TOPICS > Politics

Hanging Tough: The Militia Movement

April 3, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the militia movement in the United States. Two years ago the Oklahoma City bombing brought much attention to the various anti-government, paramilitary organizations operating throughout the country. We have an update on these groups that begins with this report from Rod Minott of KCTS-Seattle.

ROD MINOTT: These prisoners, leaving a federal court house in Seattle last summer, belong to an anti-government group known as the Washington State Militia.

BURDENA PASENELLI, FBI, Seattle: (July 29, 1996) But they’re not being investigated because of their membership in the group. They’re being investigated because they committed, it’s alleged they committed crimes.

ROD MINOTT: The FBI announced the arrests of eight members of the militia and charged them with making pipe bombs and machine guns, as well as stockpiling other weapons to use in a war against the government.

SPOKESMAN: Our job is to save lives, not take lives.

ROD MINOTT: Despite that claim, a jury convicted four of the suspects on illegal possession of firearms and explosives. But a mistrial was declared on felony conspiracy charges. Bill Wassmuth heads a group that monitors anti-government extremists. He says he wasn’t surprised by the arrests of the Washington militia.

BILL WASSMUTH, NW Coalition Against Malicious Harassment: These groups, militia groups, have a tendency to head in the direction of criminal and violent activities. In this case they were stopped before they actually carried out any violence that we know of, but that they were accumulating the arms and the materials to actually do some violence is pretty clear. And, indeed, that’s what they were convicted of is having some weaponry that was illegal to own.

ROD MINOTT: There’s no clear count on the number of criminal acts committed by anti-government groups, but according to local, state, and federal law enforcement, the criminal activity has increased in the two years since the Oklahoma City bombing. KlanWatch and the Militia Task Force, projects of the Southern Poverty Law Center, tracks such activity. They reported that last year across 22 states 131 anti-government extremists were arrested and prosecuted in 36 cases of crime that included bank robberies, bombings, illegal possession of weapons, and fraud, such as filing illegal leanings on the property of public officials. Burdena Pasenelli heads the FBI’s bureau in Seattle. She says law enforcement has stepped up efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic terrorism by anti-government groups.

BURDENA PASENELLI: The most difficult thing for the government is making that determination when it’s no longer rhetoric, when there’s going to be action. The vast majority of these individuals are very dissatisfied for one reason or another. They talk and talk, but they don’t do anything. And they have no intention of doing anything. It’s just that very small pocket of them that start with talk but then move to taking violent action that we’re interested in.

ROD MINOTT: John Trochmann of the Militia of Montana says undercover federal agents have incited militia members to commit crimes. He says it’s part of a campaign to discredit and shut down militias.

JOHN TROCHMANN, Militia of Montana: Well, we question whether these people that have been indicted on certain things would have, in fact, done anything had it not been pressure from what they thought were their peers. I call it entrapment, entrapment by federal agents. One out of every five that wishes to get involved in the militia movement is either an agent or an agent provocateur.

ROD MINOTT: Trochmann also denies that militias are responsible for recent violence. He says the Patriot Movement is about education.

JOHN TROCHMANN: It’s not a violent movement. We haven’t shot a mother in the face or son in the back. We haven’t burned babies at the stake like Waco. Our public servants have done that. We have not done any of it.

ROD MINOTT: Even so, Trochmann’s group, as well as other militia followers, continue to sell and buy numerous books, manuals, and videos on conducting guerrilla warfare.

SPOKESMAN: Snipers don’t work as lone wolves. Snipers work in a team.

ROD MINOTT: Among the items for sale through the Militia of Montana’s catalogue this video, which offers tips on sniper training.

SPOKESMAN: Come to our special weapons, the 50 cal. [caliber] sniper rifle with the Leopold scope or the inertle scope and you’re talking a devastating combination. This is what you can take out an airplane with on an airfield. Just fire one round. That’ll wipe it out.

ROD MINOTT: Militias say they must prepare to defend themselves against what they see as a growing government dictatorship.

BOB FLETCHER, Militia of Montana: Our concern is that we are going to be pushed intentionally by certain corruptive persons into a one-world government which means no more representation and more constitutional government as we know it, and non-representative government, and if troops of any sort are utilized to force that on the American people, the American Patriots will stand up and resist it.

