Shadowy threat of extremist hate groups quietly growing
By Linda Pattillo
In this story:
April 24, 1998
CNN National Correspondent
Web posted at: 11:40 a.m. EDT (1140 GMT)
(CNN) -- Anti-government extremists are committing terrorist acts across the nation in a violent pattern known as "leaderless resistance" that is going largely unnoticed, except by investigators.
Plots to bomb civil rights offices and abortion clinics in the South, some two dozen bank robberies in the Midwest and an abortion clinic bombing in the Pacific Northwest are just some of the cases that law enforcement agents have tied to anti-government, white supremacist hate groups.
At work in many cases is the "leaderless resistance" concept attributed to Louis Beam, a former Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations leader.
Leaderless resistance is the retooling of the right-wing extremist movement into small cells designed to thwart infiltration by law enforcement officials, who admit the tactic is making their work extremely difficult.
Leaderless resistance, watchdog groups say, produces people such as Timothy McVeigh, convicted in the Oklahoma City federal building attack -- violent extremists with seemingly no connection to a larger group or conspiracy.
One example of a leaderless resistance cell, officials say, is the Aryan Republican Army, charged with 22 bank robberies in eight states. The money, some $250,000, was to fund their revolution against the government.
In a video made by the Aryan Republican Army, members use the Bible to justify their actions. "Study your Scriptures," they say. "Then you'll understand why you have to go out and kill."
Using religion to justify the means and the ends
The use of religion to justify extreme beliefs and violent actions is a familiar tactic.
Christian Identity, a white supremacist religious ideology, is the glue holding together much of the right-wing extremist movement, according to watchdog groups and law enforcement officials. The number of its adherents has grown from a few hundred to tens of thousands, according to authorities.
One of the most hard-line Christian Identity churches in the country is in Hayden Lake, Idaho, at the Aryan Nations compound. Armed skinheads patrol the property, the Nazi flag flies openly and a "Whites Only" sign is nailed to a tree at the entrance.
Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler -- Pastor Butler to his followers -- presides over a Sunday church service that features the Nazi salute. His church teaches that white Anglo-Saxons are the true "chosen people," that Jews are the "seed of Satan" and that a holy war will usher in an all-white Kingdom of God.
Christian Identity tenets are also promoted through Internet sites. As the Anti-Defamation League puts it, "Hate establishment has gone high-tech."
A violent underground 'priesthood'
The paramilitary arm of the Christian Identity movement is the Phineas Priesthood, named after an Old Testament priest who killed an intertribal couple.
The how-to manual for Phineas priests is "Vigilantes of Christendom," written by leading Christian Identity proponent Richard Kelley Hoskins and promoted on the Internet.
"One who is willing to give his life for what he believes cannot be ignored," the book reads.
Joe Roy, a former law enforcement agent now with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the Phineas Priesthood is shadowy and dangerous.
"You don't go anywhere to sign up for the priesthood," Roy said. "You more or less receive your canonization by killing people and robbing banks in the name of God."
Walter Thody, imprisoned for life for bank robbery, is a self-proclaimed member of this underground. He was the only member of his small cell to be captured, and he refused to turn in the others.
The cell, which Thody says planned to rob an armored car and conduct assassinations and bombings, called themselves the Phineas Priesthood.
In an interview at a federal penitentiary in Texas, Thody refused to reveal the intended targets, "so that they'll still be vulnerable to other people who want to go ahead with the plans."
The seduction of hate
Civil rights organizations that monitor extremist groups say it is all too easy for people to become seduced by religions of hate.
The groups' leaders begin gradually, by playing on people's fears, the watchdogs say, then slowly introduce racist concepts.
"People are definitely led down the primrose path," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"By the time they get to the stuff that to most people seems completely unbelievable, they've swallowed so many of the theories, so much of the propaganda and conspiracy talk, that it seems entirely believable to them."
The conspiratorial, anti-government doctrines of Christian Identity are slowly working their way into some fundamentalist churches, according to some observers.
Many in the religious community say that to combat this influence, more people in mainstream churches and synagogues must speak out against religious hatred. If left unnoticed for long, they warn, it poses a potentially violent risk.