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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Militias 'in retreat'
McVeigh
McVeigh: "A soldier's soldier"
By BBC News Online's Kathryn Westcott

Six years after the Oklahoma City bombing, the US anti-government movement that spawned such a deadly attack, has been reduced to "a shadow of its former self," a new report says.

The militia - or so-called patriot - movement had by last year steadily declined from a peak of 858 groups in 1996 to 194 identifiable groups, the Southern Poverty Law Centre - which monitors extremist groups - found.


"It's a symbolic moment," Mark Potok, editor of the organisation's intelligence project, which published the report, told BBC News Online.

Speaking as McVeigh awaited execution he added: "McVeigh is on his death bed as the patriot movement is taking its dying gasps," he said.

'Disillusioned'

The report defines the patriot movement as being characterised by gun-toting militiamen angry at the federal government.

The law centre, based in Montgomery, Alabama, says the conservative militia movement, which began developing in the early 1990s, reached a peak of 858 groups in 1996.


Among other things, McVeigh's act was intended to ignite the spark of a revolution, but nothing has materialised

Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman

"People have left the militia movement for a variety of reasons," Mr Potok said.

"They have gone home, disillusioned and tired of waiting for the revolution that never seems to come."

Revenge

In the past, the militiamen had been written off as obscure extremists but the menace was brought home with McVeigh's fatal blow of the citizens of Oklahoma City.

McVeigh
McVeigh grew up as a working-class boy
The former army veteran maintains he was driven to blow up the Federal Building with a loss of 168 lives because of an FBI assault on a cult compound in Waco Texas.

In the course of the siege dozens of people, including 21 children, were killed.

McVeigh was apparently obsessed by the idea that the assault and a similar FBI siege of an alleged white supremacists rural cabin at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, represented the opening salvo in government plans to outlaw and seize all privately owned firearms.

Mr Potok says before the bombing, McVeigh had placed himself squarely in the militia world, attending some 80 gun shows in his first year since being discharged from the army after the Gulf War.

Folk hero

Randy Weaver, a former survivalist who wanted to separate from what he saw as a race-mixing nation and its predatory government, lost his wife and son at Ruby Ridge.

Asked about McVeigh's impending execution he was quoted in the Washington Post as saying: "There should be a bunch of federal agents lying right beside him on the gurney."

Randy Weaver
Randy Weaver: A folk hero to right-wing extremists
"He was a soldier's soldier," he says of McVeigh. He just switched sides. Tim McVeigh was trying to make a point. He was what you call pro bono. He was going to be judge, jury and executioner. No different from the federal government. One has a badge and one don't."

To the right-wing movement, Mr Weaver continues to be a folk hero, but to organisations that monitor militia groups, he is a fading figure in a waning movement.

To some, McVeigh will similarly appear as a martyr to his beliefs, orchestrating his own execution in an attempt to make it "his greatest moment" and embracing it as a "state-assisted suicide".

Revolution

"He is acting the part well," says Mr Potok. "From the point of the extreme right, he is playing the soldier par excellence."

Despite this, he says there is no evidence that any of his supporters are planning to avenge his death.

"He will certainly be included in the pantheon of fallen Aryan heroes, but there is not a big hue and cry within the right-wing movements over his impending death," he says.


Oklahoma just proved the potentially devastating power of a single individual

Bruce Hoffman
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation in Washington, a private non-profit-making institution that helps improve policy and decision making, says McVeigh's planned execution may give the right-wing movement more ammunition.

But he dismisses the threat of the militia groups as "inconsequential".

"Post Oklahoma, the media tended to inflate their power. It gave them the cachet they had never had before," he told BBC News Online.

Frightened off

"Among other things, McVeigh's act was intended to ignite the spark of a revolution, but nothing has materialised.

Analysts agree Oklahoma fanned a fear that militias might go rampaging across the US to exact revenge against what they saw as an overly powerful government.

Timothy McVeigh
Many right-wing groups condemned the bombing
But today, many are happy to express their disrespect for bureaucracy and authority by refusing to pay their taxes or register motor vehicles.

This is partly due to a crackdown by local government.

"They have been frightened off by the arrests of thousands of comrades for engaging in illegal "common-law" court tactics, weapons violations and terrorist plots," Mr Potok said.

McVeigh's act in some cases has killed support for militias.

Some, such as the Michigan Militia, which McVeigh's accomplice Terry Nichols had contact with, have repackaged their image to appear less harmful.

A month after the bombing, it kicked out the more extreme faction who were making noises about going to war with the government - and condemned the bombing.

Some former members regrouped under hard-liner Norman Olson, the Michigan Militia's co-founder and commander, who once boasted that his goal was not to plan a revolution, "for the revolution will come".

But last month, the paramilitary group based in northern Michigan said it was disbanding because membership had plummeted.

Patriot groups may be in retreat, but Mr Hoffman cautions about being too complacent.

"After all," he says. "Oklahoma just proved the potentially devastating power of a single individual."

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See also:

19 Apr 01 | Americas
McVeigh death banned from web
19 Apr 01 | Americas
Oklahoma marks bomb anniversary
11 Feb 01 | Americas
Bomber wants public execution
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