It Ain't Over Till the Fuhrer Sings
Columbus, Ohio -- After a year of preparation and four and a half weeks of trial, federal prosecutors and defense attorneys in the bank robbery trial of Aryan Republican Army co-leader Peter Langan took almost a full day to sum up their final arguments about the meaning of the 200 items in evidence and testimony from 60 witnesses.Yet it took the jury just four and a half hours to decide the case, convicting Langan on all five bank robbery and explosives charges. "The evidence the prosecution presented was overwhelming," said alternate juror William Richards, who had returned to court to hear the verdict. Langan faces at least 35 years in prison for his role in two bank robberies in Ohio in 1994. But with this verdict, his trials are just beginning.The trial was the second in a series: Langan's group allegedly robbed 22 banks in seven states between January 1994 and January 1996, when he was shot and captured by an interagency task force outside the gang's Columbus safehouse. Last November another gang member, Scott Stedeford, was convicted on related bank robbery charges after a trial in Des Moines, Iowa. Langan still faces another trial in Columbus on seven more weapons, explosives and assault charges arising from his arrest, and two weeks ago a grand jury in Philadelphia handed up a new indictment that for the first time uses the charge of conspiracy to link Langan, Stedeford, and other gang members to a key national leader of Aryan Nations. According to the new indictment, at least seven of the robberies were planned by and committed for the benefit of Mark Thomas, a Christian Identity/Aryan Nations pastor from eastern Pennsylvania well known to right-watchers for the annual Hitlerfests he hosts to recruit young skinheads to organized hate groups. Three of the other named conspirators -- Stedeford, Kevin McCarthy, and Michael Brescia -- came into the Aryan Republican Army through connections to Thomas. The Philadelphia indictment deepens the government's case that the robberies, which netted $250,000, were committed to fund "the cause" as articulated by Kevin McCarthy, who turned state's evidence to testify against Stedeford and Langan: "to overthrow the U.S. Government...using bank robberies." Most of the stolen cash has never been found, although federal agents did recover a sizable arsenal, as well as top grade forgery materials, from safehouses and storage lockers all over the midwest and Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, one of the most disturbing pieces of evidence seized is a mass market paperback book. As Assistant U.S. Attorney Robyn Jones delineated during her closing argument this week, Langan and his gang patterned themselves after The Order, another heavily armed neo- nazi gang that robbed banks and armored cars throughout the northwest U.S. during the 1980s, eventually escalating their violence to murder with the assassination of Denver talk show host Alan Berg in 1984. While all known members of that gang were either dead or in prison by 1985, the Anti-Defamation League and other observers warned at the time that there would be more where The Order came from. The Silent Brotherhood was written in 1989 as a critical study of The Order, but to the chagrin of its authors it apparently became a model for the next wave of hatemongering gangsters. In an eerie echo, Langan pressed this book upon new colleagues much the way The Order's founder, Bob Mathews, had insisted his recruits read The Turner Diaries ten years earlier. Like The Order before them, and the Spokane-area Phineas Priesthood group that is just now facing indictment for similar crimes, the Aryan Republican Army combined virulently racist and anti-Semitic beliefs with a daunting degree of military professionalism. Langan's group made 22 clean getaways, crisscrossing the midwest repeatedly for almost two years, before federal agents got anywhere near them. The FBI didn't even suspect a political motive until the robbers left a news clipping about Tim McVeigh on the seat of one getaway car, and rented another using false ID in the name of the agent who had led the investigation of The Order. As preparation for another round of federal criminal trials begins, new questions arise: how these groups are connected? Do they share a criminal liability based on a joint military strategy to overthrow the federal government, or do they share only some despicable but constitutionally- protected opinions about the world, plus a bad habit of committing armed robbery? And doesn't the small number of individuals directly involved in these cases mean they're not really dangerous? In recent weeks there has been an effort to raise the conspiracy stakes by linking members of Langan's group to accused Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh. Most of this conjecture is based on reporting by J. D. Cash, who was hired by the family of one of the bombing victims to do an independent investigation. Cash claims conspiratorial links between McVeigh and Michael Brescia, whom Cash had previously named as "John Doe #2," and further claims that McVeigh's sister told federal agents right after the bombing that her brother had been involved in planning bank robberies. Cash's claims have yet to be verified. Whether or not any legally provable link is found, the investigations of both the bombing and the bank robberies make clear that all of these people moved in the same orbit around the Aryan Nations compounds at Elohim City, Oklahoma; Hayden Lake, Idaho; and Berks County, Pennsylvania. At each of these centers are leaders who espouse the strategic military plan for white supremacist revolution called "leaderless resistance." Robert Millar, Richard Butler, and Mark Thomas have all been counting on the plausible deniability built into the strategy to keep them from indictment. For Thomas, at least, time seems to have run out.