ROD MINOTT: That view continues to be a potent recruiting tool. According to recent figures released by KlanWatch, the anti-government Patriot Movement has grown to 858 groups across the country. Of that, 380 are considered armed militias. Chris Peck, an editor at the “Spokane Spokesman-Review” newspaper, also attributes the growth of the Patriot Movement to sophisticated communication networks that include meetings, gun shows, and the Internet.

CHRIS PECK, Editor, Spokane Spokesman-Review: I think there’s a spider web of interactivity that is–that is connecting these people in a way that they haven’t been connected before. And that’s what really different. I mean, there’s always been right wing and paranoid action in this country, but what’s different now is that they are connected in a loose way but in a much more real way than ever before.

ROD MINOTT: According to Peck, some patriot groups have started organizing into small secret military cells, making it more difficult for federal agents to infiltrate them.

CHRIS PECK: This picture here, where this is an example of a cell operating in–in Northern Idaho, where people were wearing their camouflage; they were armed extensively; and they were practicing military maneuvers, and I think these are the people that are most frightening. I mean, I think these people are very much committed and are willing to commit violent acts.

ROD MINOTT: The Spokane paper was recently granted special access to a cell training in Northern Idaho and took these photos.

CHRIS PECK: And I think what they’ve discovered is that the most effective way to be organized is to get together a group of half a dozen people who have shared beliefs and refer to some of these manuals that have been written about how to form a resistance, and to have these cells operate really autonomously from one another in the sense that there’s not a centralized person out there who’s saying, here, go bomb this building, go rob this bank, but people who share these common beliefs, who say if we’re going to take action, these are the things–the action we would take.

ROD MINOTT: According to federal prosecutors these heavily-armed bank robbers were an example of an anti-government cell taking action. They’re suspected in a series of bank robberies and bombings that terrorized Spokane last year. Four Idaho men with ties to a militant white supremacy group were later arrested and charged with a crime. One of the bombs tore through a branch office of the Spokane newspaper. No one was injured, but damage was extensive.

CHRIS PECK: These particular folks were very committed to the anti-government cause. I think it’s possible that they were saying–sending a message to us and to law enforcement saying “”Don’t mess with us; this is a warning.” That was–again, that’s testimony that’s come out in their trial here, that they were trying to send a message to the media to back off. I think that the theory is that they were raising money for the cause to buy weapons, to finance activities around the country. That’s probably the reason they were robbing a bank.

ROD MINOTT: Many anti-government groups are also using less violent ways to achieve their goals.



FIRST PERSON IN PATRIOT VIDEO: –to tell the truth–




FIRST PERSON IN PATRIOT VIDEO: –and nothing but the truth–

SECOND PERSON IN PATRIOT VIDEO: –nothing but the truth–



ROD MINOTT: In many states Patriots have set up their own legal system in which they claim the authority of law. This video is from a recent common-law grand jury meeting in Wichita, Kansas. These self-appointed courts believe the current government is illegal.

SPOKESMAN IN PATRIOT VIDEO: It says that the President may investigate, regulate, or prohibit under such rules and regulations as he may–

ROD MINOTT: In what’s known as paper terrorism common-law jurors often issue arrest warrants, indictments, and bogus property liens against public officials. But it’s the threat of violence that concerns militia critics the most. Some warn it’s only a matter of time before anti-government extremists unleash more acts of domestic terrorism.

JIM LEHRER: Yesterday three of those four men charged in Spokane with bank robbery and the newspaper bombing were convicted of lesser offenses, conspiracy and possession of hand grenades. One juror refused to convict on more serious charges carrying life sentences. They still face prison terms of up to 35 years. Now two views on the present state of the militia movement. Tom Wayne is state command executive officer of the Michigan Militia Corps of Wolverines. Gail Gans is director of fact finding at the Anti-Defamation League which monitors anti-Semitism and other hate crimes. Mr. Wayne, generally, what have been the effects of the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia movement?

TOM WAYNE, Michigan Militia Corps of Wolverines: Basically, the effects–my earpiece is not very good here, so bear with me.


TOM WAYNE: With respect to–

JIM LEHRER: You heard me all right, though? You heard my question?

