’s secretary was arrested trying to enter Canada when officials found a pistol and information about pipe bombs and the ricin toxin in her truck.
Then, last November, federal officials arrested four members of a Georgia militia. The four elderly men were accused of plotting to assassinate public officials, bomb federal buildings, and carry out mass murders in four U.S. cities by dispersing deadly ricin dust from the windows of speeding cars. Like Cox and his comrades, the Georgia men are to be tried this year.
One of the factors apparently driving the expansion of the radical right has been the spread of conspiracy theories and demonizing falsehoods. Tall tales about secret government concentration camps, for instance, have spread beyond Patriot groups into nativist organizations and others. Equally preposterous stories of plots to impose Islamic Shariah law and to “recruit” schoolchildren into homosexuality have been plugged around the country, often by well-known public figures. It seems clear that this kind of propaganda boosts membership in conspiracy-minded groups.
But what may end up affecting the American radical right more than any other single factor in the coming year is President Obama and the presidential election campaign. If the primaries generate more attacks on the nation’s first black president based on complete falsehoods — that he is a secret Muslim, a Kenyan, a radical leftist bent on destroying America — it’s likely that the poison will spread. And if he wins reelection next fall, the reaction of the extreme right, already angry and on the defensive as the white population diminishes, could be truly frightening.