The 1990s saw the rise and fall of the virulently antigovernment
"Patriot" movement, made up of paramilitary militias, tax defiers and
so-called "sovereign citizens." Sparked by a combination of anger at
the federal government and the deaths of political dissenters at Ruby
Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas,
the movement took off in the middle of the decade and continued to grow
even after 168 people were left dead by the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma
City's federal building — an attack, the deadliest ever by domestic
carried out by men steeped in the rhetoric and conspiracy theories of
In the years that followed, a truly remarkable number of
criminal plots came out of the movement. But by early this century, the
Patriots had largely faded, weakened by systematic prosecutions,
aversion to growing violence, and a new, highly conservative president.
They're back. Almost a decade after largely disappearing
from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax
defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers
around the country. "Paper terrorism" — the use of property
liens and citizens' "courts" to harass enemies — is on the rise.
And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the
rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about
secret Mexican plans to "reconquer" the American Southwest.
One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training
groups — one of them made up of present and former
police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country
are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda.
"This is the most significant growth we've seen in 10 to 12 years,"
says one. "All it's lacking is a spark. I think it's only a matter of
time before you see threats and violence."
A key difference this time is that the federal government —
the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its
primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with
high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of
whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot
movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate.
One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents
since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the
election of Barack Obama. At the same time, ostensibly mainstream
politicians and media pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related
propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S.
concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the
president's country of birth.
Fifteen years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote
then-Attorney General Janet Reno to warn about extremists in
the militia movement, saying that the "mixture of armed groups
and those who hate" was "a recipe for disaster." Just six months
later, Oklahoma City's federal building was bombed.
Patriot movement may not have the white-hot fury that it did
in the 1990s. But the movement clearly is growing again, and
Americans, in particular law enforcement officers, need to take
the dangers it presents seriously. That is equally true for the
politicians, pundits and preachers who, through pandering or
ignorance, abet the growth of a movement marked by a proven
predilection for violence.
To Read More, Visit the Southern Poverty Law Center's Web Site