TOM WAYNE: It smeared.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Anyhow, the effects–what has Oklahoma City done to your movement these last two years?

TOM WAYNE: Well, what it’s done is it’s created a fervor in the news and used the racial card to give the impression that we are anti-Semitic or racist, and the people in the community knew that we were none of those. And even the head of the ADL in Michigan said the same thing. So we were able to bring the views–when you have 80 percent of the American people scared of their government, obviously there must be some reason for it, and it sure isn’t our fault that they are afraid of their government. So we’re not anti-government. We’re against those people in government that are anti-government.

JIM LEHRER: And has–

TOM WAYNE: Consequently, we have a lot of professional people. We even have people from government that are joining our ranks.

JIM LEHRER: So, in other words, the impact of all this publicity and attention that came to you as a result of Oklahoma City has been good for the movement?

TOM WAYNE: Once we got past the race card and people understood that we were not any of the things that certain areas of the media were saying–because we have Jewish commanders; we have black commanders; and we have all professions, as well as the blue collar worker, joining us, and we’re trying to make a positive force here in Michigan to change our government back to the Constitution.

JIM LEHRER: Ms. Gans, what does your monitoring reflect? Do you agree that the movement is stronger now than it was two years ago?

GAIL GANS, Anti-Defamation League: (New York) The movement is different now than it was two years ago. Many of the active militias have gone underground, become somewhat secretive in their activities, and have combined with or become common-law court units. By the way, it’s not the media or the Anti-Defamation League that has accused some militias and common-law courts of being anti-Semitic or racist. The materials that they produce, that they’re preparing this expos, or that they advertise in their own publications do that. No one has to do it for them.

JIM LEHRER: But what–back to my question–what is your reading of the strength of the movement now as the result of the attention and the publicity that it got after McVeigh and Nichols were in some way connected by the media and others to the militia movement?

GAIL GANS: We believe that there was a flurry of growth in the militia movement right after the bombing, or perhaps just because the media shined its spotlight on the militia movement, people began to notice and count the number of militias. Today we believe that there is a strong anti-government movement in the country but that it’s not just militia-oriented. The militias continue to get together, to stockpile armaments, to train in a paramilitary fashion, and to gather survivalist gear. But on the surface many of them have taken a more normal route. They’ve wended their way into the common-law court movement. They’re still practicing anti-government activities but in the form of paper terrorism, as opposed to terrorism with guns and hand grenades. We believe it’s a strong movement. We believe that it’s a movement that should cause all decent Americans to be concerned, not fearful but concerned. Certainly law enforcement is concerned and has shown it by the steps they were able to take in–during the Freeman period when they were for 81 days locked in a compound.


GAIL GANS: They were talked out of that compound. The law enforcement people have–for example, the FBI has added 250 more people to their domestic terrorism squad, and they have set up a new Center for Domestic Terrorism in Washington, D.C..

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Wayne, do you think–

TOM WAYNE: We’re against–

JIM LEHRER: Go ahead, Mr. Wayne.

TOM WAYNE: We’re against terrorism, ourselves. We’re against any cowardly act, and we have made steps to catch any of those groups. You have to understand that the militia movement is actually the bridge between those other people out there that want to do something stupid and the people in the government who want to use the “no knock” and break into somebody’s home without a warrant, or with hearsay evidence. You know, remember one thing, the militia movement wasn’t started because a bunch of people decided to get up one morning and run around the woods with guns. It was created by the government because of fear of the government.

JIM LEHRER: Now, what do you say to Ms. Gans’ statement that every citizen should be concerned about you and your colleagues and the militia movement?

TOM WAYNE: Well, you know, here’s the thing. It’s the old ADL line. It’s an opportunist way of doing things. I have tried to argue with Morris Deese on a one-on-one basis all over this country. He refuses to–

JIM LEHRER: He’s the had of the Southern Lincoln Poverty thing, right?

TOM WAYNE: Correct.


TOM WAYNE: He goes on programs and claims–plays that race card, and even people in the FBI feel he’s doing more damage to this country by perpetrating the race card. Let’s face it. We’re all human beings under God.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

TOM WAYNE: Let’s get that taken care of right away.

JIM LEHRER: But, Ms. Gans–

TOM WAYNE: We don’t believe in–excuse me.

