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US Militia Movements of 1990s in Steep Decline - 2002-06-26

A new report by a monitoring group says anti-government militias in America are in steep decline, in part because of the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Not surprisingly, militia leaders say they are not in retreat but have merely gone underground.

Such anti-government militia groups got a lot of attention in the 1990s, especially after militia sympathizer Timothy McVeigh detonated a car bomb outside the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. But it has been all downhill since then, and a new report says the events of September 11 have only helped to hasten the demise of the militia movement.

The analysis was prepared by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based organization that monitors far right extremist groups around the country. "Really, the groups that remain are very small, very disorganized," said Mark Potok, the author of the report. "You know, they do not get out in the woods much to play war games or any of that anymore. It is a movement that is pretty much moribund at this point."

Mr. Potok says he was aware of 858 militia groups in 1996, but the number is now down to about 150. He says many militia leaders have either gone to jail on gun or fraud charges or became disillusioned and left the movement altogether.

The other problem is that many of the predictions made by militia leaders never came true. They included warnings of a police state takeover during the Clinton presidency and an all-out invasion by military forces controlled by the United Nations.

Mark Potok says the doomsday-like warnings about computer failures at the turn of the century did not help either. "Of course the movement really got wrought up about Y2K, the idea that the world was going to kind of collapse on January 1 of the year 2000," he said, "When that did not occur and nothing even remotely like that occurred, a great many people left this movement."

Still, some hardcore militia leaders remain defiant and insist they are not in decline, just less visible. "I do not think it has declined," said John Trochman, a co-founder of the Militia of Montana. "At least, it has not declined for us. The interest is perhaps more than it ever was since September 11 because there are so many people who are not buying the story that mainstream media has put out on what has happened to the [World Trade Center] towers and the Pentagon."

Mr. Trochman will not say who he thinks was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks, but broadly hints that he believes it was all the result of a massive government conspiracy.

Militia antagonist Mark Potok says that is the usual militia approach: suggest vast government conspiracies at work without ever having to prove it. He also says it is that approach that has cost the militia movement credibility over the past several years.

While the militia groups may be in decline, Mr. Potok warns that other groups opposed to immigration are on the rise. "At the same time as militias have declined very sharply and are essentially petering out," he said, "we have seen a rise in much harder line groups, essentially neo-nazi groups and other race-based groups. So, it is not all good news."

Mark Potok also says that even though the militia movement may be in decline, it is much tougher to monitor their members when they become more secretive and go underground.