JIM LEHRER: I was just going to say Ms. Gans says that your movement is something that the average American should be concerned about because of people who are arming themselves and are anti-government, et cetera. What is your basic response to her?

TOM WAYNE: See, there’s the thing. We arm ourselves with knowledge, No. 1. We’re not interested in specifically the Montana situation. Those “Free Man” didn’t like militia. Whether we were around or not, they would still be there; these common-law courts would be around anyway, whether the Michigan militia or any other militia was around now or not, because that was a movement that’s been leftover from the 70’s. It’s become stronger. I get a headache listening to those guys after 15 minutes. We have rational people involved in the militias that have families, that have grandchildren. I have a few grandchildren myself. We’re against any kind of terrorism, both from a mental terrorism, as well as the physical.

JIM LEHRER: What motivates you, Mr. Wayne, to be in the militia movement?

TOM WAYNE: Well, one of the things–I came from an international background in business, and the GATT agreement put me over the edge as to something is major wrong in this country, and the other thing is the monetary system, the debt money that we have created in this country. That concerns me because I don’t want to leave that debt to my children. And even the young lady from the ADL should feel the same way. That we’re all in the same boat with; that the fact of this debt money, no one is paying anything in this country. Debt is only discharged.

JIM LEHRER: What’s the connection between that and military–paramilitary training?

TOM WAYNE: The fact that this economic system that we have today will collapse. And I’m not paranoid at all. It’s just a fact. I mean, you have Greenspan saying the market is over-inflated, the stock market. And all you have to do is go back to your past in order to know where you’re going in the future. If you look at the stock market of 1929, you compare those same stocks today, you’ll find that they’re way overpriced. Even you know that.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Ms. Gans, what’s wrong with what Mr. Wayne believes and is doing?

GAIL GANS: Well, the Anti-Defamation League has a lot more faith in the American people than Mr. Wayne or the militia movement. The fact of the matter is, is that if you have a system that isn’t working, we all know that there are things to do about it. You can go to your voting booth. You can talk to your politicians. You can get active yourself. We also know–we also know that sane people don’t have sniper training against their neighbors who happen to be law enforcement officers. We have serious problems in this country. No one is against saying that.

TOM WAYNE: Yes. The domestic crime bill is one.

GAIL GANS: However, we don’t solve those problems with target practice. We solve them with good, hard work through legislation.


TOM WAYNE: I just wonder how many political parties you’ve worked for.

JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Mr. Wayne–let me ask you a question, Mr. Wayne. What about her point that you don’t do, you don’t solve the problem you’re upset about by sniper training?

TOM WAYNE: That, I agree with you, and you have to remember–and please, I don’t know where she lives, but the thing is we don’t even–I don’t know of anybody that does sniper training. What we deal with is the political process. We have gone into the courts. For example, we’ve gotten people their homes back after the IRS was unlawful and seized them and sold their home. We work very hard with the political system, and I do remember when Buchanan was running for office how the ADL and others smeared him. So they used the political process also to damage another individual or a group. And I can assure you that the ADL does not live in a glass house because they’re–

GAIL GANS: May I say something?

JIM LEHRER: Yes, Ms. Gans. Go ahead.

GAIL GANS: The Anti-Defam–

TOM WAYNE: Excuse me. I’ve listened for quite some time at you. Now here’s what I want to say to the American people. You’ve gone around and spied on people and bugged their phones, et cetera, your group has, and that’s totally wrong. We’ve never done that to anybody, but you people–


GAIL GANS: The Anti-Defamation–

TOM WAYNE: –are allowed to do it.

JIM LEHRER: Let her respond, please. Yes.

GAIL GANS: The Anti-Defamation League, (a) does not get involved in political activity. We’re a 501C-3 organization, and we’re not allowed to take a partisan side. That’s No. 1. No. 2, the Anti-Defamation League does not go around spying on people or bugging their telephone. Our mandate is to protect the rights of Jews and other minorities. We also believe very strongly in a democratic government. The Anti-Defamation League sees a democratic government–

JIM LEHRER: We have to–

GAIL GANS: –as being–


GAIL GANS: –most comfortable for minorities in the United States.

JIM LEHRER: Ms. Gans, Mr. Wayne, thank you both for being with us.